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May 4, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Pike Place Market's unofficial assistant dies at 69

Posted by Letters editor

Mental illness not something to play on

This is a response to “Market family loses a beloved fixture: a cranky, reliable enigma” [page one, May 1].

Reading this story left a bad feeling with me. Here is a man —a human being —who clearly suffered from mental illness and whom Pike Place Market allowed to work every day for 20 years without providing a wage. All while the Market president knew Harvey McGarrah was living in a 6-by-12-foot storage locker.

Reading the quotes from Market vendors fondly reminiscing about traits McGarrah exhibited, which were clearly manifestations of mental illness, painted a picture of this man as a novelty item —a source of entertainment and free labor to a Market community that willingly exploited this man’s mental illness and then chuckled at its quaintness.

McGarrah was just that: a man. He was beaten to near death while doing his job for which he was not being paid and clearly received no medical coverage from the Market Association, which now professes to love him.

Was there a funeral held for him? This is not a feel-good story of remembrance. It is a group of vendors rejoicing in their ability to exploit the labor of a mentally ill man for 20 years without paying him a penny other than tips, and then laughing about the manifestations of his illness.

— Amanda Otero, Seattle

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