Share story

DISTRIBUTED LIKE figures in a well-stocked sculpture garden, the human pillars in this open field also stir a nostalgia in me for the big shows of my youth: big-top circuses, county fairs and later music festivals improvised in farmers’ fields. Ordinarily, as here, there were no paved parking lots then. But here there are no cars, either. This is an afternoon in July 1909.

Most of these fashionable figures arrived here either on a Madison Street cable car or by small steamer to the Madison Park waterfront. A few came for the assorted pleasures of the park, which between 1909 and 1913 added the sensations of White City. The park trees on the left are interrupted by the truly Grand Arch into the enclosed “city.” Inside and to the right of center are the merry-go-round (the conical roof) and the roller coaster. Beyond it all is Lake Washington.

Most of these strollers are not heading for White City, but rather leaving the grandstand of the Western Washington Fairgrounds, behind the photographer. There, between July 17 and Aug. 1, within a white-canvas fence that encircled a new, 5,000-seat stadium (with 52 private boxes), the performers of Cheyenne Bill’s Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders put on several sensational re-enactments of western stories. Included were the “Fight Over the Waterhole,” the “Attack on the Overland Stage Coach” and the “famous Mountain Meadow Massacres and 10 other events of equal interest.”

Tom Mix, one of Cheyenne Bill’s rougher ropers and riders, later became a great star of the silent screen. A few of the Sioux Indians who had parts in the show’s “Wild West” re-enactments had earlier, as young braves, “played” real parts in the Battle of Little Big Horn, aka Custer’s Last Stand. Still standing in 1876 after Col. Custer had fallen, they lived to play again.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.