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Seattle Gay History: Johnnie Reynolds from Machias, WA, 1895
Seattle Gay History: Johnnie Reynolds from Machias, WA, 1895
by Don Paulson - SGN Contributing Writer

In 1895, Seattle was no longer a backwater town carved out of so-called wilderness and savagery. But many small towns in the PNW were still "in the sticks." A favorite pastime for adults and children was to take a trip to a more sophisticated city like Seattle to shop, attend cultural events and classes, or where they could have some fun. To remember the occasion was to have a professional photo taken to send home to mom, girlfriend or a boyfriend. This was a time when photography and the box camera was a blossoming art form, business venture and a document of family members and events. During the Gold Rush days of 1895, Seattle was living up to its "party town, sin city," reputation due to the enormous amount of single men traveling through, carving out a life, harvesting timber and seeking northern gold. The terrain was ripe for indulgent Victorian respectability and good, old-fashioned sin. As Quentin Crisp quipped, "Seattle is full of sin, but dear God there's never enough."

In 1895 Jennie Tyler said, "Mother was afraid to come to Seattle as there were so many saloons and such a rough element. She had four boys and four girls and was afraid of the city's influence on them."

For local hustling girls, businessmen and Gays, the city was prime for revelry, profit and chasing leg. I can imagine 22-year-old Johnnie Reynolds checking it out. With his handsome "jewel in the rough" looks, the city was his. He was probably straight, but obviously Seattle had its Gay population, albeit mostly underground except for the fairies. ("Early Settlers in Washington territory noted at least two Indian women who dressed as men. Men who dressed as woman were identified by Puget Sound Indians by the words 'tcha kai dai.'" - David Buerge)

The only clue I have about Seattle Gay life that reaches back to 1895 is "Hanna Banana." According to "Vilma," one of the "Queens of Pioneer Square" in the 1930s, "Hanna Banana was a darling old queen who lived in and out of drag all her life. She was still doing drag in her 90s. She'd been around Seattle since the Gold Rush and said Seattle was always a ball, a hot time for Gay people. She gave many a poor traveler food, shelter and comfort of a warm cheek. Hanna was wild but a sweetheart. She'd come down to the Casino [Gay Seattle's earliest known Gay hangout] and all the kids would treat her like royalty. She'd listen to all their troubles and offer advice and camp it up and tell wild stories of her life. She was into lumberjacks - oh, how she loved her lumberjacks."

Since Seattle had its longstanding police payoff system, I suspect the climate for Gays was similar to the years before Stonewall - a certain poetic license to exist as long as they stayed in their lowly place. But there is always a maverick fairy that insists on looking fabulous in public! Maybe Hanna Banana was that queen. If only Hanna had kept a journal of hot 1895 lumberjacks. None are known to exist and would probably have been burned long ago. Like Johnnie Reynolds, nothing much survives of his life but a striking photograph. I like to think he came out, met a native son and took off in a surrey to their designer cabin in the woods or got a chic apartment together on Capitol Hill and lived happily with a cat named Lily Langtree.

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