Lundin, Alfred H. (1886-1963)

  • By John W. Lundin and Stephen J. Lundin
  • Posted 6/15/2012
  • Essay 10126

Alfred H. Lundin translated his early upbringing in the old mining town of Lead, South Dakota (next to notorious Deadwood), into a successful career as King County Prosecutor, and later as a private attorney and civic activist in Seattle. Lundin was known as Al to his professional associates and as Fred to his family.  This People's History was written by John W. Lundin and Stephen J. Lundin.  Alfred Lundin was their great uncle.

Early Days

Alfred Lundin and his brother John W. Lundin Sr. (the authors' grandfather) were born in the 1880s, in Lead, Dakota Territory. Their father, Andrew H. Lundin, was born in Sweden, immigrated to the U.S. in 1866, and worked in mining camps throughout the West before moving to Deadwood in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory in the spring of 1877, to look for gold. In June 1876, George Custer and his men from the 7th Calvary were killed by Sioux forces at the Little Big Horn. U.S. Army forces defeated the Sioux that November and a new treaty was signed opening the Black Hills to settlement. The new treaty unleashed a flood of prospectors and miners into the Black Hills in the spring of 1877. Deadwood became a wild and lawless town where murder was common.

In Deadwood, Andrew Lundin met Helen Brakke, who moved there with her family after emigrating from Norway, and they married in the early 1880s. Lundin worked as a blacksmith for the famous Homestake Mine owned by George Hearst, and for the Black Hills and Fort Pierre Railroad, a subsidiary of the Mining Company. He served on the Lead School Board, as an officer of the Cooperative Savings and Loan Association, and on the Lead City Council. The Lundins were active in the Deadwood Republican Club, along with Seth Bullock, Deadwood's original sheriff, and other well known citizens.

Their first child, Alfred H. Lundin, was born in 1886. He graduated from Lead High School and attended the University of Nebraska, where he played football. Lundin graduated from Nebraska in 1906, receiving L.L.B. and A.B. degrees, and that August moved to Seattle, where he became a prominent lawyer. In 1909, Fred married his college sweetheart, Julia Deweese from Lincoln, Nebraska, and they had one child, Daniel.

Private Practice in Seattle 

After arriving in Seattle, Lundin went into private practice, and then in 1909 he became a deputy prosecuting attorney, working for King County Prosecutor George F. Vanderveer (1875-1942). Lundin was described in a biography of Vanderveer by Lowell S. Hawley and Ralph Bushnell Potts:

"Alfred Lundin, when he arrived in Seattle in the fall of 1906, was a young man with two related problems: he had to establish himself in the practice of law in order to make use of his newly granted degree from the University of Nebraska; and he had to convinced his fiance back in Nebraska that she should board a train and head for the Pacific Northwest to marry him. Inasmuch as the solution of the second problem was contingent upon the solution of the first, he devoted himself to the task of establishing a private practice. ...

"He rented desk space in the office of Todd, Wilson and Thorgrimson in the Lowman Building at First and Cherry Streets ... . He went to church and he joined social and fraternal clubs, and he widened his circle of friends and acquaintances" (Counsel for the Damned).

As his practice was slow to develop, Lundin joined Seattle's National Guard Company L and went to Fort Worden for training. At the fort, there was a boxing competition with other companies. Lundin was recruited to represent Company L, in a fight against "a powerful man of considerable experience, who was reputed to be the outstanding boxer and the heaviest hitter of the K Company team." "I've boxed a little in my life but I'll probably get hell beaten out of me," Lundin explained with a grin. "I'm willing to try it if you can't get anyone else."  Lundin, at 163 pounds, was tall, rangy, and well-muscled, but comparatively inexperienced. Everyone expected him to take "a merciless beating."  During the match, after being hit often and hard, and being "angered and stung," Lundin forgot all the coaching he had received, and waded in with both fists flying.

"It was all offense and no defense, and with no slight resemblance to boxing skill. Blows bounced off his head and shoulders and chest with terrific thuds that could be heard clear across the parade ground, but he landed blows of his own also -- wild, swinging, vicious blows so completely unorthodox as to be confusing. When the round ended, his opponent was unable to answer the bell. It was nearly an hour later before the bleeding could be stopped, and by that time, Company L had proudly claimed the championship of the middleweight division ... . Al Lundin, in later years, would have reason to believe that those few moments of frantic and unorthodox fighting at Fort Worden helped to shape the course of his life" (Counsel for the Damned).

Working for George Vanderveer

In 1908, Lundin heard that George Vanderveer was planning to run for King County Prosecutor. Vanderveer had been a deputy prosecutor in that office and was a courtroom warrior who disliked the webs of corruption that characterized local politics at the time. These attitudes  made a political enemy of the owner of The Seattle Daily Times, Alden J. Blethen (1845-1915), who favored a wide open town that tolerated gambling and prostitution. Although Lundin did not know Vanderveer, he offered to work on his campaign so long as he could be hired as a deputy if Vanderveer was elected. Vanderveer said "if I'm elected, I'll choose my deputies on merit, alone. There'll be no political considerations involved."  Despite strong opposition from the Times, Vanderveer was elected King County Prosecutor.

After the election, Vanderveer met Lundin on the street and said, "Where in hell have you been? I thought you wanted a job as deputy on my staff!"  Vanderveer had heard of Lundin's fight at Fort Warden and said, "I liked that Al. That's the kind of deputies I want in my office -- men who've got the guts to fight, even when things look tough." Vandeever "demanded unwavering integrity, absolute honesty, and an unflinching courage, and he disregarded their occasional shortcomings in the knowledge of law."  Lundin learned of this trait  in one of his early prosecutions, when he moved for the dismissal of the defendant because of a lack of sufficient evidence. Vandeveer asked Lundin for an explanation, nodded his head with satisfaction, "That's all right, if that's the way you see it."  Lundin learned later that his motion was based on a grievous error of judgment and ignorance of the law. "We all make mistakes every day ... . As long as you're honest and sincere in your mistakes, I'll back you to the hilt" (Counsel for the Damned).

Vanderveer was a crusading prosecutor, targeting corruption in the city, prosecuting without fear or favor, disdaining political expediency. He refused to listen to party leaders who helped put him into office when they sought special handling for personal friends. He set out to be the best prosecuting attorney in history, and "to destroy the tentacles of crime that had entwined themselves in the political and civic life of the community."  Vanderveer told Lundin that he did not want to wait for the police to bring evidence of wrongdoing to his office, since so many of the successful lawbreakers paid protection money. He added investigators to his office, sending them out to get evidence of law violations. They went through Skid Road, visited houses of prostitution, and placed bets in illegal gambling dens, bringing back evidence they had collected for prosecution.

Lundin became one of Vanderveer's most trusted deputies. He prosecuted a number of high profile murder cases that were widely followed in the press, and he participated in some of the city's best known cases. One of Lundin's most famous cases involved a 1910 avalanche on Stevens Pass.

On March 1, 1910, an avalanche hit two Great Northern trains that had been stopped by deep snow, driving the trains 150 feet into a canyon and killing anywhere between 96 (the official toll compiled by Great Northern) and 118 people, in one of the world's worst railroad accidents. The King County Prosecuting Attorney and Coroner held an inquiry into the accident. "The inquiry into the cause of the death of John Brockman and eighty-seven or more others, Deceased, was to be handled by a young assistant prosecuting attorney named A.H. Lundin" (Krist). The coroner's jury found that the deceased came to their deaths "by reason of a snowslide at Wellington, King County, Washington, the cause of which was beyond human control" (Krist). However, the jury went on to find that the trains were not placed in the safest place to avert an accident, that the Great Northern did not have sufficient coal there to cope with emergencies and refused to pay laborers sufficient wages to provide for the safety and welfare of the passengers. This led to years of litigation thereafter.  

Vanderveer developed a special loathing for the system of police pay-offs and attacked them vigorously. His anti-corruption policies generated strong opposition in Seattle's business community and the enmity of The Seattle Times. Vanderveer decided not to run for re-election in 1910, because of this opposition, and went into private practice. Much of Vanderveer's crusading work was undone by the election of a "wide-open mayor," Hiram Gill (1866-1919), in the 1910 election.

In Seattle at the time, "vice" such as gambling and prostitution was big business notwithstanding the laws prohibiting it. Those who believed that the conduct involved was normal and should be regulated rather than banned, like Gill and Blethen, were known as "open town" advocates. Their "closed town" opponents, including churches, Progressives, supporters of Prohibition, and woman suffragists, objected to vice on moral grounds and to the graft and corruption that went along with it. Gill promised to confine vice to its own district rather than let it spread across the city, but he appointed Charles Wappenstein (1853-1931), who had earlier been fired for corruption, as chief of police and Wappenstein allowed vice to thrive. Gill was recalled by voters in 1911, and Wappenstein, Seattle Times publisher Blethen, and his son Clarence Blethen, were indicted following a grand jury investigation of police corruption. Wappenstein was convicted, but the Blethens were acquitted.

King County Prosecutor

In 1912, Lundin resigned as a deputy prosecutor to return to private practice. In 1914, inspired by his ex-boss and hero, Alfred Lundin decided to run for the prosecutor's office himself. He was elected King County Prosecutor in 1914 on the Progressive ticket, and was re-elected in 1916 on the Republican ticket. In 1918, Lundin decided not to run for re-election. During his time as prosecutor, Lundin and his office handled a number of high profile cases and, following Vanderveer's lead, he became a crusader against corruption.  

In the 1914 election, Hiram Gill was again elected mayor of Seattle, this time as a closed-town advocate. This required Lundin to deal with Gill over the next four years, which made his life interesting.

Lundin was King County Prosecutor during turbulent times. The Northwest faced economic turmoil consisting of battles between entranced industries and the growing labor movement, which included the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), viewed as the most radical of the labor unions that had a major following in the area. In 1914 Washington passed a state Prohibition law that changed the dynamics of law enforcement. Lundin had to face these challenges and others.

In court Lundin often confronted his mentor and good friend George Vanderveer. Vanderveer went into private practice after losing the 1910 election, specializing in criminal defense, and was soon defending people like those he had prosecuted. He became one of Seattle's best known defense attorneys, approaching his new role with the same vigor he used as a prosecutor. He found himself opposing the men who had been his deputies in the prosecutor's office, "men for whom he had the deepest respect and admiration."  However, in trials, "he might question the intelligence and the integrity of John Murphy or Al Lundin, and broadly imply to the jury that the Prosecuting Attorney's office was enmeshed in a heinous plot to crucify his client" (Counsel for the Damned).

On November 3, 1914, Washington voters passed an initiative enacting state-wide prohibition that went into effect on January 1, 1916. The new law changed the dynamics of law enforcement and presented significant challenges for the Prosecutor's office run by Lundin. It also opened new opportunities for Vanderveer by creating a class of new clients with resources to pay for a criminal defense attorney.

"To Al Lundin, Prosecuting Attorney of King County, the new prohibition law brought a series of problems and frustrations. The backers of the initiative had been content to make progress slowly, and they feared from the outset that an uncompromising, bone-dry proposal would be turned down by voters who favored moderation but who might shy off from anything hinting of fanaticism. Thus, in effect, the 1916 law emerged as a type of loose net, binding together a series of legal loopholes -- designed to reduce the heavy, open flow of liquor, but destined to provide ulcers for nearly all who were charged with its enforcement. It prohibited the manufacture, keeping, sale and disposition of alcoholic beverages ... but it provided that druggists could secure permits from the County Auditor and handle liquor for medicinal purposes, and it allowed doctors to prescribe such alcoholic beverages for the same use ... . The result was a broad and practically unpatrolled highway, ready and waiting to handle the liquor traffic" (Counsel for the Damned).

Since the law allowed importation of alcohol and sale for medicinal purposes, this prompted existing drug stores to enter the retail liquor business and new drug stores to start whose major purpose was to sell alcohol. Vanderveer devised means to take advantage of these gaps in the state Prohibition law. He became identified with bootleggers and often opposed Lundin's office, which brought prosecutions under the prohibition law. A case involving the Billingsley brothers was a one that defined the new relationship between Lundin and Vanderveer.

Sherman and Logan Billingsley moved to Seattle from Oklahoma, and opened a downtown pharmacy selling alcoholic beverages for medicinal purposes. The liquor they could not account for by medical prescriptions on file was charged off to "leakage and spillage," and much of the alcohol they handled disappeared in this manner. The brothers claimed to be clumsy types. They became very successful alcohol merchants, and at times ended up in armed confrontations. Lundin resolved to limit the activities of the Billingsley brothers or put them out of business. He told the brothers their claims of "breakage and spillage" were ridiculous and threatened to crack down. He tried to get legislators and liquor control officers to set a limit on the amount of liquor a drug store could sell in a month. He directed the County Auditor to limit the alcohol that could be handled by drugstores in a year. He also wrote the sheriff in the county in Oklahoma where the Billingsleys previously lived, informing him they were living in Seattle. After Lundin learned there was an arrest warrant issued for them there,  he obtained a fugitive warrant for the brothers, who hired Vanderveer to represent them.

Lundin and Vanderveer battled for several years over the Billingsley brothers, with Vanderveer leading them from one legal loophole to another under the loosely drawn prohibition law. Lundin and Vanderveer were professional enemies but remained staunch personal friends. "In and out of court, across the bench and across the lunch table, they debated the points of law and the points of ethics involved." Vanderveer hurled at Lundin the same charges the Blethens once fired at him. "He accused his friend of overzealousness in attempting to enforce the law, over and beyond the letter of the law." This continued until the Billingsleys were ultimately convicted by the federal government and sent to prison.

There was a significant case in King County in 1916, in which Lundin's office did not participate, one that defined Seattle for many years. This was a murder case arising from the Everett Massacre of November 5, 1916, a confrontation in between a group of Industrial Workers of the World, known as Wobblies, from Seattle and citizen-deputies under Snohomish County Sheriff Donald McRae, in which five Wobblies and two deputies died. Seventy-four IWW members were arrested and tried in King County. Al Lundin, as the King County prosecutor, played no role in the trial, but offered the Snohomish County prosecutor's office the full cooperation of his office. One of the policemen killed in the confrontation had been Lundin's second in National Guard Company L when Lundin fought in the "memorable boxing match at Fort Worden." 

George F. Vanderveer represented Teamster Thomas H. Tracy, the first to go on trial, for the murder of Jefferson Beard. In a dramatic trial prosecuted by the Snohomish County Prosecutor's office and held in the Seattle courtroom of Judge J. T. Ronald, Tracy was acquitted. Charges against the other Wobblies were dismissed.

Vanderveer continued his representation of the Industrial Workers of the World, including during World War I when they were threatening strikes to shut down the country's war efforts. He represented IWW officers, including Big Bill Haywood, in Chicago in 1918, when they were charged under the Espionage Act, and was also involved with the IWW during the General Strike held in Seattle in 1919, the shootout with American Legion troops in Centralia in 1919, and in many other battles. This work led to a break between Lundin and Vanderveer, showing philosophical differences between being a prosecutor and a defense counsel. Lundin accused Vanderveer of being a "traitor to his country," and said his old friend was throwing away his life representing the people who were jeopardizing the country. Vanderveer replied that Lundin could round the Wobblies in bring them to court, and he will defend them. "I'll show you that you haven't got a God damned ounce of evidence that'll stand up in court...You can't stand here on the sidewalk and decide that men are guilty when you can't prove it in court" (Counsel for the Damned).

An article about Lundin, written in 1922, said that in addition to attaining prominence in his profession, he was identified with civic life of the city and state:

"During his last administration of office the state prohibition law was passed, and Mr. Lundin vigorously prosecuted important liquor violation cases, notably the Billingsley brothers. He personally conducted the more important cases, such as graft prosecutions and murder trials, and won a reputation as an usually successful trial lawyer. Law violators of political prominence were prosecuted by him. The Red Light Abatement law was energetically enforced. Mr. Lundin held office at a time when the office was called on to take aggressive action in various political matters" (Boswell).

Among the violators "of political importance" prosecuted by Lundin was Patrick Sullivan, a prominent cafe owner and politician. Sullivan's house was raided by sheriff's deputies who found $5,000 worth of liquor there.

As Prosecutor, Lundin argued a number of cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court representing King County, including Christianson v. King County in 1915, and Medcrap v. Hodge, Sheriff of King County in 1917.

Return to Private Practice 

In 1918, Lundin decided not to run for re-election as King County Prosecutor. He served in the army during World War I, according to his obituary. In 1919, Lundin  went into the private practice of law in Seattle, forming the firm of Lundin and Barto (later Lundin, Barto, and Goucher) with offices in the Alaska Building and the Smith Tower.

Joe Barto, who had been a deputy prosecutor on Lundin's staff, described how he and Lundin became partners. He met Lundin on the street in 1919, after both left the prosecutor's office. "What are you doing?"  Lundin asked. "Nothing," replied Barto, "What are you doing?"  "Nothing," said Lundin, "Let's practice law." The two partners' differing styles fit together perfectly. "Lundin, outgoing and gregarious, was a hail-fellow-well-met, boisterous and full of fun. Barto, his somewhat silent partner, was the opposite. Yet, the two men complemented each other like ham and eggs" (The Seattle Times, August 30, 1968). William Devin, former Seattle mayor, was a one time member of the firm, which in 1968 was "Seattle's oldest original law partnership" (The Seattle Times, August 30, 1968).

Lundin was a candidate for mayor of Seattle, was mentioned as a possible governor of Washington, and committed his life to civic ventures along with his law practice. He served as the president of the Seattle King County Bar Association in 1925 and 1926; president of the College Club, where he was a life-long member; president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce for two terms and was an active member for many years; and as president of the 35th District Republican Club; and was a founding member of the University of Nebraska Alumni Association in Seattle.

Al Lundin ran for Mayor in 1924, against incumbent Edwin J. Brown. Lundin accused his opponent of "attempting to build up a state-wide political machine" so he could run for Governor. Lundin criticized efforts to make the election a partisan affair, pointing to his support from both Republicans and Democrats. Lundin was a strong supporter of public utilities, in which Seattle had invested $50,000,000. "I stand for prosperous municipal ownership and, if elected mayor, I will get experienced men, specialized in the particular utilities, to run them and not select politicians." Lundin was supported by the Women's Lundin-for-Mayor Committee led by Councilwoman (and future mayor) Bertha K. Landes (1868-1943), U.S. Attorney Thomas Revelle, officers of the Seattle Council of Churches, and others. However, in an election that approached a high record for turnout, Mayor Brown was re-elected, defeating Lundin by around 4,000 votes.

As president of the Seattle Bar Association, Lundin presided over the Washington State Bar Association meeting in 1925. He was the principal speaker at the Oregon Chapter of the University of Nebraska Alumni Association in Portland in 1933. Lundin worked to end the Longshoreman's strike in 1934, as president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. He addressed the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1935, on sales taxes and unemployment legislation being considered by the legislature. He signed a letter appointing as "ambassadors of good will from the northwest," drivers in a 3,000-mile economy test drive from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. The prime minister of British Columbia and the governor of Oregon also signed the letters. In 1947, Lundin headed a Juvenile Advisory Committee to assess the need for a new Juvenile Detention Home.

Lundin was a prominent defense lawyer later in his career. In 1938, he represented one of three Seattle police officers -- Patrick J. Whalen, Fred H. Paschal, and Walter F. Stevenson -- who were charged with second degree murder after a black man they arrested died in custody. The policemen said their prisoner died after falling down stairs, but witnesses uncovered after an NAACP investigation testified the policemen beat the man. Lundin stated:

"These three officers had been sent down there in 1936 to clean up a very tough district. They had done their work well, thus acquiring many enemies. There is an election coming up and that portion of the Negro population that is opposed to law enforcement sees a means of getting these officers" (Wilma).

Neither Lundin nor fellow defense attorneys Anthony Savage (a former U.S. Attorney and father of prominent defense lawyer Anthony "Tony" Savage [1931-2012]) and H. Sylvester Garvin called a single witness. On May 28, 1938, the jury returned what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called a "compromise verdict" of guilty of manslaughter. The three defendants were sentenced to 20 years in prison but released pending appeal.

"In March 1939, the prosecutor and the judge wrote to the governor and stated that they had received new information. According to the defendants, Paschal was not present at all during the beating of Lawson. Stevenson was present, but was unable to act quickly enough to keep Whalen from assaulting the prisoner. Prosecutor Warner stated that Stevenson and Paschal had remained silent, "out of mistaken loyalty to Whalen" ... On April 8, 1939, Governor Clarence Martin signed the pardons for Stevenson and Paschal. ... Whalen finally served six months in custody before being paroled on December 29, 1939" (Wilma, "Governor Martin pardons...").

At a 1961 celebration of Lundin's 50th anniversary as a College Club member, he was honored by numerous Seattle dignitaries and politicians.

"Lundin, a dignified elder statesman, who fights a losing battle to control his roguish spirit, was honored as few men are. Virtually the entire King County Superior Court bench and State Supreme Court sat en banc, along with many of Seattle's leading business and professional men, to show their respect and affection for the 77-year-old attorney. But Lundin, always a foe of pomposity, refused to sit by quietly and behave like the stereotype guest of honor. Instead, he had a good time" (Reddin).

Lundin regaled the audience with memories of his early life in Lead, South Dakota, where as a small boy he knew Calamity Jane; his legal education under the renowned Roscoe Pound (then dean emeritus of the Harvard Law School); his arrival in Seattle on August 31, 1906; and his early days of practice with O. B. Thorgrimson and Elmer Todd.

"Lundin was able to give his dinner audience a fascinating first-hand account of much that happened during the colorful era of Mayor Hi Gill and Chief of Police Charles W. Wappenstein. There were humorous and nostalgic references to such early-day Seattle figures as the Rev. Dr. Mark A. Matthews and the Billingsley brothers, Sherman (now owner of the plush Stork Club in New York City), and Logan; John Clancy, Sheriff Robert Tate Hodge, and Judges King Dykeman and James T. Ronald" (Reddin).

Lundin, known as "the voice" because of his singing ability, led the party in community singing. Judge Hill said there was no need for a master of ceremonies "because Al here could have run this party himself."

Alfred Lundin died in 1963, at age 79, a "prominent attorney" according to his obituary,  whose career was followed closely by Seattle newspapers. A search of The Seattle Times Historical Archives shows there are 975 articles about him from 1906 to 1963.


Lowell S. Hawley and Ralph Bushnell Potts, Counsel for the Damned: A Biography of George Francis Vanderveer (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1953); Gary Krist, The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007); James H. Boswell, Blue Book Western Washington (Seattle: Loman and Hanford Co., 1922), 40; John J. Reddin, "Faces of the City: Judges and Lawyers Honor 'Al' Lundin," The Seattle Times, June 29, 1961; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Gill, Hiram C. (1866-1919)" (by David Wilma), "Governor Martin pardons two police officers on April 8, 1939, for killing an African American." (by David Wilma), and "Everett Massacre (1916)" (by Margaret Riddle), (accessed April 11, 2012).

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