On July 14, 1970, Seattle restaurateurs Julia and Francois Kissel hold a dinner party and parade in Pioneer Square to celebrate Bastille Day, France’s national holiday, a celebration that will culminate in a terrible accident that leaves onlooker Shelly Bauman gravely wounded. Eventually, the tragedy will result in the opening of Seattle’s first disco, Shelly’s Leg.
The Bastille Day festivities in 1970 took place in Pioneer Square, where the Kissels owned Brasserie Pittsbourg, a French grille. The weather was ideal for a celebration: The daytime temperature topped out at 84 degrees, and by dusk, it had dipped into the 60s. The Kissels held their dinner party on the top floor of an iconic parking garage called the Sinking Ship, nicknamed for the way the triangular structure appeared to jut out of the ground like the prow of a boat doomed to succumb to the waves. From the garage, the parade was to head south, loop back through Pioneer Square, and then return to the Sinking Ship.
The parade was small, involving two cars and a pickup truck hauling a Dixieland band. But to heighten interest, the Kissels contacted Morris Hart, who operated an antique shop on 1st Avenue. Hart also owned an antique fire engine, and the Kissels asked if he could include it in the parade. Hart obliged, though he decided to add another feature: an old cannon, which he attached to the fire truck. He apparently did not inform the Kissels of this addition.
Hart had experience with the cannon, and had incorporated it into other festivities, such as Fourth of July parades. During past events, the cannon had been loaded with paper confetti. When the cannon was ignited, confetti would spray from the bore, or the inside, of the cannon. The spectacle delighted spectators. So, before the Bastille Day parade began, Hart and his son used a broom handle to pack two ounces of black powder and a wad of confetti paper into the barrel. Now everything was set.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
At approximately 11 p.m., the parade began. Its projected route was short, but it still drew a sizeable crowd. Among the spectators was 22-year-old Shelly Bauman (1947-2010), who had moved from Florida and would later remark that, "there were people all over" (Atkins, 223). Of particular interest to those in attendance was the cannon, and when the parade made a brief stop, a group of spectators climbed atop the barrel. People near Bauman "were all laughing and saying, 'Come on, get on, get on'," and perhaps feeling peer pressure, she clambered onto the cannon. She didn't stay long, because when the parade restarted, she slid off and folded back into the crowd.
The fire truck hauling the cannon was an antique vehicle, and the parade crawled along the streets of Pioneer Square. Its pace allowed spectators, once again, to climb aboard the barrel. There, people gave in to the spirit of Bastille Day, and they drank and lit fireworks. At some point, the barrel began to bob up and down (whether this was due to the weight of the passengers or their movement or some malfunction of the cannon is unknown). But where it once pointed skyward, it now aimed into the crowd. Carol Hart, whose husband owned the cannon, was among the spectators. When she and her son saw the barrel move, they sprung to action, yelling for people to get out of the way. Chaos ensued. Bauman believed she saw someone drop something bright into the cannon’s bore. She found herself gazing into the cannon’s barrel. Standing near Bauman was a friend who joined her at the parade, and Bauman told her friend that they should move.
But it was too late: The cannon fired. Julia Kissel, the restaurateur who helped plan the parade, heard the cannon’s blast. Seeing Bauman collapse, she ran to her aid. Kissel checked Bauman’s pulse. Bauman was alive, but barely. Kissel screamed for an ambulance.
Bauman lay sprawled on Occidental Street, where she was aware enough to know she had been hurt, that in her abdomen there was a smoldering wad of paper. She attempted to remove it, but was stopped by another parade attendee, a doctor, who advised her that the paper was stanching the flow of blood. If she removed it, she likely would have died. The doctor pressed a hand into her open wound, where he located a severed artery. He clamped it shut with his fingers, an action that kept her alive long enough for an ambulance to arrive. Bauman was rushed to Harborview Medical Center.
From the ER to a DJ Booth
When Bauman arrived in the emergency room, she was near death. Surgeons determined they must amputate her left leg to save her life, but consent from Bauman or a family member was needed. Bauman resisted, and no one knew how to reach her relatives. Instead, Joe McGonagle, one of Bauman’s roommates in Seattle, arrived at the ER, where he took charge. "So I put the pen in her hand," he recalled, "and I said, 'Now sign your name!'" (Dady interview). Bauman signed. Surgeons removed her leg and cut into her pelvic bone. Numerous operations followed. It was a grueling recovery, which lasted nine months. She would use a wheelchair the rest of her life.
After her release from the hospital, Bauman sought restitution. She sued the Kissels, who threw the celebration; Morris Hart, who brought the cannon; and the City of Seattle, which, she alleged, provided police officers who paid no heed to a loaded weapon at a public event. The case was settled out of court in 1973, and Bauman was awarded $330,000.
Before the settlement, McGonagle, Bauman’s roommate, had harbored a dream: to open a disco in Seattle. Bauman decided to help, and she lent McGonagle and business partner Pat Nesser between $18,000 and $20,000 (the figure is unclear). They bought the old Our Home Hotel on S Main Street, not far from where Bauman was struck by the cannon, and aided by friends, McGonagle and Nesser transformed the space into a glitzy disco, with multicolored Plexiglass, a dance floor, and a disc-jockey booth. "Seattle had never had a disc jockey," McGonagle would later claim.
To honor Bauman, the disco was named Shelly’s Leg. The venue opened on December 14, 1973, with a prominent sign that informed patrons that "Shelly’s Leg is a GAY BAR provided for Seattle's gay community and their guests." Shelly’s Leg became an instant success. Seattle’s first disco was born.
Bauman lived on until November 18, 20201, when she died at her home at age 63 "of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease after a nomadic life of dancing and partying ... friends describe her life as 'tragic,' filled with drinking, drugs and health problems, cared for at her Bremerton duplex for the last eight years of her life by her neighbor, 64-year-old Monte Levine. But she never let her limitations get in the way of a good time" ("Shelly's Left Leg ...").