Seattle begins its year-long centennial celebration beginning on November 13, 1951.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 11/06/2001
  • Essay 3632
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On November 13, 1951, the city of Seattle celebrates the 100th anniversary of the arrival of its founding settlers. A re-enactment of the landing party is held at Alki point, the Alki monument is rededicated with a time capsule, and General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) comes to town to partake in the festivities.

Waiting for the Exact Moment

Festivities began at Alki point at 9:45 a.m. The West Seattle High School Band played music and thousands of people began arriving. The skies were gray, and a cold wind blew over the waters, just as it had exactly 100 years earlier.

Public speaker and West Seattle insurance salesman Orlyn Haws set the stage for the re-enactment with a running narrative. His prelude began at 9:50 a.m., telling of what had gone on at Alki Point prior to the pioneers’ arrival. The script was written by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery, a Seattle historian and textbook author.

Waiting below on the shores of Alki beach was Robert Jensen, who portrayed David T. Denny. His head and foot were bandaged, just as Denny’s had been a century ago from injuries suffered while building a cabin. Jensen waited forlornly on the beach, just as Denny had, looking for the rest of his party. At 10:00, the Exact, represented by the Sea Scout schooner Yankee Clipper, hove into view.

Cast Party

On board were the rest of the re-enactment cast. The babies portraying Rolland Denny, Gertrude Boren, and Lavinia Bell were dolls. The roles and actors of the rest of the party are as follows:

Captain Folger - Harold Badcon
Arthur Denny - Bruce Miller
Mary Ann Denny - Mrs. Alan Newcomb
Louisa Denny - Elaina Newcomb
Lenora Denny - Cynthia Borgen
John N. Low - Paul Cavan
Lydia Low - Mrs. Robert Jensen
Mary Low - Pamela Jensen
Alonzo Low - Jill Jensen
Lydia Low - Jenee Jensen
John V. Low - Garry Moore
Carson Boren - Robert Nuber
Mary Boren - Lillian Thurston
William Bell - Kenneth Borgen
Sarah Ann Bell - Mrs. George Blackaller
Laura Bell - Susan Blackaller
Olive Bell - Sheila Cavan
Virginia Bell - Jerry Thurston
Louisa Boren - Eleanor (Mrs. Paul) Cavan
Charles Terry - Richard Thurston
Lee Terry - Alfred Combs

Twelve boys from the Canuk Junior High Y Club portrayed Indians. Their wigs were mistakenly dyed with some substance that gave them an odd blue tint. Two of the boys, Jim Trenchard and Bob Little, received an unceremonius dunking in the frigid waters of Puget Sound when their dugout canoe capsized. They made it ashore safely, cold and wet. Other “Indians” gathered there included members of the West Seattle Sportsmen club, who painted and dressed as Native Americans as they barbecued salmon over an open fire.

As the two little boats came ashore with the re-enactors, Orlyn Haws continued with the narrative. “Louisa Boren” rushed to the arms of “David Denny,” her soon-to-be husband. “Arthur Denny” and “John Low” sawed logs, while “Carson Boren” stood guard with a flintlock rifle. The women were dressed in sun bonnets and gingham gowns, the men wore leather jackets and coonskin caps. “Indians” greeted the party, which initially frightened the women and children. But in the end, all was well.

Just as the pantomime tableau came to a finish, a cold drizzle filled the air, adding authenticity to the event. Spectators experienced the same miserable weather as Seattle's founders. The High School band played the National Anthem.

Speakers and Committee Members

A variety of speeches and presentations ensued, presided over by F. Clyde Dunn, publisher of the West Seattle Herald and general chairman of the Alki Centennial Committee. First up was an invocation by the Reverend David Rose, representing the West Seattle Ministerial Association. Thus spake Rose: “Here we have lived, O Lord, and builded and worshiped, and so, Lord God, we lift up before Thee one city, the work of our hands…”

Indian dances were performed, first by the Hiawatha Sparklers, and later by the children of Mrs. Ernest Mulholland, great-grandniece of Chief Seattle. Centennial committee members were introduced, including William Sweeney, president of the West Seattle Commercial Club; Arvid Andresen, president of the West Seattle Kiwanis; Howard Mallory, president of the West Seattle Lions; Mrs. B.E. Moore, president of the Alki Women’s Improvement Club; and Paul Cavan, president of the Alki Community Club.

Also welcomed were four descendants of the original landing party -- Mrs. Howard Thompson, granddaughter of Seattle founder Arthur Denny; Caroline Bamford, daughter of Rolland Denny, who was 6 weeks old when his family came ashore at Alki; and Mrs. A. P. Nute and Mrs. M. K. McChesney, granddaughters of Charles Terry.

A Monumental Event

Seattle Mayor William Devin and George Gunn, chairman of the Centennial committee and president of Greater Seattle, Inc., then presided over the rededication of the Alki Monument. A time capsule, the contents of which had been assembled by Mrs. Harold Hartman, was lowered into a vault at the foot of the pylon. The capsule was 18 inches in diameter, five feet long, and weighed 720 pounds.

Inside were artifacts of the time, including a model of the latest Boeing swept-back wing jet bomber. A bronze plaque telling of the placing was presented by Mrs. Hartman to Mr. Gunn, who then presented it to Frank Atkins, son of Seattle's first mayor, Henry A. Atkins. Mr. Atkins then presented the plaque to Mayor Devin who accepted it on behalf of the city of Seattle.

To finalize the rededication, a red, white, and blue decorated bottle was brought forth, which contained water from Lake Washington, Lake Union, Elliott Bay, the Duwamish River, and Puget Sound. Mayor Devin, raising the bottle on high, proclaimed, “I hereby rededicate this monument as marking the birthplace of Seattle!” And with that, he shattered it against the stone pylon. Souvenir hunters rushed forward to grab shards of glass.

A Distinguished Guest

The keynote speech was given by E. L. Blaine, Jr., the grandson of David and Catharine Blaine. David founded Seattle’s first church, and Catharine was Seattle’s first teacher and school administrator. Mr. Blaine spoke of the hardships endured by early settlers, and read excerpts from pioneer letters. He also related some early history of Seattle, and ended his talk with an excerpt from Chief Seattle’s famous speech.

Following that, the 160-member Alki Chorus sang songs of the pioneer era. This concluded the morning program. Some stayed on for barbecued salmon, while others went to a pioneer luncheon at the Alki fieldhouse. Some just went home to get out of the cold wind and rain.

But later that afternoon almost everyone returned, as well as thousands of newcomers, for the second part of the day’s events. Shortly before 4:00 p.m., the clouds briefly parted, and rays of sunshine shone through. A spectacular rainbow appeared over the city of Seattle. Almost on cue, a limousine pulled up, and out stepped General Douglas MacArthur.

Generally Speaking

The general strode confidently to the monument, along with his wife. He firmly grasped the hand of Bill Sweeney, then waved to the cheering crowd. Sweeney stepped up to the mike and intoned, “Ladies and gentleman, General Douglas MacArthur.” Thousands of men, women, and children roared with approval.

MacArthur thanked the audience and said a few words about the centennial. Many were impressed that he knew the history of the monument, and that he mentioned West Seattle resident John Adams by name. Adams, a 91-year-old pioneer, stepped forward and presented MacArthur with a wreath to place by the monument.

After a few more words about pioneer spirit, General MacArthur placed the wreath at the base of the monument, stepped back, and saluted. He returned to his waiting caravan amidst a crowd of well-wishers, vigorously clasping their hands, and warmly slapping some of them on the back. His stop at Alki lasted all of six minutes before he moved on to his accommodations at the Olympic Hotel.

Self Invited

The main reason for MacArthur’s visit to Seattle was political. The general was testing the waters for a possible presidential campaign in 1952. He was touring the country, giving speeches wherever he could. It was he who requested an appearance at the opening of Seattle’s year-long centennial celebration.

Earlier in the year, when MacArthur had been commander of the U.N. forces in Korea, he had issued an unauthorized statement which contained a veiled threat to expand the war into China. Furthermore, his direct commmunication with like-minded Republican congressmen on this matter was at odds with the adminstration's stated foreign policy. President Truman, with the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretaries of State and Defense, relieved MacArthur of his command on April 11, 1951.

Truman’s dismissal of MacArthur was not without collateral damage to the presidency. Many felt that this was a blow to national pride, although years later General Omar Bradley commented that MacArthur “would have involved us in the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong enemy."

Nevertheless, at the time, it polarized the country. Truman supporters felt that MacArthur’s actions were a slap in the face to the presidency and that dismissal was the only option. Many conservatives rallied behind their hero. MacArthur tried to coalesce the latter group in a run for the presidency.

Big Mac Attack

General MacArthur arrived at Hec Edmundson Pavilion at the University of Washington at 8:00 p.m. Earlier in the day, three teenagers and a 21-year-old woman were arrested on campus for posting placards depicting the general with a dollar sign insignia on his cap and a smoking bomb as the bowl of his corncob pipe. One of the young men arrested was Michael Phillips, son of John Phillips, a UW professor who had been fired for declining to answer questions in front of the Canwell Committee.

Over 10,000 people packed the Pavilion to hear every one of the general’s words. After brief introductions by Governor Arthur B. Langlie and Mayor William Devin, MacArthur started his speech at 8:30, beginning with a brief mention of Seattle’s centennial. From there he launched into a screed which blasted President Truman and his policies, in far greater detail than he had done in any speech since his dismissal.

Referring to Truman’s handling of war information, MacArthur stated, “Slanted propaganda and abusive language are used to suppress criticism of the public and discourage dissemination of truth. Suppression is now even sought through the spurious use of an information blackout to public affairs -- a so-called security measure, the like of which was never before attempted, even during war.”

“We condemn the effort,” he reiterated, “to avoid possible public criticism by cloaking administration functions behind a screen of secrecy under the doubtful pretext that the national security is directly involved.”

A Lust for Political Power

Most of MacArthur’s speech implied that Truman was leading the country down the road to ruin. “Our remaining tax potential has been so depleted that, if the reckless policies of government continue unchecked, the direct confiscation of capital to meet ensuing obligations is almost inevitable. Therein lies the blueprint for the Socialist state.”

MacArthur also talked of foreign trade, and how the current administration was concentrating too much upon European trading partners, and that more attention should be afforded to Japan and other Pacific nations.

He also accused the Truman administration of wishing to expand the Korean war, setting the stage for World War III. No one seemed to notice that, in actuality, this was the reason why MacArthur was himself dismissed. As the general pointed out in his talk, “Wars can come about through blundering statesmanship animated by a lust for political power.”

Future Shock

General MacArthur ended his speech with the words of General Ulysses S. Grant, spoken at the end of the Civil War -- “Let us have peace.” Peace was a long time coming, as the Cold War, still in its early stages, would continue on for decades. A different general received the GOP nomination instead of MacArthur, when cooler heads chose the more moderate Dwight D. Eisenhower as their candidate to guide the United States through the 1950s.

Meanwhile in Seattle, centennial events continued throughout the year, including the completion of a new historical museum, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), which opened near Montlake Cut in the spring of 1952.

A simple ceremony was held at the Alki Monument on November 13, 1952. Another time capsule was buried, alongside the first one. In it were placed all sorts of event memorabilia, including centennial Hawaiian shirts and scarves, picture playing cards, and newspaper stories.

Both time capsules will be opened in 2051. Mark your calendar.


“Proud But Humble City Opens Centennial,” The Seattle Times , November 13, 1951, p. 1, 7; “Phillips’ Son, 3 Others Arrested after Posting M’Arthur Caricatures,” The Seattle Times, November 13, 1951, p. 1; “Landing at Alki Reenacted and ‘Capsule’ Buried,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 14, 1951, p. 5; “Full Text of M’Arthur’s Address at Pavilion,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 14, 1951, p. A-1; "Great Day Here as MacArthurs Visit,” West Seattle Herald, November 15, 1951, p. 1, 8; ”Pioneer’s Landing Portrayed at Alki,” West Seattle Herald , November 15, 1951, p. 1, 16; “Blaine Speaks,” West Seattle Herald , November 15, 1951, p. 1, 13; “Centennial Highlights,” West Seattle Herald , November 15, 1951, p. 9; “Contents of Time Capsule,” West Seattle Herald , November 22, 1951, p. 7; The Truman Presidential Museum & Library, ( Additional information provided by the Log House Museum.

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