Lincoln Park in the 70’s: Our Playground

By Kim Nichols

 

The tree-lined coast of West Seattle from Brace Point to Pt Williams was originally called Fauntleroy Park.  When the city of Seattle bought it in 1922, during a time much closer to the Civil War than we are now, they renamed it Lincoln Park.  Surely the Duwamish before them had their own names for this forest of cedars and firs along the Puget Sound.  But in the 1970’s, my brother Troy and I just called Lincoln Park – “freedom”.

 

I can’t apologize for growing up in simpler and somewhat quaint time, where kids were free to roam Lincoln Park all day long as long as we were home before the street lights came on.  We were explorers, and there was much to be discovered.

 

Our first order of business was to ride bikes to our favorite forts and hideouts in the park intent on stopping for candy on our way home.  But try as we might, our bicycles always forced us to stop at the optimistically named Lincoln Park “Grocery” before we ever got to the park.

 

“The Little Store,” as we called it, sat just off Fauntleroy Way and was the size of a kid’s bedroom.  It was packed floor to ceiling with three rows of, well, I don’t know really because we never went beyond the candy aisle.  The candy greeted us at the door and we froze, staring at an array of sugary choices: “penny candy”, nickel candy that included York Patties and Big Hunks, and alas, the dime candy, or as it was known, to us “expensive candy”.  This included the elusive Three Muskateers and Snickers Bars.  And there we would stand, paralyzed by indecision, the mere choice of TWO Bit-O-Honeys vs. one Milky Way was enough to overwhelm our pre-frontal cortex and render us silent.  This was back when a store was a reflection of the people who ran it, and the kind grey-haired man who took our money treated us as if this were his most important sale of the day.

Properly fortified with sweets, we were now on a mission to Lincoln Park to check up on our hide-outs, forts, and all the places we were sure that only we had ever ventured to.  Based on the beer bottles from the night before, we were wrong about being the only ones to know of this site, but since we never saw any other people, it seemed more like spirits had left us these artifacts.  Troy and I collected the Lucky caps left behind because they contained little rebus puzzles inside, many of which we didn’t have the background knowledge to understand but we kept them like a code from the Rosetta Stone only to be cracked later.  We’d stash the caps and our other treasures away under roots like squirrels.

 

It was then that we’d go to the northernmost trail of the park to the fish pond.  We knew these fish were ours alone, and we often worried who would take care of them when we were not around to feed them a steady diet of sticks and fir cones as we did.

 

Most of our transportation in Lincoln Park meant we rode as hard as we could for 100 yards, then we locked up the brakes in order to skid for 20 yards.  This method would take us down the steep cliff where we would skid all the way to Colman Pool to check the water level.  Climbing up to see over the plywood window covers would get our blood pumping enough to begin our dangerous feats of balancing bikes on driftwood logs.  We knew this was deliciously dangerous and not something to bring up when we got home.  Lincoln Park was a child’s wonderland and not something to be shared about too much with adults.

 

After moving great logs around to create a cozy cabin of driftwood, we would sneak inside and watch the waves.  Sometimes our fortress was carpeted with bleached orange crab shells, at other times our furniture was old metal pieces that    the tide had left decades ago; a giant pile of tetanus.

 

At the end of the day we dragged ourselves home along Lincoln Park’s waterfront and through Loman Beach.  Here we could steal a sweet and salty drink from the fountain and swing wildly with our legs kicking toward the Sound.  We reluctantly pedaled toward home, happy in our vast new knowledge of our world, unaware of the dangers that haunt children’s lives today. We were sunburned because we didn’t know about SPF or we were drenched through because we didn’t have Gortex like those West Seattle Mountaineers, the Whitakers.  Our parents didn’t raise us indoors so we never knew boredom. But, in Lincoln Park, on any given Saturday, in the 1970’s – we just knew we were free.

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