If Walls Could Talk: The Bussell Family – Part 2

By Jade D

If you missed my first post about the history of the Bussell family and their home, take a look at Part 1 to catch up!

Charles B. Bussell - Image from The Cartoon, A Reference Book of Seattle's Successful Men
Charles B. Bussell – Image from The Cartoon, A Reference Book of Seattle’s Successful Men

So here’s what really happened, as best as I can tell. Charles Bussell and his first wife, Elizabeth, bought their Madrona home in 1900. Despite the stately new accommodations, their marriage was not a happy one. Elizabeth tried to divorce Charles in 1902 and it quickly turned ugly. She accused him of infidelity on multiple occasions, particularly with a Miss Violet Ball who Charles apparently lavished with gifts. The couple hired detectives to follow each other and got into a physical altercation when Elizabeth confronted Charles and Violet at the Seattle Hotel.

And then, perhaps most surprisingly of all, they called off the divorce. It was decided that dividing their assets would be financially detrimental to them both so the couple separated but did not divorce. Charles continued his relationship with Violet. In 1907, Ms. Ball attempted to poison herself and Mrs. Bussell acerbically commented “I’m not at all surprised. They travel all over the country together. If Miss Ball has taken strychnine, it is about the best thing that she could have done.”

In 1910, the Bussell’s son Wallace began to make headlines of his own. In the early hours of May 12, 1910, Wallace (“mentally unbalanced from the excessive study and the reading of literature dealing with vice in cities” according to the Seattle Times) attempted to break into a local saloon where gambling took place. Armed with a rifle, Bussell shot and killed Joseph Bonner, the saloon’s manager. Rumors arose that Wallace was part of a secret organization dedicated to ridding Seattle of vice. (This was a hotly contested issue of the time. To learn more, check out this HistoryLink article.) Wallace was declared insane although he vigorously tried to contest the charge. He spent two weeks at Western Washington Hospital for the Insane in Steilacoom and was then was transferred to a private sanitarium in California.

This is where things settle back down into the narrative provided in the history books.

Wallace A. Bussell - Image from The Seattle Star, Thursday May 12, 1910
Wallace A. Bussell – Image from The Seattle Star, Thursday May 12, 1910

Wallace and his mother live out the rest of their lives in California where she dies in 1924 and he in 1960. Charles stayed in Seattle and married his second wife, Emma Louise Korthal in 1913 (Ms. Ball was apparently no longer in the picture). When Charles dies in 1938, his obituary mentions nothing of the scandals that rocked the family years before.

And what of the house that started it all? The Bussells sold the home in 1928 but it was named a historic site by the City of Seattle in 1979. It still stands today.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Seattle’s History, check out the Seattle Historical Photograph Collection where we’ve recently added more than 300 new photographs!

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