Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates California Day, Raisin Day, Hoo-Hoo Day, Northwest Light and Power Association Day, Fire Chief's Day, and Volunteer Firemen's Day on September 9, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 6/24/2008
  • Essay 8670
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On September 9, 1909, California Day is celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the grounds of the University of Washington in Seattle.  Five other, smaller days are also celebrated at the exposition on September 9:  Raisin Day, Hoo-Hoo Day, Northwest Light and Power Association Day, Fire Chief’s Day, and Volunteer Firemen’s Day.  The exposition took place between June 1 and October 16, 1909, drawing more than three million people. Visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. Each day (except Sunday) of the A-Y-P was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups. Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again.  The California Day celebrations begin at 10 a.m. with speeches by various dignitaries, but they are upstaged by the Portola girls, 12 particularly attractive young women who thrill the crowd with their chants and cheers.  An early-afternoon reception follows the speeches, but California Day is topped off with a fruit toss in the California Building that descends into a comically chaotic scene.  A grand fireworks show for all at the foot of the Pay Streak midway concludes the day’s festivities.

California Day

“California owns the exposition today,” crowed the Seattle Daily Times on September 9, 1909, and so it seemed as several thousand Californians as well as thousands of happy Washingtonians went to the fair to mark the celebration of California Day. California Day celebrated the 59th anniversary of the state’s admission to the United States on September 9, 1850, and when the festivities commenced that morning, “a riot of color, world of fragrance, and medley of music appealed to everyone who entered the California Building” (Seattle Daily Times, September 9, 1909, p. 15).

Welcoming visitors entering the building were a large elephant made entirely from walnuts and a cow made from almonds.  The building itself, in addition to providing  seating for several thousand people, had lecture rooms that were well used; there were also rock exhibits, educational exhibits, a cognac exhibit, and a large arts and crafts exhibit worth $100,000 in 1909 dollars. Exhibits of fresh and dried fruits, ostrich plumes, olive oils, and leather and wool products, all representative of Sacramento County, California, also complemented the building.

Those Pretty Portola Girls 

California’s celebration was almost rapturous.  About 2,000 people crowded into the California Building for the opening ceremony at 10 a.m., which was kicked off by music from Wagner’s A-Y-P band and the Hawaiian orchestra. Although there were the requisite speeches by both visiting California legislators and other A-Y-P officials, it was the Portola girls that really stole the show.  These “girls” were actually a dozen especially attractive young women, resplendent in eye-catching bright red sweater jackets, big hats with red ribbons, and carrying pennants on which “Portola” in yellow was printed on a background of bright red.  Entering the building, the young women shouted “Rah, rah, rah, California, San Francisco, Portola,” to which the crowd eagerly responded with shouts, cheers, and loud clapping.  Periodically during the morning’s ceremonies the girls gave their yell, and the crowd gladly responded.  Described the Times that evening: "Pandemonium reigned. Such a real demonstration has not been duplicated at the fair." 

The lovely ladies even managed to embarrass the director general of the exposition, Ira A. Nadeau.  When Nadeau rose to give his speech, the Portola girls were ready for him. They rose in unison, waved their pennants and chanted, “‘Nadeau, Nadeau, Nadeau, who is he? He’s director general of the A-Y-P.’  And the object of the girls’ welcome blushed visibly and proceeded with difficulty and hesitation” (Seattle Daily Times, September 9, 1909, p. 15). 

The speeches wound down around noon, followed by a reception for about 3,000 visitors in the building between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. in which fruit punch and wafers were served.  The Portola girls again made an appearance, and again were the featured attraction: “Everywhere they went they were the cynosure of all eyes,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer breathlessly reported the next morning (doubtlessly written by a male reporter).

The Fruit Toss 

At 3 p.m., 2,000 eager fairgoers gathered in the back of the building to receive free fruit. Keep in mind that in 1909 some types of fruit, especially the kinds grown in warmer climates (such as peaches and oranges), were not as easy to come by as they are today (2008).  There were nearly two railcar loads of California fruit stacked behind a long counter -- more than 200 boxes of peaches, 100 boxes of oranges, 125 boxes of apples, 50 crates of grapes, half a ton of raisins, and assorted almonds and walnuts -- and it all had to be given away in an hour. Initially building workers handed out the fruit from behind a long counter. But the crowd was too big and excited and surged in on the workers.  So the workers adopted a different plan. They put the boxes of fruit on the counter and began tossing fruit into the crowd.

At first this worked. But there was a problem. Occasionally someone wouldn’t catch the fruit, and it would land with a thud or splat on an unfortunate victim.  The problem got markedly worse when a band on the scene, the Highland pipers, burst into a ballad with their bagpipes.  The crowd momentarily forgot what they were doing and started watching the pipers. But the workers behind the counter kept right on tossing fruit into the crowd. Ripe peaches and oranges began hitting people in the head, the backs of necks, and other body parts.  Some of the peaches were overripe and exploded upon impact.  It was quite a scene, summed up this way by a P-I subheadline the next morning: “There’s lots of fun during fruit shower.” Onlookers from the building’s balcony, mostly out of range from the flying fruit, gleefully watched and loudly guffawed, the view “to them brought more enjoyment than the gift of much fruit” (Seattle P-I, September 10, 1909).  Notwithstanding the messy affair, no one left until the last peach had been given away.

 At 9 p.m. there was a formal dance in the Washington Building, attended by about 800 people, invitation only. There was also the option (open to all) of checking out an elaborate fireworks show at the foot of the Pay Streak midway, complete with set piece designs symbolic of the Golden State. 

Raisin Day and Other Days

September 9 was a crowded day at the exposition. Four other organizations, plus the raisin, had their day that Thursday. Raisin Day was a small offshoot of California Day, but Hoo-Hoo Day was a more celebratory affair. 

The Hoo-Hoo, a lumberman’s fraternity, picked September 9, 1909 (9/9/1909) as Hoo-Hoo Day in honor of their mystical number nine. Worn out from a late night concatenation (initiation) and boxing match the night before, the Hoo-Hoo began their celebration at 1 p.m. with a baseball game at Dugdale’s park, followed by a general meeting at the Hoo-Hoo House, an evening dance, and then a raucous trip to the Pay Streak.  

The Northwest Light and Power Association took the exact opposite tack for its special day. It held its closing session that morning in the Good Roads Building, then took the afternoon off for a trip on Puget Sound around Bainbridge Island. 

Celebrating Fighting Fires 

Fire Chief’s Day and Volunteer Firemen’s Day seem to have partially dovetailed together. The chiefs were treated with a mid-morning trolley ride around Seattle, followed by a trip to Ballard to view a fire wall, 40 feet high and 100 feet long, containing 80,000 feet of lumber.  The chiefs then proceeded to the A-Y-P and joined the volunteer firefighters, their day of recreation and celebration at the fair already in progress. 

Both the firefighters and the Hoo-Hoo, along with the Californians, had special set pieces representing their organizations in the Pay Streak fireworks show at the end of the day.

Sources: “Fire Chiefs To Visit A-Y-P Fair Tomorrow,” The Seattle Daily Times, September 8, 1909, p. 2; “Hoo Hoo has Big Concatenation At Fair,” Ibid., September 9, 1909, p. 13; “California Goes To Seattle’s Fair,” Ibid., September 9, 1909, p. 15;  “Californians Will Be At The Exposition Today,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 9, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 1;  “Chiefs Discuss Fire Prevention,” Ibid., September 9, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 9;  “Union Of Coast States Is Urged,” Ibid.,  September 10, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 1.

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