Seattle celebrates silver anniversary of Klondike Gold Rush on July 17, 1922.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 7/08/2004
  • Essay 4311
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On July 17, 1922, Seattle celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, which began on July 17, 1897, with the arrival in Elliott Bay of the steamship Portland carrying "more than a ton of solid gold." For the silver jubilee, Seattle puts on a huge downtown parade. That night the Portland (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) returns amidst a fireworks display above Lake Union. A carnival is held at The Arena, which draws thousands of celebrants for the next three days.

The Big Parade

The festivities began at 2:00 p.m., with a "sourdough" parade down 2nd Avenue. Leading the march was a detachment of mounted police, Mayor Edwin J. Brown and Police Chief William Severyns (1887-1944) in a car, a police band, and Grand Marshal Joel F. Warren, a former Seattle police chief who had traveled to Alaska back in 1897.

Next came 200 soldiers from Fort Lawton, followed by hundreds of men and women who had made the trip to Alaska back in the 1890s. Many of the sourdoughs were dressed in similar garb to that which they wore up north. Some wore furs, whipping their arms together and pretending they were cold, under the warm July sun.

The two-mile-long parade included floats, marching bands, and decorated cars. Awards were given for the best displays. First place went to the Schwabacher Bros. float, which depicted a huge cabin filled with men, women, and children sitting around a dining table. In the rear, miners worked a rocker, washing gold, while others sat around a campfire. Schwabachers was an old Seattle mercantile firm that sold everything from crockery to clothes to boots and shoes.

Prizes were also given to the best-costumed sourdough. First place went to Vincent Schwartz, who had traveled up north to seek his fortune when he was 50. Now 75, the bearded prospector had an even more grizzled appearance, and carried the same pack, tools, and cooking utensils he'd toted when younger. Schwartz was a crowd-pleaser and received applause throughout the entire parade march.

Dance Hall Days

Beginning at 7:00, more a thousand people gathered at The Arena, which had been decorated inside to resemble a Klondike dance hall for the next four nights. Alaskan curios were scattered around the room, including, over in one corner, a giant stuffed moose. A model mining camp was set up, and demonstrations were given throughout each evening.

Occasionally, vaudeville acts bounded into the room. High-kicking girls cavorted and danced; wacky comedians mugged and did pratfalls. The big feature of the night was a cakewalk competition in which a dance caller gave out instructions, and couples did various cakewalk stunts, such as a man tying his dance partner's shoes, or picking up her handkerchief.

A Monte Carlo casino was available, for which scrip could be bought to play the games. Fake money was printed in ten and fifty "buck" denominations, with a picture of the steamer Portland on the front. Ten bucks could be had for a dime, giving gamblers a chance to feel like big spenders. All proceeds went to a fund for needy families. Scrip was also used at the bar, which -- unlike the Klondike -- was "denatured," it being Prohibition and all.

Dances could also be bought for "ten bucks." At evening's end the woman who collected the most scrip on the dance floor won a prize: ten pounds of candy. Second prize was ten pounds of nuts.

Aurora Borealis

Shortly before 9:00, many folks left The Arena to make their way toward Lake Union, where thousands of others had gathered along the hillsides to watch the fireworks show. As twilight fell and the sky darkened, 150 aerial guns went off, showering the lake with sparkles. The mammoth explosion signified an avalanche, with millions of white snowflakes in its wake. Following this, streamers of red, orange, and green light shot across the sky like an Aurora Borealis.

The blasts were still echoing off the hills when out of the now smoke-covered Lake Union came a replica of the steamer Portland (the real Portland sank in 1910) enveloped in a screen of twinkling gold nuggets from flaming torches above. A roar went up from the crowd, matched by a set of aerial cannons, which filled the sky with splashes of scarlet, blue, and gold.

The show went on for nearly half an hour. Yellow rockets signified the gold that was found. Rhododendron shells were dedicated to the state of Washington. Malamute rockets were launched that sounded uncannily like the howling of sled dogs. All of the displays were described in the program, and all of them related in some way to the gold rush and its effects on Seattle.

At the end, 97 rockets were launched simultaneously, followed by a closing salvo of 36 immense bombshells. The Portland sailed away like a ghost ship in the night, and a giant 30-foot tall effigy of a bugler lit up while "Taps" was played.

Summer in the City

The Gold Rush silver jubilee proved to be a great success even though it was a one-time-only event. Seattle's first citywide summer celebration was the Golden Potlatch in 1911 -- it also celebrated the Gold Rush days -- but effectively ended when riots broke out during the 1913 celebration. The 25th anniversary of the arrival of the "ton of gold" was the last major summer festival the city would see until the first Seafair celebration in 1950.

But there is one legacy that came out of the silver jubilee, albeit obliquely. At the time, city business leaders were working together to provide Seattle with a world-class hotel, one worthy of housing visiting dignitaries such as presidents and other world leaders. To accomplish this, they needed to raise nearly $3 million dollars from the community.

Taking advantage of the ebullient spirit that abounded during the jubilee, fund-raising began in conjunction with the event. On the first day alone, more than $1.6 million in bonds were sold, and the total amount was reached in less than two weeks. Concurrently, The Seattle Times -- which also sponsored the silver jubilee -- held a contest to name the new hotel. "The Olympic" was chosen out of 3,906 entries.


"Times Fireworks Will Light Seattle Skies," The Seattle Times, July 16, 1922, p. 1,7; "Klondike Stage is Set, Let Joy Be Unconfined," Ibid., July 16, 1922, p. 1, 7; "Sourdoughs Revive Klondike Gold Days," Ibid., July 17, 1922, p. 1, 3; "Gold Ship Spectacle is Praised," Ibid., July 18, 1922, p. 1, 3; "$1,600,000 Raised for Seattle's New Hotel," Ibid., July 18, 1922, p. 1,2; "Aged Sourdough Wins," Ibid., July 18, 1922, p. 3; "Float Prizes Awarded," Ibid., July 18, 1922, p. 3.
The original Portland was wrecked at Katalla, in Alaska, on November 12, 1910. Gordon Newell, "Maritime Events of 1910," in H. W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, ed. by Gordon Newell (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1977).

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