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Mossback’s Northwest

When Being Poor in Seattle Was a Criminal Offense

October 30, 2018

In 1872, the Seattle council passed Ordinance 32 that outlined punishment for vagrants — the idle, dissolute, immoral, profligate, or the unemployed — by specifying that they could be put to work. Many offenses earned a sentence on the chain gang: Swearing, drunkenness, illegal gambling, patronizing prostitutes. But for many, the only offense was being poor. If you couldn’t pay a fine, you had to work it off on the gang.



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Eric Keto

From the Oregon Coast to the North Slope of Alaska, Eric enjoys telling stories from the western edge of the country. His nonfiction video work has been featured on The Atlantic, PBS NewsHour and Alaska Public Media.

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Knute Berger

Knute Berger is Crosscut’s Mossback. Born and raised in Seattle, he writes with his own Pacific Northwest perspective. He also writes the monthly “Gray Matters” column for Seattle magazine where he is editor-at-large, and is an occasional commentator on KUOW-FM’s “Week in Review.” He is the author of two books: Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice and Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. He was writer-in-residence at the Space Needle and has had a cocktail named after him at Ivar’s. You can email him at knute.berger@crosscut.com or follow him on twitter @KnuteBerger.

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