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October 16, 2014 – October 22, 2014

Hot Heads

One hundred and twenty-five years ago this week, on October 17, 1889, the Seattle Fire Department was created, just a few months after the devastating fire that turned most of the city's downtown into "a horrible black smudge." Gardner Kellogg, who had been a volunteer firefighter since 1870, was named the department's first chief.

Kellogg was an advocate of fire prevention, and recommended ordinances that placed responsibility for fire safety on building owners. Businessmen who balked at the increased costs asked for Kellogg's removal and the chief was fired in 1892. After a few years of political wrangling, Kellogg got his job back and remained chief until 1901, when he retired to become Fire Marshall. This position allowed him a greater opportunity to focus on fire prevention.

Business owners in the growing city continued to voice complaints about the fire codes that kept their buildings safe, and in 1910 they found a sympathetic ear when Hi Gill was elected mayor. Gill fired the sitting fire chief and replaced him with one of his card-playing buddies. A year later -- after Gill was recalled for his "open-town" policy, and the graft and corruption that came with it -- Seattle began looking for a new fire chief. The job was given to Frank Stetson, former chief of the Minneapolis Fire Department, who guided Seattle's department into more temperate climes.

Cold Warriors

On October 21, 1962, President Kennedy was scheduled to attend the closing of Seattle's Century 21 World's Fair, but he canceled at the last moment due to a "bad cold." The nation and world soon learned the real reason Kennedy stayed in the other Washington: the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

This week also marks the 105th anniversary of the close of Washington's first world's fair -- the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Its final day was October 16, 1909, and profits from the A-Y-P went to support King County's Anti-tuberculosis League, which aided in the creation of Firland Sanatorium.

News Then, History Now

High in the Square: On October 18, 1899, Seattle unveiled its latest and proudest possession -- a 60-foot totem pole in Pioneer Square. The untold story was that the pole had been purloined from Tlingit Indians in Alaska, and the culprits were some of Seattle's most prominent citizens, including Chamber of Commerce Acting President James Clise. Charges were filed, but little came of them. The pole remained until it was humbled by an arsonist on October 22, 1938. Its burnt remains -- along with a check from the federal government -- were returned to the Tlingits. They magnanimously carved a replica that remains to this day.

Citizens Beware: One hundred years ago this week, on October 17, 1914, bandits robbed the First National Bank in Sedro-Woolley, killing one bystander and wounding two. And on October 22, 1961, King County's largest jailbreak took place when eight inmates flew the coop from a 10th-story window. One fell to his death and the rest were recaptured.

In the Papers: On October 17, 1915, Harry Houdini arrived in Seattle for a week-long run at the Orpheum Theatre. The master showman got plenty of press, especially when he dangled himself from the Seattle Times Building in a straightjacket. And on October 19, 1924, at an exposition game at Seattle's Dugdale Park, Babe Ruth stepped up to the plate and knocked out three homers. The next day, the Sultan of Swing tossed about a dozen autographed baseballs from the roof of the Post-Intelligencer Building.

On the March: The nation's first peacetime draft took effect on October 16, 1940, in response to Nazi Germany's conquest of France four months earlier. There was little protest, unlike that seen in Seattle exactly 25 years later, when hundreds of citizens marched in the streets in the city's first major demonstration against the war in Vietnam.

Getting Angry: On October 20, 1941, world-famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham made his debut with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and treated the audience to one of his well-known tantrums when he snapped at a photographer who tried to take his picture. Another musician who lost his temper in Seattle was Little Willie John. After a weekend gig on October 16 and 17, 1964, the rhythm and blues singer stabbed a man during a drunken brawl, and was arrested for murder.

Seeing Red: On October 22, 1952, Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy made his first political visit to Washington in order to campaign for Republican presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower and incumbent Republican Senator Harry P. Cain. McCarthy's trip didn't turn out quite as he had planned: He got heckled by members of the Washington State Press Club and KING-TV canceled his televised speech.

Feeling the Heat: This week brings anniversaries of some major conflagrations throughout the state, beginning with the fire that destroyed much of downtown Aberdeen on October 16, 1903. October 21 is the 50th anniversary of a huge blaze at Seattle's Todd Shipyards. The Spokane Firestorm that began on October 16, 1991, killed one person and destroyed 114 homes, and on October 19, 1989, an unknown arsonist torched the Jolly Roger restaurant in north Seattle. The landmark roadhouse was a survivor from the wilder days of Lake City, before its 1954 annexation to Seattle.

Quote of the Week

Abruptly the poker of memory stirs the ashes of recollection and uncovers a forgotten ember, still smoldering down there, still hot, still glowing, still red as red.

                                   --William Manchester

Image of the Week

Fifteen years ago this week, on October 16, 1999, Seattle's newly-restored Union Station reopened as Sound Transit's headquarters.

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

Lewis and Clark begin descending the rapids of the Columbia River at Celilo Falls on October 22, 1805.

Cattle drives over Snoqualmie Pass are reported on October 22, 1870.

State Supreme Court denies citizenship for UW School of Law grad Takuji Yamashita on October 22, 1902.

Arsonist damages Seattle's Pioneer Square totem pole on October 22, 1938.

King County's biggest jailbreak occurs on October 22, 1961.

King Olav visits Poulsbo on October 22, 1975.

Federal agents interrupt a smuggling operation in the San Juan Islands, seize two tons of marijuana, and arrest six men on October 22, 1978.

Although a jury has found him guilty of three felonies, the Supreme Court keeps State Senator Gordon Walgren on the election ballot in a ruling announced on October 22, 1980.

Fish processor Al-Ind-Esk-A Sea sinks in Port Gardner Bay off Everett on October 22, 1982.

Lake City Branch, The Seattle Public Library, reopens after a $3,883,201 expansion project on October 22, 2005.

The Lands Council holds the first annual Reforest Spokane Day on October 22, 2011.

New Essays This Week       RSS Feed

Tim Harris Oral History, Part 1: Real Change -- How It All Started

Tim Harris Oral History, Part 2: Real Change -- How It Grew, What It Does

HistoryLink Elementary: Fort Walla Walla

HistoryLink Elementary: Walter Bull -- Leading Citizen of Kittitas County

HistoryLink Elementary: Wine Industry in Washington

HistoryLink Elementary: Marcus and Narcissa Whitman -- Missionaries of the Walla Walla Valley

George, Ross F. (1889-1959)

Orville Bloch receives the Medal of Honor on February 6, 1945.

South Park Bridge, Duwamish Waterway, King County, 1931-2010

Seattle residents receive Cedar River water for the first time on January 10, 1901.

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Sea-Tac Airport
Seattle Children's Hospital
Seattle City Light
Seattle Public Library
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WTO Protests 1999
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