What’s left of a person when they’re gone—especially when those who knew them are gone too? Once enough time has passed so that no one can recall the sound of their voice or their gait or any of the other countless idiosyncrasies that make someone of this world, the dead undergo an inevitable transformation from people to symbols. The edges and contours of their personhood soften and, in some cases, dissolve entirely, leaving behind a smooth surface onto which we can project our own narratives. They live on, but only as vessels for the fluid, shifting force of our collective imagination. Here we chronicle some of the characters most integral to the stories we tell about Seattle, and what they left behind.

Lake View

Capitol Hill

Kikisoblu (Princess Angeline)

Often pictured hovering outside her modest cabin on the city waterfront, hair tucked into a kerchief and arms swathed in a shawl, Chief Seattle’s eldest daughter was a popular subject for photographers, including Edward S. Curtis. His 1895 portrait of her became a definitive image of the Pacific Northwest Indigenous population for the eager consumption of white audiences across the country. This and other photos of the woman were reproduced countless times in prints and postcards. Kikisoblu, given the name Princess Angeline by Doc Maynard’s wife, Catherine, is often remembered for her perceived fellowship with white settlers and her position as one of only a few Natives who did not leave the Seattle area for reservations after the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855.

John W. Nordstrom

Seattle’s department store dynasty began with a 16-year-old Swedish immigrant who, in a much-touted tale of the American Dream, arrived at “our sea washed, sunset gates” with $5 in his pocket and went on to make a tidy sum in the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1901, Nordstrom used these funds to open a shoe repair shop on Fourth and Pike, despite being self-professedly clueless in both salesmanship and women’s fashion. His initials, JWN, are still used as the retail giant’s ticker symbol on the stock exchange.

Bruce Lee

It’s hard to overstate Bruce Lee’s influence, whether on film, within martial arts, or in broader cultural discourse. He is framed by some biographers as contending with a perpetual sense of estrangement, considered too Americanized by his family in Hong Kong but too Asian by Hollywood’s punishingly Anglocentric standards. His death at 32, just prior to the release of the film that would make him a household name, contributed to his mythologization.

Brandon Lee

Like his father, the martial arts movie star died in the bloom of his youth, before he could witness his own ascension to stardom with the release of The Crow (1994). The parallels between their lives and deaths continue to fuel conspiracy theories.

Arthur Denny

Leader of the settler group that established the town of Seattle, Arthur Denny was at the center of civic life in the burgeoning community. The former King County Commissioner, Seattle postmaster, and representative to the first Washington Territorial Legislature had a coolly arch perspective on his influence and legacy: “My life has been a busy one and I have not taken time to think of the estimate which those who are to come after me may put upon what I have done, or whether they will consider it at all.”

Henry Yesler

Arriving in what was then called Duwamps in 1852, Yesler quickly established himself as a pillar of the community with his construction of the first steam-powered sawmill in the area. He went on to build many of the most important properties in the settlement, and even started the Seattle Water Company in 1865, providing a critical source of infrastructure for the burgeoning town. If Denny was noted for his stiff conservativism, Yesler was quite the opposite; he and his wife often attracted gossip with the mutual non-exclusivity of their marriage and religious agnosticism, but his sprawling investments and civic contributions made him popular and respected enough to secure him the office of mayor. 

Ocean View

Port Angeles Washington

Raymond Carver

Widely considered one of the greatest literary minds of the twentieth century, Carver was a master of the short story. He is often described as a spiritual successor to Hemingway, and his prose rings with the spare, pure clarity of a bell on a cold winter night. “To be inside a Raymond Carver story,” writes literary critic Larry McCaffery in the Mississippi Review, “is a bit like standing in a model kitchen in Sears—there’s a weird feeling of disjuncture that comes from being in a place where things appear at first to be real and familiar but where, on a closer look, the turkey is paper mache, the broccoli is rubber, and the frilly curtains cover a blank wall.”

Suquamish Memorial Cemetery

Suquamish Washington

Chief Sealth

Our city’s namesake was a chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes, and was admired as a negotiator and charismatic orator by his contemporaries—family members said he possessed the spirit gift of thunder, as his voice could be heard over great distances. He is perhaps best known for a speech transcribed and accredited to him by Dr. Henry A. Smith, in which he calls for environmental stewardship and just treatment of Native peoples. “The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth” adorns many a bumper sticker all over the country.

Puyallup Tribal Cemetery

Puyallup Washington

Chief Leschi

It was not until 2004 that the Washington State Senate issued a formal recognition of the injustice that was inflicted upon this Nisqually leader. Chief Leschi was hanged in Fort Steilacoom for the alleged murder of an American colonel after an entirely bogus trial. 

Mount Pleasant

Queen Anne

Carlos Bulosan

Bulosan’s years as an exploited migrant worker led to a fierce devotion to the labor movement later in his life—a devotion which saw him blacklisted during McCarthyism. His writing, which centers a Filipino American perspective, was celebrated for its lyrical, vivid imagery and anti-colonial lens.

Sunset Hills Memorial Park


Dave Niehaus

For Mariners fans, the voice of Dave Niehaus was a sacred fixture for over three decades. The massively charismatic radio sportscaster, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, was practically the main attraction for supporters of a team that didn’t have a winning season for its first 14 years.

Greenwood Memorial Park


Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix hardly requires an introduction. He is emblematic, to the point of near deification, of 1960s counterculture, and his unprecedented union of R&B traditions with emerging psychedelic rock has a profound and continuing influence on modern American music.

Greenwood Cemetery

Spokane Washington

Sonora Smart Dodd

The daughter of a devoted single father, artist and poet Sonora Smart Dodd proposed the institution of Father’s Day in Spokane in 1909. June 19th, 1910, marked the realization of her vision.

Show Comments