Episodic Accounts of Seattle: 1880-1889, The Mayor of Turtle Town

Seattle’s first floating neighborhood was known as Turtle Town, named after the almost one hundred wooden boats that housed its populace, huddled together at the bottom of Pirate’s Landing. The “Turtles” looked like a wooden rowboat turned upside down and put onto another rowboat, small wooden tortoises. They could house one person in relative comfort, two in extreme discomfort, or three in horrifying Third World(1) conditions. Each turtle had a small wood stove, a fold out table and a bed, enough for basic housing.

And while the turtles could float, even in the heaviest swell, they weren’t designed to go anywhere. Attached to the docks with long sea chains that had nametags on the dock end, if someone had business with a Turtle Town resident or simply wanted to annoy them, they could just pull their chain, and drag their business partner or victim bumping through the crowded boats of their neighbors to the shore.

All the turtles were built by a laconic Danish boat builder named Tor Malamud Tuga in a small, cramp workshop that stood on the pier that overshadowed Turtle Town and formed its southern boundary. Tuga had a trap door built into the bottom of his workspace, and every five days or so, residents of Turtle Town would hear the familiar creak of the trap door’s gears and then an echoing “ka-thunk” as a new Turtle plopped into the water.

The boatbuilding provided a nominal living for Tuga, but he had a secret reason for building the Turtles, which was that he was creating a new voting district in an attempt to become Mayor of Seattle.

There was a certain amount of difficulty as, even with the relative affordability and Tuga’s newspaper ads that exhorted readers to “Be Your Own Skipper!”, not everyone was built for life on a boat. Turtle Town lost residents to chronic unseaworthiness, tight space fright, occasional stove explosions, as well as those who didn’t appreciate the smell of wadded rope and tar that filled in the cracks of Tuga’s boats.

There was constant turnover, which did not help with Tuga’s secret plan. Another problem was that nobody actually knew Tor Tuga wanted to be mayor. Only his journal, covered with tar fingerprints and written with tiny anchors over the i’s, let know his true feelings.
“My plan is to surprise them, like Job out of that whale’s arse. Come out of nowhere, rise from the water and squash the Landies. It will be a magnificent crushing. I hate the smell of wood.”

Unfortunately for Tuga, a mayoral race was never held in his lifetime. The current mayor had been sentenced to the post for his crimes against the common good and a woman named Gladys Muchomp. Tuga knew this, but for some reason, probably some sort of Danish cultural misunderstanding, still thought being the mayor was a worthy and attainable profession,

And so he built his boat and his voting district every day come rain or slightly more rain, waiting for the day Dan “Big Don” Lollie was either acquitted or paroled. In his journal, Tuga went so far as to prepare campaign materials, including a stump speech.
“I stand before you a humble Danish boat builder, I might have even built a boat for you. In fact, if I squint I might be able to see someone I’ve built a built for, like the two hundred people over there. [Wait for laughter to subside.](2) But this country, West Denmark(3), is built by the bodily sweat of boat builders, dynamite stuffers like my friend, Martin Anthus over here, and diseased orphan handlers like Jerome Whasmatis. And I think New Copenhagen deserves to have a man used to work to work for you. Which is why I am putting my hat in the ring, [Put hat in ring.] and naming myself Mayor of New Copenhagen!(4) [Await spontaneous roar of crowd. Bathe in glory, then motion sheepishly about too much applause. Wait for silence, then put hand to ear in the “I-can’t-hear-you” pose and rile crowd by waving other arm. Chuckle delightedly.]”

This speech is evidence of Tuga’s long-term exposure to tar, which according to spectrographic evidence, he made himself using a cornucopia of toxic chemicals. This exposure was dulling and sometimes re-routing the synapses in his brain.
Despite these increasing ravages of brain damage, Tuga did not stop his constant building. At its height, Turtle Town was made up of about three hundred boats, though the occasional one or fourteen got crushed by pirvate Friday night raiding parties or sunk by yet another industrial accident at the two ton weight factory which sadly was built on the unfortunately thin-planked pier across from Tuga’s workshop.

But Tuga never gave up his dream. In fact, he made a sign that said “Mayor or Turtle Town”, which nobody paid attention to, despite his constant pointing.

Tuga built Turtles until the day he died, keeling over on a newly finished boat at the age of 79.

“Do-gooders” from Turtle Town put him in the boat, doused it with various chemicals they found in his workshop, set the whole affair on fire, and then released the trap door.

Unfortunately, unfamiliar with the workings on the trap door, it didn’t open, and the flames quickly spread engulfing the workshop and the pier. The fire continued for hours and at one point onlookers and lookers-on saw Tuga’s naked(5), flaming body fall through the floor of the workshop, sans boat, and crash spinning into the water.

Which would have been horrifying for Tor Tuga, who left behind a tranquil gravesite underneath a maple tree with a granite headstone that said “Mayor at Last”.

(1) During the early 1880’s Seattle was actually considered a part of the Third World, occasionally dipping into the Fourth World on weekend evenings.
(2) Tuga normally wrote reaction notes in his journals. He constantly told himself to “look more stoic”.
(3) Nobody knows what Tuga was talking about here.
(4) Again, no idea.
(5) It is assumed that the “do-gooders” undressed Tuga to look at his tattoos.


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