A HUNDRED years ago this summer, my mother, Roberta, a smallish 7-year-old, spent one of the most memorable days of her life at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific...
A HUNDRED years ago this summer, my mother, Roberta, a smallish 7-year-old, spent one of the most memorable days of her life at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the University of Washington campus.
Roberta and her mother, Margaret, had come over from Cle Elum by train and taken a streetcar out to the fairgrounds. She wore her Sunday-best dress, a frilly sunbonnet and high-buttoned shoes.
Because of her, A-Y-P was the first acronym I learned as a child. Through my mother’s eyes I relived an afternoon tea served by beautiful Japanese women in kimonos, saw enormous buildings like those in Paris and New York, visited an Igorrote Village inhabited by “headhunters,” felt shivers down my spine at the sight of fierce-looking stuffed animals, and, as night fell, gasped in amazement at a dazzling display of electric lights.
“Oh, I wish you could have seen it, son,” she’d say.
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Mom died in 2000 at age 98. This is for the scrapbook she’ll never see.
IT WAS COOL and wet on June 1, the day the A-Y-P opened. Fairgoers arrived by trolley, train, boat and foot — only a few had cars — and began pouring through the turnstiles at 8 a.m.: 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children (11 cents for everyone at night).
Frederick & Nelson department store gave its employees the day off. Standard Furniture Co. offered A-Y-P bargains: $1.65 kitchen chairs and $17.85 davenports. Credit, of course!
There were Japanese and American warships in Elliott Bay. No cause for alarm. Japan was the only Asian nation to erect a major building at the fair. Fifty-thousand spectators lined Tacoma’s streets the previous day to cheer parading Japanese and American sailors.
At 9:30 a.m., a motorcade of dignitaries moved up Second Avenue toward the fairgrounds. Military bands and Channing Ellery’s Royal Italian Band of Chicago set the tempo. Outside the fairgrounds, Theodore “Dad” Wagner’s homegrown band entertained with Sousa marches. Inside, Frederick Innes’ Orchestral Band of New York warmed up for its big moment — playing Innes’ official A-Y-P march, “Gloria Washington,” in the Natural Amphitheater (where Padelford Hall and a parking garage now stand).
Shortly before 11, fair president J.E. “Ed” Chilberg introduced the principal speaker, James J. Hill, swashbuckling chairman of the Great Northern Railroad, who was wearing a black eye patch (never explained).
The fair, Hill said, almost certainly would increase Seattle’s stature as a major trading partner of Canada and Pacific Rim countries, and cement its role as the gateway to Alaska.
The previous day Hill said of the fair’s Forestry Building, aka The World’s Largest Log Cabin: “Money and stones can build grounds and erect buildings like these exhibit palaces . . . but God Almighty built the material used in that Forestry Building. That structure is the greatest ever erected at an exposition.”
The hyperbole was, perhaps, justified for a block-long structure supported by 50-foot logs each weighing roughly 50,000 pounds. Post-fair, the “temple of timber” served as a museum until dry rot and beetles brought it down in 1931. The Husky Union Building (HUB) now occupies the space.
President William Howard Taft, in Washington, D.C., would officially open the fair at noon. Plenty of time for the gentlemen seated on the grandstand to pull out their pocket watches, check the time and reflect on what had gone into making this day possible.
SEATTLE, WITH a population of roughly 237,000, was an unlikely player on the world stage. Washington hadn’t become a state until 1889, the same year the Great Seattle Fire destroyed a large part of downtown. As the fair opened, Seattle was still sluicing down Denny Hill and Mayor John Miller was publicly deploring the city’s rampant “gambling, drinking and debauchery.” He blamed much of it on a “bad element” attracted by the Klondike and Alaska gold rushes, which began in ’97.
If Midwesterners and East Coasters thought of Seattle, it was a place where people caught outrageously large salmon from their front porches and dug outsize mollusks they called gooey-ducks.
A few may have heard of Asa Shinn Mercer, the first president of the Territorial University of Washington, who journeyed east in the early 1860s to lure single women (the “Mercer Girls”) out to Seattle, giving the overabundance of unmarried men a reason to bathe and slick down their hair.
Imagine a town like that staging a world’s fair, rumored to cost $10 million. Why, the nation’s average weekly wage was only $29.98, for 59 hours!
The fair owed its genesis to Godfrey Chealander, who wanted Seattle to put up a permanent downtown Alaska museum, featuring the Alaska exhibit he’d assembled for Portland’s 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition.
Chealander outlined his plan over lunch with William Sheffield, secretary of Seattle’s Alaska Club, and James Wood, city editor of The Seattle Times. Sheffield agreed to present the idea to the Chamber of Commerce. Wood, miffed that Portland had staged a world’s fair ahead of Seattle, saw the Alaska exhibit as part of a world’s fair. Think big and his paper would promote it.
Times publisher Alden J. Blethen agreed, hoping to get a jump on arch rival Erastus Brainerd, his Post-Intelligencer counterpart. The head start was short-lived. Brainerd quickly launched his own pro-fair campaign. And what began as an Alaska Exposition quickly became an Alaska-Yukon Exposition, because the gold rush had started in the Klondike and a Canadian exhibit would give the fair a “foreign” flavor.
The “P” was added later by Edmond Meany, a UW history professor who argued that the Pacific Rim would be a major trading partner in the future.
Meany also suggested staging the fair on the UW campus. Nearly 250 acres of free land. Only a handful of buildings to contend with. And a student body of roughly 1,400 crammed into 40 classrooms. Sure it was “out in the sticks” — all the more reason for the Seattle Electric Co. to expand its trolley service.
Then Meany dropped the other shoe. A fair on UW property would, of course, have to be “dry.” Critics who said a liquor ban would doom the fair were drowned out by those who argued, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
The chamber formed an Exposition Corp. That it was all white males surprised no one. A woman’s place was, after all, still in the home. And the chamber — like private clubs and just about everything else run by “the establishment” — had no seats for minorities.
And so it was that J.E. Chilberg, president of Seattle’s Scandinavian Bank, was named A-Y-P president. City editor Wood became “director of exploitation,” a fancy name for publicist.
Chilberg, with his limited education and occasional grammatical slips, exceeded expectations. A tireless worker, he paid his own fare on fundraising trips around the country, and he always wore a smile.
The feds put up $600,000, provided the A-Y-P raise $600,000 on its own and agree not to hold its fair until after the summer of ’07, which was reserved for a Jamestown, Va., celebration of the 300th anniversary of the first English settlement on the American continent. A-Y-P boosters raised $1 million in a single day.
The state of Washington put up another $600,000, contingent on at least three permanent buildings being added to a pre-fair campus that contained Denny Hall, Theodore Jacobsen Observatory, Lewis Hall, Clark Hall and a Science Building. King County put up $300,000 for the forestry building, another $78,000 for exhibits.
But most of the heavy lifting fell to the business community. The corporation raised $5 million by selling A-Y-P stock at $3 a share. Will H. Parry personally raised more than $1 million. The Times “encouraged” participation by publishing the names of businessmen who had yet to contribute.
In the fall of ’06, the Olmsted Brothers, acclaimed designers of fairs and parks (New York City’s Central Park and Lake Washington Boulevard) were awarded a $350,000 contract to transform the largely untamed campus into a world-class fairgrounds.
James Frederick Dawson, the Olmsteds’ head man, cleared the land with horses and dynamite, laid out gardens, broad paths and the fair’s centerpiece, the Geyser Basin (today’s Frosh Pond and Drumheller Fountain), fed by a waterfall cascading down terraced steps from the Government Building.
Although there were 80-plus buildings at the A-Y-P, many had plaster facades and were not intended to be permanent. Besides the dominant neoclassical style favored by John Galen Howard, the fair’s chief architect, there were examples of Mediterranean, Colonial and Roman. Arts and crafts ranged from delicate Japanese to earthy Pueblo.
SHORTLY BEFORE noon, Hill stopped talking. Chilberg checked his watch and cut short his own remarks. At 12:01 p.m., just one minute late, President Taft pressed a telegraph key encrusted with Klondike gold, sending an impulse across the country to the A-Y-P, where it unfurled “the world’s largest flag” (39 by 104 feet) and signaled the distribution of 10,000 small American flags around the fairgrounds.
People cheered. The clapper was unleashed on a large bell hidden in foliage on the grandstand. U.S. troops fired salutes. Factory whistles shrieked, bands blared. Slightly more than 90,000 showed up that first day, and visitors and big-city reporters from around the country agreed the views of Mount Rainier, Lake Washington and Lake Union surpassed those of any fair they’d seen.
Although only two foreign nations, Canada and Japan, erected major buildings, an international flavor was created by Chinese, Eskimo and Igorrote villages, a Bohemian Restaurant, Vienna Café, Spanish Theatre, Formosa Tea Room, Italian gondola rides, and a Streets of Cairo exhibit featuring a camel and a belly dancer.
At California’s building, thousands of nuts were glued together to form a life-size elephant. Hawaii showcased a 30-foot-high pyramid of coconuts and pineapples.
Chealander’s Alaska exhibit wowed ’em with a heavily guarded display of gold dust, nuggets and bricks said to be worth $1 million.
The huge U.S. government building, keystone of six all-white buildings in the Arctic Circle, overlooking Geyser Basin, did itself proud with a Wild West Show and a model of a Pony Express mail carrier. New York erected a replica of the New York home of William Seward, who bought “Seward’s Folly” (Alaska) from the Russians for $7.2 million in 1867. During the fair, the house was the site of official dinners. Later, it became the residence of UW presidents.
King County had a scale model of a Newcastle coal mine. But the star — a sort of bituminous Hope Diamond — was the “Fuca Lump,” a 1,300-pound piece of coal taken from a Clallam County mine.
Visitors flocked to the fair’s midway, called Pay Streak, to watch re-creations of two celebrated Civil War battles: the naval encounter between the pint-size Monitor and the much larger Merrimac and the Battle of Gettysburg.
Everyone talked about the Igorrote Village, populated by natives from the Philippine island of Luzon. Reputed to be headhunters and dog-eaters, the Igorrotes laughingly engaged in dances, spear-throwing contests and cloth-weaving. When the loin clothes worn by men and boys became a moral issue, the Rev. Mark Matthews and Judge Thomas Burke were assigned to investigate. They determined the loin clothes were historical native dress and not intended to titillate.
Hard to believe today, but a display of incubators containing live babies was set up between a cafe and an “educated horse.”
Tire of those attractions and take in a wrestling match between “The German Shadow” and “America’s Apollo,” board L.A. Thompson’s Scenic Railway to see “dazzling tunnels” and panoramic views of “corniced palaces, towers and terraced gardens” or go up in J.C. Mars’ tethered balloon that floated over the fairgrounds.
Dull moments were rare.
CROWDS GATHERED to hear three days of debate on a major issue of the day, Prohibition.
In mid-June, the Ford Motor Co. sponsored “the world’s first ocean-to-ocean” automobile race from New York’s City Hall to the A-Y-P’s Geyser Basin. It pitted two lightweight Model T’s against four heavyweight cars: Stearns, Acme, Shawnut and Italia. Twenty-two days later — having survived hundreds of miles of unpaved roads, quicksand and being buried in snow on Snoqualmie Pass, one of the Fords chugged onto the fairgrounds and was awarded a trophy by Henry Ford himself. Ford left town before it was discovered that the winner had changed engines, midrace, in violation of the rules.
The National American Suffrage Association held its 41st convention at the fair, picking up delegates along the way in a Great Northern train dubbed “The Suffrage Special.” Suffragettes passed out literature and spread the gospel in the Women’s Building. It later became the Imogen Cunningham Women’s Center.
The suffragettes must have been convincing, because in November 1910, Washington granted women the right to vote, a full decade before it became the law of the land.
Every day different states, counties, nationalities and special-interest groups were honored. A sampling: Japanese Navy Day, Polish Day, Paris Day, United Swedish Singers Day, Fish Day, National Barbers’ Association Day, Wisconsin Day, Newsboy’s Day. Even octogenarians had their day.
Smith was then, and still is, the most common surname in America. So, no surprise when 5,000 Smiths waited for gates to open on the day all persons named Smith were admitted free. On Sept. 24, the fair was marred by tragedy when a Seattle Electric Co. streetcar jumped the tracks at what is now University Way, hitting three concession buildings. Fifty-five were injured, and Frank Hull of Tacoma was killed.
President Taft, looking every ounce the 300 pounds he was rumored to weigh, arrived for a visit Sept. 30 as the 138-day fair wound down. Security was tight. President William McKinley had been mortally wounded by an assassin at the Buffalo, N.Y., world’s fair in 1901, and the memory was fresh. Taft rode in a parade, attended a horse show and spoke in the amphitheater, where he was welcomed by U.S. Sen. Samuel Piles “to a part of the country that had not cost the nation blood or treasure but was the gift of the pioneers.” The Indian Wars presumably didn’t count.
During his stay, Taft also panned for gold in the Alaska Building, where he extracted a large nugget from the “salted” sand, and played a 9-hole match at the Seattle Golf Club against H.C. Henry. After seven holes, it was time for lunch. Taft said he wanted to play the full nine holes. The president shot a 45, Henry an unimpressive 47. In the afternoon, Taft played in a foursome with A.S. Kerry as his partner.
On Oct. 12, William Jennings Bryan, noted orator and three-time loser as a presidential candidate, spoke in the amphitheater to a cheering crowd. It was not until the ’20s that Bryan successfully prosecuted the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee.
A crowd of 62,762 attended the final day of the fair, Oct. 16. Although not all 3.7 million attendees at the A-Y-P were paid admissions, the fair easily exceeded attendance at the Lewis & Clark Exposition and the Jamestown Tercentenary. It also finished $63,000 in the black, despite its lack of liquor — the only U.S. fair, besides Omaha’s 1898 Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition, to show a profit up to that time. After giving shareholders 3 cents a share, organizers divided the profits between the Anti-Tuberculosis League and the Seamen’s Institute.
An estimated 12,000 attended the closing ceremony. A bugler played “Taps” at midnight and Chilberg threw the switch that plunged the A-Y-P into darkness.
The fair was history. But there would be postscripts:
Chilberg moved to California, where he had mining interests. Wood was promoted to associate editor of The Times.
The “temporary” Hoo Hoo House, erected for visiting members of a logging fraternity, became the UW Faculty Club. It lasted half a century.
The UW campus has grown from 240 to 643 acres, the buildings to 214, enrollment to more than 40,000, including branch campuses.
There is a brisk business in A-Y-P memorabilia, with some items selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
In a 1962 issue of Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Dr. George Frykman, dean of the graduate school of Washington State University, analyzed the A-Y-P statistically and concluded it hadn’t done a lot to promote Asian trade, hadn’t helped Alaska much, because developers preferred doing business in the “Lower 48,” had done little to increase Seattle’s population and had created few jobs.
He missed the point. Fairs are the stuff of dreams, not something to be measured statistically — although even from that standpoint the A-Y-P was pretty impressive.
Fifty-three years after the A-Y-P, my wife, Mary, and I took my mother to the Century 21 Exposition, another fair that finished in the black and left a legacy (the Seattle Center). We didn’t miss much that day. At the end, I asked, “Well Mom, how does it compare with the A-Y-P?”
My mother thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, it’s very nice, son. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but (long pause) I really think the A-Y-P was better.”
Don Duncan is a retired Seattle Times reporter.