The Seattle Times estimated a crowd of 400,000 on May 26, 1908, for a parade through downtown honoring President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, 16 battleships on tour.
PERCHED NEAR, and somehow above, the sidewalk on the east side of Second Avenue, Frank Nowell, the photographer of this flood of fashionable pedestrians, is standing about a half-block north of Stewart Street. The crowd seems to spill onto Second from what The Seattle Times called the “immense viewing stand” on its west side. The pack has gathered to celebrate President Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet” during its four-day visit to Seattle. The battleships were circumnavigating the world in a show of U.S. military prowess.
Designed to support a mix of spectators paying a dollar a seat, and freeloading dignitaries, the Chamber of Commerce enlarged the viewing stand from 10,000 to 15,000 seats in hurried construction the week before the grand parade of May 26,1908, the fleet’s last full day in Seattle. Nowell’s camera points to the northwest, so given the shadows on both the celebrants’ faces and The Harvard Hotel at the corner of Virginia Street and Second Avenue, it seems likely that this was recorded after the morning parade, when its route was safe to swarm.
Before the parade, The Times predicted “a sea of bright-colored summer costumes and striking hats.” Many of those bonnets included ostrich feathers, and surely some of those plumes were purchased at the Bon Marché’s May 21 sale, priced from $1.50 to $6.95, depending upon the color and length. The Bon also predicted that the four-day visit of 16 battleships would be “the greatest event in Seattle history.”
It was this newspaper’s penchant to print on its editorial page the latest estimate for the city’s booming population. At the time of the fleet’s visit, it was 276,462, plus about 125,000 more who reached Seattle by all means possible. Seattle’s suburbs were abandoned, The Times reported. Full-up, the Great Northern Railroad “left 250 standing on the platform in Wenatchee.” About 15,000 arrived by railroad in one afternoon, which the newspaper reported with a story headlined, “Chaos Reigns in King Street Station.” In its front-page afternoon summary of the morning parade, the newspaper estimated about 400,000 for those watching the parade and marching in it. That included 6,000 men from the fleet.
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This newspaper’s weeklong coverage of the fleet’s sensational visit is truly wondrous and often whimsical. Readers, we are fond of reminding them, can use their Seattle Public Library cards for online explorations of The Seattle Times’ archives. And while delving, we recommend both HistoryLink’s essay on the fleet’s visit and Bob Royer’s astute reflections on his own blog, The Cascadia Courier. I suspect that many readers will remember Royer’s early 1980s term as Seattle’s deputy mayor and brotherly adviser to Charles Royer, mayor then and for many years following. Bob Royer is presently HistoryLink’s chairman of the board.