"How many people realize that the name "Seafair" was coined by an 11-yr old kid named Mike? The real truth is, no single individual or organization can really lay claim to starting the Seafair Festival. True, the Seafair Pirates often claim to have invented the whole thing, but that's too simple. An obvious case of "victors" writing history.
As far back as 1909 when the great Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition whetted Seattle's appetite for festivals and fairs in general, there had been plans and attempts at creating an annual summer festival. In 1911 there was the first Golden Potlatch. The "gold" came from the gold rush that steamed down from Alaska, straight into Elliott Bay. And the Potlatch was a Northwest Indian tradition involving a prodigious party where the host gives away pretty much everything but the shirt on his back. The Potlatches were a great success, featuring the election of the King d' Oro, (King of Gold) a fleet of Navy ships and an Indian encampment on 4th and Lenora. Believe it or not, they even had a Hydroplane that year, and two more turned up in 1912. Everything was a rousing success until 1914, when riots, looting, and politics halted the whole thing.
Not that Seattle didn't know a good thing when they saw it, but the great depression and WW II caused every attempt to revive the Potlatch to fail.
Seattle still needed some kind of Summer Festival, but what was it going to be?
In 1947, then Mayor William Devin, began pushing for a new festival to celebrate Seattle's Centennial. A lot of groups answered his call In 1949, the WA Federation of Garden Clubs created the City of Flowers Festival. The festival chairman, Ralph Grossman, wasn't sure that flowers struck the right note. While clearly the festival was a good idea, he and his group wanted Seattle's event to celebrate the SEA. (click "read more" below leading to another historical photo and more history from an unidentified, authentic Seafair Pirate.)
Here's where the Seafair family history gets a little muddled. Run through this list: the Mayor's Office, the Seattle Chamber's Alaska Committee, the Washingtonians, the Seattle Hotel Operators Assoc, the Seattle Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Washington State Press Club, the Puget Snd Maritime Historical Society, and the Seattle Salts. With this many organizations and committees involved, I confess, I'm a little surprised that the whole shebang is not still marked "pending."
Fortunately, three things were in favor of the project's ultimate success. Seattle's 100th birthday was approaching fast. Many of these groups had at their center, a core of the same like-minded people, and then there were the Seattle Salts.
In reading up for this article, I was more than a little surprised that I hadn't heard of these guys before. The Seattle Salts counted some of Seattle's most prominent citizens among their members. Whatever other merits this group might have had they were determined to stage a show called the "Aqua Follies" in 1950, so they built a theatre, stole the director of St. Paul's Winter Carnival, Walter Van Camp, to manage it. With so many groups promoting and planning an event there was a lot of confusion, so the Salts and the other major players joined together as Greater Seattle, Inc in April of 1950.
The problem was the festival still had neither a name nor a theme. That task fell to Guy Williams, both a member of the Seattle Salts and the WA State Press Club. It was Williams who created the mixture of Olympian myths and seafaring legends that became the legend of.....what? He still didn't have a name for the festival. It was at that moment that his son Mike suggested calling it "Sea Fair." And the "Legend of Seafair it became.
And so it came to pass the ancient pagan gods took up residence on the new Mount Olympus and came to sanction a festival of the sea in the fair city across the water from their new home.
Where do the pirates come into this? Well, stealing another festival's director was a good start toward piracy. But the real credit goes back to the legend. Guy wanted some drama. Kings and princesses were all well and good, but only conflict gives you real excitement. So the legend also included an outraged Davy Jones with Captain Kidd and his band of pirate cutthroats, determined to bust things up, and so they found themselves locked in unending warfare with King Neptune to this very day.
But where do you find pirates? As it turns out, the WA State Press Club already had a drama club come "action committee" within their ranks. Known as the "Ale & Quail Society," these hams were naturals. To almost every one's surprise they stole the show. John Closs, a Seattle Times photographer, was president of the Ale & Quail Society when Greater Seattle recruited their help in organization and the initial promotions of the first Seafair, beginning with the Seafair Pirate's first public appearances in 1949. It was to Press Club's Jack Gordon that fell the unenviable and indeed self defeating task of "keeping the Pirates out of trouble." Widely credited as founder of the Seafair Pirates, he either did something very right or very wrong, because his onetime charges are still going strong all these years later.
Since that time the members of the Ale & Quail Society have made their energies and talents available to SEAFAIR, Inc. for the promotion and production of Seattle's annual Seafair festivities.
Every summer since 1950 the Seafair festivities have begun with the annual proclamation of "Davy Jones" renewed warfare with the upstart, so-called "King" Neptune. In due course, the city falls and the Mayor hands over the keys at the Pirate's Landing. The Seafair Pirates triumph again!
|Preparing to burn Neptune's flagship|
Seattle Seafair 1950.
Click to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Always seeking to promote Seattle and Seafair, the Seafair Pirates have had many adventures over the years. some are now lost to legend, but at least one early caper made the international press. In 1953 the Seafair Pirates heard of a fund that had been established to ransom British subjects captured by pirates. By then the fund was worth well over a million dollars. In an attempt to collect this treasure the Seafair Pirates kidnapped the British consul and vice-consul, informing the government of Great Britain that the pirates of old were still in business.
Not only involved in Seafair, but the Seafair Pirates also participate in parades and community events throughout the State of Washington on a year-around basis promoting Greater Seattle. Visitations to hospitals, children's homes, and similar activities are all part of the Seafair Pirate's activities. All of the expenses for these activities are borne by the members of the Ale & Quail Society (member's transportation, food, lodging, etc.)
The Seafair Pirates are led by Captain Kidd and Davy Jones. Captain Kidd is a member of the order elected by the A & Q Society to lead their pirate operations. While Davy Jones, an honorary Seafair Pirate, is chosen from the Seattle community to sail with the Pirates for one year.
Well, it was a good act. Right from their first appearance at the City of Flowers Festival in 1949, the Seafair Pirates became closely identified with Seafair and have been sent off to promote both Seattle and the festival, ever since.
The roar of hydroplanes and the passing of the decades have caused the legend of Seafair to be all but forgotten. The court of King Neptune has melted away. The great heroes of the sea, Ulysses, Magellan, Columbus, Peter Puget, Capt Vancouver, Nelson, and John Paul Jones no longer rise from the sea to defend Seattle's shores from Davy Jones and his pirate band.
Even Neptune has fled the field, leaving only his daughters the Seafair Princesses to face the Pirates as they storm ashore on Alki Beach each summer in July. Not that we Pirates mind really, so long as they remember to bring the keys of the city with them, and help us ensure Seafair goes on forever. "
Above text from Seattle Seafair Pirates Souvenir Magazine Vol. 5, No.1. #26.
There is another Saltwater People post with a collection of early Seafair photos to be seen here.