Our neighborhood’s Lake View Cemetery has been taking heat for its once-forgotten Confederate soldiers arch. But if you take the time to stroll around the area, you’ll discover another cemetery just past Lake View’s northern fence; one dedicated as the final resting place for veterans of the Union’s Grand Army of the Republic. 

Now Mayor Tim Burgess has no real legal authority to disturb those rebel graves. But, because the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery is also a Seattle city park, we have a great opportunity to pay greater honor to those brave souls who fought for the Union and against slavery. For our city, that park could be what Gettysburg, Arlington or the memorials in D.C. are for the nation; places to remember those who fought for freedom and to rededicate ourselves to a struggles which still continue. The GAR Park deserves more visits and attention, perhaps starting with upcoming Veterans’ Day.

Jeffery Robinson of the ACLU gave a talk here last month about why “state sponsored symbols of white supremacy,” such as Confederate monuments rewrote history to erase the evils of slavery. He quoted George Orwell’s warning that “who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” and urged us to fearlessly confront the prevalent myths about our history, in school curricula as well as in stone monuments.

But if the Daughters of the Confederacy intended their arch at Lake View to be an enduring monument to the “Lost Cause” of white superiority, they failed to predict that Lake View would be famous instead for Chinese-American icon Bruce Lee and his son Brandon.

Those gravestones stand at the top of the hill, a place of pilgrimage for kung fu and movie fans, curious tourists and local strollers like me. And, even in death, the 11 Confederates lying downhill are far outnumbered by the 526 Union boys interred at the nearby GAR Park who outfought them.

Our Southern cousins now struggle with hard questions of how to truthfully tell their region’s story. But here in the liberal Pacific Northwest, we have our own skeletons. How many public reminders are there of the ethnic cleansing committed here against the Chinese in the 1880s and again to Japanese-Americans during World War II, unless one looks for the museum exhibits at the Wing Luke Museum or the Panama Hotel? Chief Sealth (or Seattle) is recalled in the name of our city and a few memorials, like that at Seattle University, but there are few other reminders that we have settled on Duwamish and Salish land.

As a recent settler myself, I think my home city of New York has a few lessons to teach in this regard. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis tried — without success — to keep the palatial old Pennsylvania Station from being demolished, but her noble effort helped create today’s historic preservation movement.

A different New Yorker and later White House occupant, The Donald, was and is a developer who erases old buildings in his way, so one should be skeptical of his sudden concern about “our beautiful statues and monuments.” Donnie had jackhammers taken to two Art Deco sculptures on the exterior of the Bonwit Teller property he demolished to build Trump Tower, breaking a promise to preserve them for the Metropolitan Museum.   

Constantly tearing down and rebuilding itself, New York also adds new public monuments, like the new September 11 Memorial. I especially like the tall column up in Harlem topped with a statue of jazz great Duke Ellington, and downtown’s “Charging Bull” statue. But soon after the public soured on the Wall Street guys who helped set off the Great Recession, a new statue was added of a “Defiant Girl” fearlessly facing the Bull. Those contrasting bronze narratives now coexist, the fond object of selfie-snapping tourists (some of whom also take pictures of themselves fondling the bull’s shiny bronze balls from behind.) 

In the same spirit, our irreverent Fremont neighbors freely add to and even mock their own weird statue of Lenin, and seem to have a lot of fun doing so. Poor Vladimir Illyich’s bloodstained hands are painted red and he’s often festooned with a pussy hat or tutu, appropriate to the occasion. As Boris Krichevsky noted in the Seattle Times, an interpretive plaque there celebrates “the triumph of capitalism and whimsy over Soviet oppression.” Lenin is also protected by capitalist private property rights, which may be the worst insult to him of all.

The myths we’ve told ourselves in the past can always be corrected, added to and reinterpreted, even when made of bronze and stone.

Steven Beck, a New York transplant since 2015, is a retired city planner and English teacher. Seattle-zed is his column about adjusting to life here.