By Jessica Lee
There’s a Coke machine on Capitol Hill with a history that’s just as mysterious as what’s inside.
It’s within earshot of the neighborhood’s new light-rail station and Broadway’s posh eateries and shops, right in front of a locksmith business at East John Street and 10th Avenue East. The graffiti-covered soda-pop dispenser has been reportedly spitting out cans of “mystery” soda for decades — right now, for a retro price of 75 cents a pop.
And beyond the rusting machine’s clashing look with a neighborhood that’s become known for its modern gleam, the unanswered questions surrounding its history and upkeep have generated online popularity. More than 20,000 people support the Seattle “landmark’s” Facebook page, and its story has gained attention from a wide variety of media sources around the globe for more than a decade.
“I’ve heard supernatural stories about how sometimes you’ll press a button and you’ll get a soda that was discontinued like 20 years ago,” said Kyle Cosoleto-Miller of Bloomsburg, Pa. While on vacation in Seattle last week, he posed for photos in front of the crusty box before it ate his dollar bill and he scrounged up three quarters to eventually score a Sierra Mist.
But the identity of who owns the machine’s keys and is refilling it with stacks of random beverages is unknown, even to the employees of Broadway Locksmith, which lends electrical power and property to keep the mystery going.
Employee Mickey Peters said whoever is restocking the machine must be doing it outside normal daytime hours, during early mornings or weekends, when people at the locksmith business aren’t around. Broadway Locksmith has been at its current location, 918 E. John St., for about 30 years, and the machine has sat in front of it for about 20, he said.
There’s little evidence for tracing the unknown filler’s steps. Even a city spokeswoman said there were no permits on file for the machine.
Photos and reports, though, have surfaced online showing unidentified individuals doing the deed.
The heads of the covert-filling operation appear to be succeeding at keeping the machine stocked. And these days, all six buttons are labeled “mystery.” On a recent trip, this reporter plunked down $4.50 for a Mountain Dew White Out, pink lemonade Minute Maid, vintage-looking Dr Pepper, as well as three other sugary flavors, after hitting two of the buttons.
Minutes before Richie Allen, a former neighborhood resident, cleared his pocket change and cooled off from August’s heat with a cold drink, a pair of preteen siblings hopped out from their parents’ car on the curb of East John Street to visit what one described as the “famous” machine for the first time.
He said the old soda machine conjures up memories of living near the Capitol Hill area, and he tries to make occasional trips to taste a sip of nostalgia.
But despite Allen’s history with the random soda, in terms of the machine’s management and maintenance, he affirmed:
“It’s a Seattle magical mystery.”