Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Bellingham Day, Whatcom County Day, and Newberg Day on July 13, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 12/28/2008
  • Essay 8877
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On July 13, 1909, Whatcom County Day and Bellingham Day are celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the grounds of the University of Washington in Seattle. Newberg, 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. Whatcom County Day features the four leaf clover, the emblem of the county. Festivities commence in the morning with a giveaway of Whatcom County soil, cherries, and other treats at the Agricultural Building; a reception in the afternoon is filled with speeches and songs. In the evening a rowdy group of Bellingham boosters take over the Pay Streak and shout themselves hoarse.

Whatcom County's Ton of Clover  

Sporting small tingling cowbells and lapel tags bearing the inscriptions “Whatcom,” “Bellingham,” and “Follow the Drift to Bellingham, a City of 50,000, and Locate a Pay Streak,” a crowd variously estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 delighted Whatcom County residents streamed into the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition to celebrate their special days on July 13, 1909.  Some came by express steamboat, trying to set a speed record of four hours, 15 minutes, from Bellingham to Seattle. Others came by special railroad car, while a few hardy souls made the trek by automobile. They bore souvenirs to share with other fairgoers:  small samples of Whatcom County earth, red and white ribbons reading “Bellingham,” Ferndale cherries, and 10,000 postcards bearing Bellingham resident’s Ella Higginson’s poem, “Four Leaf Clover.” (Higginson [1861-1940] was a well-known Northwest poet and writer, and had a number of poems and short stories published in prestigious national magazines. In 1931 she would become poet laureate of Washington state.)

Festivities kicked off in the morning at the Whatcom County booth in the Agricultural Building.  In front of the building Ferndale promoters built a stand, shaded by an enormous Japanese umbrella, and gave away bags of cherries. The Whatcom County soil samples were a crowd pleaser, and a big favorite were passes enabling the bearer to admission to the visitor’s gallery at the Pacific American Fisheries Plant (in 1909 one of the largest salmon canning operations in the world) in Bellingham. But all of these treats were upstaged by the four leaf clover, Whatcom County’s emblem; proud Whatcom County residents brought a ton of clover for distribution at the fair.

Windy Welcomes 

A reception started at 1:30 p.m. in the Washington State Building, with Henry White of Bellingham presiding.  President J. E. Chilberg (1867-1954) was scheduled to give the welcome on behalf of the A-Y-P, but was called away suddenly for the funeral of U.S. Congressman Francis Cushman (1867-1909).  A-Y-P Director General Ira Nadeau replaced Chilberg as the crowd greeter, and Bellingham mayor James P. De Mattos (1854-1929) warmly responded with a rather overblown speech that probably didn’t seem that unusual in 1909:

“Bellingham, like a young maiden of budding sweet 16, conscious of her charms, perfect in her poise, comes today to visit her eldersister, Seattle. Acknowledging her well-rounded womanhood, and applauding her accomplishments, she kneels in obeisance at her shrine. The great things, almost insuperable, that you, Director General Nadeau, and your associates have accomplished will be told and reiterated for a century to come by the inhabitants of this Puget Sound region” (Seattle P-I, July 14, 1909).  

State Commissioner L. P. Hornberger followed De Mattos with another welcoming speech, this one on behalf of Whatcom County. Even more speeches followed, topped off with not one but two songs -- a musical rendition of “Four Leaf Clover” by Whatcom County hostess Ellen Sheldon, and “When The Birds Come Home Again,” sung by another hostess, Mrs. George Brand.

Bellingham and its Boosters

Although Whatcom County Day was the big day of the day, it was also Bellingham Day at the fair.  Other residents from Blaine, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden, and Nooksack, though not awarded with their own special day, were at the exposition in droves and made their presence known. 

But it was a group calling themselves “Bellingham Boosters,” under the influence of one Buster Brown (W. P. Brown of Washington, D.C., formerly of Bellingham) who stole the show. In the evening this group hit the Pay Streak and took it over, bumping aside the carnival barkers and calling out the Pay Streak’s featured attractions until they were hoarse; when their voices faded, the gleeful gang employed liberal use of their cowbells to draw attention to themselves.  A fireworks show at 9:30 p.m., which included several designs spotlighting Whatcom County products, capped off the day.

Sources: “Whatcom People Honor Guests At Fair,” The Seattle Daily Times, July 13, 1909, p. 4;  “Whatcom County Day At Exposition,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 13, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 11;  “Bellingham Prepares To Send Big Delegation,” Ibid., July 13, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 11;  “Come In Swarms From Tall Clover,” Ibid., July 14, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1; Northwest Digital Archives, “Guide To The Ella Higginson Papers, 1870-1940,” website accessed December 26, 2008  (

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