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Roadwork Delayed As Irishwoman Takes
Exception To Road Building

“Madam Damnable,” a stout Irishwoman with a strong rock-throwing arm, a vile tongue and a bad temper got her name in Seattle in 1855 when she and her three vicious dogs kept a road-building crew in terror for a week.

Following the Indian attack on Seattle that fall, when an estimated 2,000 Indians almost succeeded in wiping out the small settlement, it was decided that the clearing of land and building of roads was necessary if further defense of the city was to be accomplished.

In South Seattle, the road had to pass the boarding house kept by the hefty and volatile Irishwoman. For some reason, she hated the entire work crew, which was provided by the ship Decatur, then in port.

“Madam Damnable was a terrible woman and a terror to our people who found her tongue more to be dreaded than the entire Indian army recently encamped in our front,” wrote an officer in charge of the roadwork.

Each crew working on the road carefully avoided that part that passed in front of the “female dragon’s” house, until it was the only part of the project unfinished.
“Every imaginable device was adopted to complete this road, but the moment our men approached the scene, Madam Damnable with the three dogs at her heels would come tearing from her house, her apron filled with rocks.

“The way stones, rocks and curses flew was something fearful to contemplate. Charging like fury, the dogs were anxious to sink their teeth in the flesh of the detested invaders. Invariably, the division gave way before the storm, fleeing, officers and all, as if Old Satan himself were after them.”

Finally, after three separate teams from the Decatur had failed, giving way to the constant barrage of sticks, stones, curses and dogs, two “old salts” from the ship decided to try to talk to her.

The first man, trying to reason with her, gave way when a piece of wood came swinging at his head.

The second met abuse with abuse. “What do you mean, you damned old harridan, raising hell this way? I know you, you old curmudgeon. Many’s the time I’ve seen you howling thunder at Fells Point, Baltimore. You’re a damn pretty one, ain’t you?”

The effect was magical. Madam Damnable turned and fled into her house with her dogs and was not seen again by the road builders. However, she had managed to turn a three-hour job into one that took more than a week.

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Decoration Ideas Could Be Bizarre

The search of the Victorian woman for ever-different way to decorate her home produced some bizarre ideas. At the same time, she was applauded for her ability to use something that would otherwise be thrown away. Fish scale decorations were, without doubt, a prime example of this activity.

The iridescent scales of a freshwater fish such as carp or perch were scraped off the fish and soaked for a time in cold water. After the scales became softened, each was punctured with two small holes at the base, for sewing on to a piece of fabric.

After the scales were dried, they would be colored and varnished; then they were ready to be sewn on to fabric such as satin, silk or velvet, usually in overlapping layers, to form flowers, birds, insects or other designs.

In this way, yet another method had been devised to see that no household surface area or fashion accessory was left unadorned.

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Decoration Features Use Of Scratching

An example of sgraffito.
A contemporary version of sgraffito, a deer, made by SJ Pottery.

Sgraffito was a type of decoration popular on pottery from the 15th to the 18th centuries. In the process, a coating of slip is applied over a contrasting clay body. The decoration is made by scratching, or carving, the design through the slip to the underlying body, using a sharp pointed tool. It is most effective when a light slip has been applied over a darker body; it was seen most often in the early years of this country on redware pieces.

The sgraffito technique has been used in more recent years by some small and studio potteries.

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