Eminent Domain And The Inspiring Story Of “Holdout’s”

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Throughout the short history of the United States, government and YES even big business (under the guise of government) has enacted the law of Eminent or Enemy Domain.

This act allows government to take away land if it is for public works. Like installing new subways, right of ways, road ways and etc.

In most cases the government does offer monetary compensation for land or homes that are taken. And most people accept the offers.

But occasionally someone “holds out” and does not take the offer. In America these people are dubbed “Holdouts”

In 2005 Edith Macefield became a famous holdout in a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard.

This is her story as told on Episode 130: Holdout
By ROMAN on September 2, 2014

“developers offered a woman named Edith Macefield 50,000 dollars for her small house, which was appraised at around 20,000. They wanted to build a shopping mall on the block where Macefield had lived for the last 50 years.

Macefield turned down the money. Developers went forward with the shopping mall anyway. The mall enveloped her house on three sides.

The architects designed the building in such a way that if Mrs. Macefield ever decided to move, they could easily incorporate the space where her had been into the building. The developers eventually increased their offer to one million dollars, plus they offered to find her a similar home somewhere else, and pay for a home health-care work for Macefield who was elderly and in poor health.

Again, Edit Macefield turned them down.

The press loved Edith Macefield’s “David and Goliath” story of an old woman versus the big, bad developers. But even though the press was clamoring to talk to Macefield, she wanted nothing to do with talking to them (as evidenced in this CBS segment).

Slowly, Macefield warmed to some of the construction workers on the project, especially Barry Martin, the project superintendent who would check in on her occasionally and drop off business cards, telling her to call if she needed anything.

She eventually asked Martin to take her to a hair appointment.

Soon thereafter, Barry Martin began taking Edith Macefield to all of her appointments—and then, because it was easier to coordinate with his schedule, he started making them.

Spending all of this time together, Martin got to know Macefield well. He learned that she wasn’t mad about the way her community was changing. She wasn’t even mad about the mall they were building more or less on top of her house. On the contrary, she seemed happy to have the company.

Macefield was an avid reader and loved to talk about books, listen to old music (a lot of opera and big-band music, according to Martin) and watch old movies. She was also a writer. Her longest work was a 1,138 page work of fiction entitled, Where Yesterday Began. She paid to have the book published in 1994 under the pen name “Domilini”.

As Martin got to know Macefield, she told him stories about her past that were so incredible that he found them hard to believe. For example, she said that she’d been a spy for the U.S. during World War II, and that she’d been captured spying and spent time in the German concentration camp of Dachau. She also said she’d taken care of a number of war orphans in England after the war with her then-husband, James Macefield. And on top of all of that, she claimed that Benny Goodman was her cousin and that she had played music with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.

Macefield played both saxophone and clarinet.

Barry Martin eventually became Edith Macefield’s main care-giver — making most of her meals, visiting with her on weekends and even attending to her in the middle of the night if she called and said she needed him. She finally agreed to live-in nurse when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but even then, Martin became her power of attorney—the person whom she put in charge of her final decisions.

Edith Macefield died in her house on June 15, 2008, at age 86.

She left her house to Barry Martin—the construction superintendent who became her friend while simultaneously sandwiching her house between a Trader Joes and an LA Fitness.

After she died, Martin began packing up Macefield’s house and looking for things that would confirm the crazy stories she told about her past. He never found anything about her escaping Dachau or caring for any war orphans. But he did find a Benny Goodman record with a written inscription that said “To my cousin Edith, with love, Benny.” He also found the below correspondence:

After people found out that Edith Macefield had left her house to Barry Martin, there were some who called him an opportunist. Ultimately it’s hard for anyone other than Martin to know what his motivations were, but we did talk to a couple of the healthcare workers who took care of Mrs. Macefield before she died and they both had a very high opinion of him – said that he was there every day when no one else was and that he seemed to care deeply for Macefield.

Martin eventually sold Edith Macefield’s house to an investor who had various plans for it, none of which have materialized, and recently that same investor asked Martin if he’d be interested in buying it back.

The house is all boarded up now, and no one’s sure what will happen to it, which is sad to some people but Martin says that Macefield didn’t care what happened to the house after she died—that she never really cared about the bigger story that the outside world had created about her. She had her own personal reasons for staying in her house and they had nothing to do with that narrative.

Whatever her reasons were for doing it, she stood her ground. And she became a symbol, whether she wanted to or not. There’s even a tattoo shop in Seattle that does a special tattoo to honor the legacy of Edith Macefield. It’s a picture of her little house, and underneath it—the word “Steadfast”.

Producer Katie Mingle spoke with project superintendent, Barry Martin, journalist Kathy Mulady, and home health-care workers Karen Smith and Cathy Bailey for this story. . Featured image by Flickr user Milo Tobin.

Barry Martin wrote a book about his experience with Edith Macefield called Under One Roof.”


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“Eminent Domain And The Inspiring Story Of “Holdout’s””