Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Elks Day, Port Townsend Day, W.C.T.U. Day, and Baker City Day on July 28, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 1/02/2009
  • Essay 8880
On July 28, 1909, Elks Day, Port Townsend Day, and W.C.T.U. (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union) Day are celebrated on the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle.  Baker City, Oregon, also celebrates its own day in a much smaller celebration. 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. Elks Day kicks off with a large parade through downtown Seattle in the morning and concludes with both an afternoon and evening circus in the A-Y-P Stadium. Port Townsend also celebrates with a parade through the A-Y-P grounds in the morning; not to be outdone, the W.C.T.U. has its own parade in the afternoon. A power outage as darkness falls only adds to the day’s fun.  

Elks Day

“Gay And Gorgeous Pageant Through Downtown Streets Initiates Big Show At Exposition Stadium” trumpeted The Seattle Daily Times on July 28, 1909, in announcing the kickoff of the Elks convention and circus that day at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.  About 2,500 Elks from Western Washington and Skagway, Alaska, many resplendent in white duck suits, purple ties, and white boaters, gathered in Pioneer Square at 9:30 a.m.  Joined by hundreds more men and women in automobiles and carriages, and accompanied by a least a dozen bands, the Elks marched north on 1st Avenue, turned east on Pike to 2nd Avenue, then south on 2nd to Yesler, where the parade made a dogleg left to 3rd Avenue, then marched north again to Union Street, where it disbanded. 

Thousands of cheering onlookers thronged the parade route, which was bedecked with white and purple streamers (the Elks’ colors). The crowd called out greetings and laughed uproariously at the antics of some of the marchers.  In particular, Seattle politician Hiram “Hi” Gill (1866-1919) created a stir when he “escaped” from his carriage at 2nd and Seneca Avenue and was quickly chased down in the crowd by a band of “rough riders.”

At 2 p.m. the Elks queued up for its society circus parade on the A-Y-P grounds. Featuring the “freakish and the burlesque” (Seattle P-I, July 28, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1), the parade wound its way through the exposition grounds for half an hour, followed by a steady stream of laughter. Some of Seattle’s more prominent citizens joined in the march, accompanied by happy hoots and catcalls from the crowd. Hi Gill once again was singled out for an honorable mention in the press for his costume: a short skirt and “indescribable hair of the Albino girl” (Seattle P-I, July 29, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 11).  The only hiccup in the parade came when one of the so-called expert horsemen slid off of his steed and ripped off a fuzzy girdle around his waist. Explained the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “It was probably George Bartell’s fruit (sic).  He was ringmaster, and he cracked his whip too much.”   

At 3 p.m. the Elks society circus began in the stadium, complete with two circus rings and two stages. The circus featured monkeys, lions, hippopotamuses, tigers, elephants, chariot races, and standing bareback races.  A second showing of the circus started at 8 p.m., but only 10 minutes into the show, the power failed and all went dark.  But no worries -- the enterprising Elks simply lit their red fire light beacons (a precursor to modern emergency beacons) to illuminate their acts. The show went on.

Port Townsend Day

Between 500 and 600 Port Townsend residents, many of whom had traveled from Port Townsend by chartered steamship earlier that morning, arrived at the main gate on the exposition grounds at 10:30 a.m., accompanied by marching tunes provided by the town’s Sixth Artillery Band. Port Townsend’s numbers were doubled by many Seattle residents, some formerly of Port Townsend and others with friends there, looking to join in the fun.  

In a nod to the Elks Day celebration, many in the Port Townsend delegation sported white and purple banners. The banners listed Port Townsend’s claims to fame, such as “$100,000,000 For Improvements,” “188 Days Of Sunshine Every Year,” and “Pure Mountain Water Is To Be Had In Abundance,” among others. The group was met at the gate by former governor John McGraw (1850-1910), former lieutenant governor C. E. Coon, and A-Y-P Director General Ira Nadeau.

The Port Townsend delegation formed a parade and, led by the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles Bugle Band, marched to the Washington State Building for a reception, where Nadeau formally welcomed them.   There followed the usual rounds of flattering welcomes and speeches by various dignitaries of both the Key City (Port Townsend) and the Queen City (Seattle), including Port Townsend mayor Max Gerson and Judge Thomas Burke (1849-1925).  Afterward the group broke for lunch, and spent the afternoon taking in the Elks’ circus, followed by an evening visit to the Pay Streak, where they too were zapped by the power outage. 

W.C.T.U. Day  

The women of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, or W.C.T.U., were delighted to participate in the A-Y-P, since it was a “dry” exposition (alcohol was not served at the fair). Delegates came from as far away as New York and Iowa to celebrate and extol the virtues of the prohibition movement, convening in an informal morning reception at 10 a.m. at the W.C.T.U. booth in the Manufactures Building. At 1 p.m., joined by hundreds of children, the W.C.T.U. formed its parade at the exposition’s main gate. Led by the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles Bugle Band (who did triple duty that day, as it later marched in the Elks’ society circus parade) the group proudly paraded about the A-Y-P grounds, flying flags and banners reading “Beer Is Not A Food,” “Wine Is A Mocker,” and “Tremble, King Alcohol.” One banner-bearer, not content to just outlaw alcohol, carried a sign reading “Cigarettes Must Go.”

At 2 p.m. the W.C.T.U. program commenced in the Auditorium Building, attended by about 800 visitors. R. W. Raymond of the exposition’s publicity department welcomed the prohibitionists, and was followed by Margaret Ellis, national superintendent of legislation for the W.C.T.U.  Ellis gave a spirited speech commending the W.C.T.U.’s leadership in the prohibition movement (which in 1909 was gathering steam in the United States), while condemning the apathy of the Christian people for not pushing the movement further.  A formal reception in honor of Margaret Ellis between 5 and 7 p.m. in the Woman’s Building wrapped up W.C.T.U. Day.  

Lights Out  

About 8:10 p.m. an electrical switch at the Massachusetts Street substation in Seattle failed, plunging not only the exposition but much of Seattle itself into darkness. The sun had set about 25 minutes earlier (this was before daylight-saving time extended daylight in the summer) and twilight was rapidly descending on the fair. On the Pay Streak the Ferris wheel froze, stranding passengers in midair; in the vacuum tube railway, two cars loaded with fairgoers stopped in their tracks in the tube; the Pay Streak itself simply went dark, on one of the exposition’s biggest nights since the fair had opened.

After some initial fright by a few, fairgoers reacted with alacrity. One of the men in charge of the Ferris wheel climbed the machine and tied a rope to one of its spokes; other men in the crowd pulled the rope until the wheel turned and brought all of the stranded passengers -- many laughing -- safely back to earth. Other men went into the vacuum tube railway and simply pushed the stuck cars out; those stranded atop the faux cliffs on the scenic railway either climbed down the canvas scenery or waited until ladders were brought to them.

Those inside the Foolish House thought the power outage was part of the joke and scrambled their way out of the maze, laughing uproariously. “It all seemed funny to the throngs on the Streak,” reflected the P-I the next morning. “Men and boys lighted matches, and some secured candles and added to the merriment” ("Cars Stop..."). Power was restored to the Pay Streak and the entrance gates after an hour or so, but it was after 10 p.m. before power was restored to the entire fair.  No accidents or thefts were reported during the unexpected excursion into darkness, and indeed, fairgoers largely treated it as just another part of the adventure at the fabulous A-Y-P Exposition. 

Sources: “Elks Circus Opens With Parade,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 28, 1909, p. 1, 11;  “Townsend Sends Party To Fair,” Ibid., July 28, 1909, p. 2;  “White Ribboners Assemble At Fair,” Ibid., July 28, 1909, p. 11;  “Lights Fail On Festal Night,” Ibid., July 29, 1909, p. 1, 4;  “Antlered Herd Turned Loose in Wild Mood,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1-2;  “Elkdom Rules City and Fair for Entire Day,” Ibid., July 29, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1, 11;  “To Martial Music, Key City Arrives,” Ibid., July 29, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 1;  “W.C.T.U. Inspires Prohibition Wave,” Ibid., July 29, 1909, Sec. 2, p. 1; “Cars Stop and Lights Are Out For Half Hour,” Ibid., July 29, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1, 11.

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