Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition - Images of the Fair
The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909
By George A. Frykman
Dr. Frykman was professor of history and assistant to the Dean of the Graduate School at Washington State University. His article was originally published in the July, 1962 issue of Pacific Northwest Quarterly, and included fifty-five footnotes and three illustrations. It is reprinted here by permission of Pacific Northwest Quarterly.
The Alaska-Yukon_Pacific Exposition, held in Seattle during the summer and early autumn of 1909, followed the precedents of a familiar American institution which had been established in 1876, when Philadelphia held its Centennial Exposition. Yet the Seattle promoters invited the whole world to enjoy a fair which they declared was different. This one, they insisted, did not commemorate the past, but celebrated instead the beginning of a new era of commercial and industrial expansion which should make Seattle the leading trading center of the Pacific rim territories. The city’s heritage was accepted as a blessing, but much of the literature which poured from the presses emphasized the idea that the fair would usher in Seattle’s millennium.
To be sure, one could not break loose altogether from history, nor would one wish to do so. When James J. Hill, the “empire builder”, gave his address at the dedication ceremonies, on June 1, 1909, he spoke chiefly of the future conquests of the city and the region; yet he acknowledged that progress must rest upon the achievements of the pioneers and upon the American tradition of equality, justice, simplicity, and economy. But Seattle was entering upon an exciting new stage in its development. Even as the fair opened, the urban terrain was being dramatically changed by gigantic regarding projects. It is not surprising that the promoters of that day should feel themselves liberated from their pioneer limitations and their colonial dependency. With a typical western exuberance, they proclaimed that their society and their fair were different from anything that America had yet produced.
The inspiration for Seattle’s first world’s fair came initially from a group of Alaska’s gold-rush pioneers who merely wanted to establish an Alaska exhibit in Seattle. Godfrey Chealander of Skagway, Alaska, and other leaders of the Arctic Brotherhood first publicized the project, and Chealander’s employment by the federal government to collect an Alaska exhibit for Portland’s Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 gave him the opportunity to develop the idea. On July 29, 1905, the Alaska Club of Seattle approved the proposal for an Alaska exhibit.
Enthusiastic support for the scheme was immediately forthcoming from Seattle’s newspapers and from the local Chamber of Commerce. In the spring of 1906, fifty Seattle businessmen formed an exposition corporation and suggested radical alterations of the original plans. The exhibition was postponed from 1907, the date first selected, until 1909 to allow the proponents time to seek financial support from Congress and to avoid a conflict with the exposition at Jamestown, which had been scheduled for 1907. Perhaps the most important decision, as reported in the Seattle Times on June 1, 1906, was “to enlarge the scope of the fair to take in all the countries bordering upon the Pacific Ocean, including the islands of the sea”.
The exposition corporation hoped to make Seattle the capital of a vastly expanded imperial hinterland. Since Seattleites were enjoying a major commercial victory in 1906, their objective did not seem to be a chimera. The capture of the lucrative Alaskan trade, which had sprung up with the gold rush, had paved the way for further conquests. Seattle businessmen had wrested the larger share of the Puget Sound trade from Tacoma, and they were challenging Portland for primacy in the Pacific Northwest’s foreign commerce. They had not, however, been able to shrug off the competition of San Francisco for the trade of the Pacific Ocean area, although many assumed that their triumph was inevitable.
But in spite of its intoxicating exploits, Seattle remained economically dependent upon eastern financial centers. Thus business leaders looked upon the exposition as an agency for luring to the city capital for local industrial and commercial development. In addition, many local financiers expected the fair to stimulate real-estate transactions and produce speculative increases in the value of their lands.
Brave testimony to a deeper conception of Washington’s destiny was given by civic leaders who spoke to a crowd of 15,000 people at the exposition’s ground-breaking ceremonies on June 1, 1907. Henry Alberts McLean, president of the Washington State Commission for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, asserted that the fair would mark the end of the obscurity of pioneer days, as Washington would take its “proper place among the great states of the republic….” He expected that Washington would become well known throughout the world for its climate, its economy, and its society.
John P. Hartman, president of the University of Washington’s Board of Regents, voiced a similar faith in the region’s future greatness, but at the same time he pointed out that materialism should not be regarded as an end in itself. It was, he declared, only a means to make possible the “higher life that has builded the church in the valley and the school-house on the hillside, and as the natural result demanded and later acquired the higher schools of learning”.
Confident predictions did not conceal an insecurity which might sometimes be felt when the local community was under scrutiny. The Rev. Stephen B. L. Penrose, president of Whitman College, reported that Washingtonians regarded the fair as a means of dispelling the false notions of Easterners that the typical Westerner “is a flamboyant individual, loud in his self-assertion, arrogant, and grasping… careless of art as of the law… in fine, a crude, good-souled, but noisy giant, with an ineffable local conceit and no sense of proportion”. Not only would there be much that was beautiful at the exposition, Penrose stated, but the Pacific Northwest would be revealed as having passed beyond the frontier stage of society. The most characteristic scenes of beauty he mentioned, however, were those of unmarred nature-the virgin forests, the snowcapped peaks, and the natural watercourses. The specific evidence of a civilizing influence, he suggested, was the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages on the exposition grounds.
Many Seattleites felt a pride in their heritage and a sense of patriotism which they sought to express in the exposition. Attempts to introduce historical and patriotic themes were bolstered by the knowledge the commemorative aspect had been prominent in a succession of earlier American fairs. Ever since Philadelphia’s exhibition of 1876, which had marked the centennial of the nation’s birth, expositions had reflected the growth of the nationalistic fervor that burned increasingly bright as memories of the sectional rancor of the Civil War faded at the end of the century.
Seattle and Pacific Northwest fully accepted the symbols of patriotism and committed themselves to the fashionable modes of commemorating American history. This was demonstrated in 1905 when Seattle’s Rainier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution began to collect funds to erect a statue of George Washington which would serve as a center for patriotic rites. Within two years other groups sought to honor Abraham Lincoln, William H. Seward, and John Jacob Astor with statues. These projects soon became linked with the exposition’s plans for patriotic observance.
Unfortunately, the exposition failed to inspire a historian to produce a luminous view of Washington’s past and a challenging appraisal of her future, such as that which Frederic George Young offered to Oregon before the opening of the Lewis and Clark exposition in 1905. Two historical societies, one with headquarters in Tacoma and the other in Seattle, had diligently and reverently commemorated with historical markers and anniversary celebrations the early settlement of the region, but they had seldom encouraged historical writing that was more critical than the pioneer memoir.
The financial promotion of the fair offered serious problems, but it suggested solutions already familiar to business enterprise. This was, indeed, a traditional pattern for promoting American expositions. The exposition corporation began by launching a drive to sell stock to Seattle investors, and more than $500,000 was obtained in a spectacular one-day subscription campaign on October 2, 1906. A later sale of bonds did not elicit the same enthusiasm and returns because it was conducted in the midst of a nationwide financial depression. Nevertheless, the local results encouraged the promoters to make the traditional appeals for assistance to the state and federal governments.
Through a series of measures passed in its 1907 session, the Washington state legistlature provided for $1,000,000 in state warrants. Much of the financial burden was thrust back upon Seattle as the sum was to be obtained through the sale of state-owned shorelands on Lake Union and Lake Washington, the expectation being that local property owners would purchase the lands.
Lobbying in the national capital was a familiar practice, whether for frontier internal improvements or for aid to an exposition. Former Governor John H. McGraw spent part of January and much of February, 1907, in Washington, D.C. assisting the state’s Congressional delegation in seeking federal appropriations. Richard A. Ballinger, a Seattle politician who was then land commissioner in the General Land Office, was asked to intercede with a number of important congressmen. Most of the lobbying, including the endorsement of a proposed appropriation bill by more than 250 chambers of commerce and boards of trade, was directed by Seattle’s Chamber and the exposition corporation, whose directorates were closely interlocked. Success was achieved in May, 1908, when Congress voted $600,000 for the erection of federal buildings and for the mounting of exhibits.
A program for advertising the exposition and soliciting the exhibits was extended to all of the states, to Canada, to the Orient, and to most of the European countries. Edmond S. Meany, of the University of Washington, and seven other emissaries set out to lobby before business groups and legislatures in the forty-five states during the winter of 1906-07. Meany and Ira A. Nadeau, who visited Canada as well as the eastern United States, returned wit optimistic predictions about participation, most of which, however, were not to materialize. In February, 1907, one hundred Seattle and Tacoma businessmen traveled to Oregon and California, where they presented their message with the homely booster techniques and fraternal spirit of the local community. They visited approximately thirty cities and towns from the Columbia River to southern California, and they too brought back many promises of participation.
Selection of the site for the exposition caused relatively little debate: ranks quickly closed behind supporters of the University of Washington campus. On June 16, 1906,, a committee of prominent citizens, led by Meany, requested that the Board of Regents allow the fair to be held on a 250-acre portion of the campus, offering the persuasive argument that it would leave several buildings and improved grounds which could be utilized by the school. The advantages for the fair were readily apparent. The beautiful wooded campus was sufficiently close to downtown Seattle to permit reasonably convenient transportation. At the same time, the location of the site would allow the architects to take advantage of the breathtaking vistas of the Cascades and Olympics and of Lake Washington. One serious objection came from the extension of the fairgrounds of the prohibition of the use of alcoholic beverages on the campus. But this seemed a small price to pay for the use of the site.
The Olmstead brothers of Boston, nationally known landscape architects who had been engaged earlier by the board of Regents to plan the development of the campus, produced a landscape design worthy of the setting. Their previous proposals had evidenced eastern aesthetic and architectural values and showed a marked bias against the primitive - for example, they had stated that the widespread retention of wild fir trees was neither desirable nor practical.
The fairgrounds which the Olmstead Brothers planned paid tribute to the magnificence of the natural setting, however; the central portion of the grounds was oriented along a major axis which opened upon a vista of Mount Rainier. Secondary axes bisected the Rainier axis at forty-degree angles and provided views of Lake Union and Lake Washington. John C. Olmstead staunchly defended the fundamental plan against encroachments suggested by the chief building architect, John Galen Howard.
Olmstead had little influence over the architectural designs for the buildings, however, for Howard, a California architect trained in the East, tactfully dismissed the proposal to utilize Russian designs. But Howard had nothing novel to offer; most of the buildings were of a French Renaissance design.
The Forestry Building, a massive structure of huge logs taken from Washington’s forests and used in their natural state, was the most distinctive structure. The Seattle Times proclaimed it an exhibition of “Nature’s storehouse, which is more striking than anything man could devise as a display of the Northwest’s greatest division of natural wealth.” The building, unfortunately, had few practical architectural features and provided no inspiration for the development of a school of Northwest architecture.
Curtailment of the funds for the construction program proved to be one of the most effective local influences upon the plans for the grounds. As early as November, 1906, warnings were given that funds for construction might be smaller than had been originally intended, but the designers evidently did not face this problem until a series of meetings with exposition officials in April and May, 1907, made it abundantly clear that their plans had to be reduced in magnitude and lavishness. Consequently, the number of sculpted adornments was reduced, and those that were used were placed appropriately aat main entrances: buildings were decreased in size, and great masses of annual flowers were substituted for permanent shrubbery.
The enforced simplicity and reduced scale probably added to the charm of the fair, as John C. Olmstead admitted when reminiscing at a later date. The public readily accepted the design, showing little concern either for the lost statuary or for the lack of originality in style. In fact, the enthusiasm for the countless flowers, the cream-colored buildings, and the artificial cascades seemed almost as great as the pride in the natural setting.
The magnificence and charm of the locale challenged the exhibitors to provide displays which would be equally arresting and inspirational. The federal government offered extensive and impressive exhibits, although the official in charge admitted that they were smaller than those shown at some of the earlier fairs. Exhibits ranged from documentary and artifact displays of American history to shows which revealed the lives of the exotic peoples of the Philippines, Hawaii, and Alaska. Much attention was also given to the work of the reclamation service and other federal agencies which were of especial interest in the west. The education value of these exhibits was enhanced by illustrated free lectures given by a number of experts.
New York was the only state outside of the Far West which presented a truly significant display, but California, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah provided buildings and serious exhibits of their products. Washington’s legislature of 1907 had created a state commission which was endowed with funds for “advertising” - as the commission later expressed it - the state’s resources, industries, and social advances.
Washington’s exhibit was created through a cooperative venture in which the state commission worked closely with the counties. The 1907 legislature had provided for a special one-half mill levy for financing county exhibits which enabled thirty-six of the thirty-eight to participate. Four counties erected their own buildings under the state commission’s sponsorship. As an additional promotional scheme, the state commission also provided judging facilities and awarded ribbons which were prized by the counties.
Many exhibits were supplemented with souvenir booklets and other forms of explanatory materials in which the publicists allowed their imaginations a free reign. Not only was Washington depicted as the Garden of Eden reincarnate, but each locality, including Seattle, represented itself as that portion of the Garden which was destined to be the cynosure. California and Oregon both competed vigorously, and their brochures offered golden promises which easily matched those of Washington.
Strenuous efforts to attract the public to the serious displays did not meet with unqualified success. In a humorous story printed in the Seattle Times for July 4, “Jimmie the Office Boy”, when sent by his editor to see what he wished at the exposition, wrote that he “did de big buildings of de Fair in ten minutes and den I hikes to de Pay Streak….” He found that amusement section to be “the real candy” and in elaborately illiterate prose regaled his readers with his exploits there.
The thesis that “Jimmie” probably exemplified the attitude of a host of people is supported by a complaint of the Times, made just twelve days before the closing date, that probably as many as 100,000 Seattleites had not yet seriously studied the exhibits. A more impartial critic supported the thesis of W. M. Geddes, the experienced United States commissioner to the exposition, who stated that a great many persons among the large crowds which thronged the federal building simply wandered about aimlessly, ignoring the guides and looking only for novelties.
There were tours for adults, of course, but special attention was given to the interests of children. Guided study tours for the latter were conducted throughout the fair’s season. The serious purpose was attested by the support given to the program by Henry B. Dewey, the state’s superintendent of schools, who personally awarded “diplomas for exposition educational exploitation”. In early October it was announced that approximately 1,000 children had earned such diplomas. Unfortunately, since Japan and Canada were the only foreign nations offering significant exhibits, the educative force of the exposition was restricted largely to local, regional, and national influences.
Much attention was focused upon designated “days” for cities, states, foreign peoples, and special interest groups. These fetes proved to be popular both with the fair promoters and with the public. For the exposition’s management, they offered a successful means for increasing attendance, especially during the middle of the week, and a convenient method for extending courtesies to visiting dignitaries. For Seattleites and other visitors, they provided opportunities for reunions, for viewing the exposition, and for enjoying a variety of amusements involving contests, parades, pageants, speeches, banquets, and balls. For politicians publicists, the special days offered a stage for airing points of view and for promoting favorite schemes.
A penchant for formal and costumed fraternal activity was enthusiastically indulged. Norway Day, August 30, featured an imitation Viking vessel, manned by armor-clad warriors, and an elaborate pageant depicting Norwegian history. On Swedish Day, July 31, a crowd of 17,000 persons assembled in the amphitheater to witness the colorful ceremonies, and from a gigantic stage filled with young Swedish-American dressed in “native” costumes. Fair officials and political leaders lauded Swedish-American heroes and extravagantly complimented the local Swedes.
Special challenges were offered to the exposition management when rival cities of the region held their days. The promotional activity carried on by most visiting delegations became blatant when an estimated 10,000 Oregonians, under the leadership of Governor F. W. Benson, invaded the grounds on July 9. Tacoma Day, July 16, brought another army of 10,000 boosters who flaunted “I like Tacoma” and “You’ll Like Tacoma” signs.
Seattle was equal to the occasion on Tacoma Day; it offered not merely a warm welcome, but participated in a love feast in which speakers from both cities affirmed their common objectives. Seattleites sponsored a Made-in-Washington Day on August 28 in order to ingratiate their city with its local rivals by cooperatively exhibiting their manufactured goods. It also afforded Seattle’s downtown merchants a unique opportunity to advertise their own wares.
Seattle staged a fun-filled day for itself on Labor Day, when a huge crowd of 117,000 persons paid admission. The Pay Streak was jammed by evening, and the theme and spirit of Mardi Gras held sway. Ellery’s Royal Italian Band gave a concert which was notable in that the attendance of 25,000 persons represented the largest outdoor crowd ever assembled in Seattle. The Post-Intelligencer described the memorable scene:
with the lights from the buildings reflecting across the basin, and a searchlight from the top of the European building playing across the quiet water, on the grass and flowers, then on the musicians and spectators, and finally on the slim, white pillars of the Agricultural and Manufacturers buildings a veritable fairyland was revealed.
Many of those who enjoyed such beautiful scenes came to attend conventions held in Seattle while the fair was in progress. At the end of the season, Seattle’s promoters could add up a list of what was surely an unprecedented number of national and regional conventions. The national meetings held either in downtown Seattle or at the exposition grounds included those of the American Institute of Banking, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the National Lumber Manufacturers Association, the National Council of Women, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the American Prison Association, and the National Conservation Congress.
The great attraction for these meetings undoubtedly was the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Seattle’s remoteness generally served as a deterrent to its acceptance as the site for holding national meetings. The National Council of Women, a militant feminist organization with international affiliation, met in Seattle in 1909 despite the fact that it had few, if any members there. On the other hand, the forty-first annual convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association met in Seattle partly because it wished to recognize the advances Washington had made in promulgating woman suffrage.
Women’s meetings, in particular, were distinguished for their consideration of some of the most advanced ideas on suffrage, social reform, and conservation. Local women’s gatherings sometimes revealed a consciousness of social questions which was as keen as that exhibited in the national meetings.
Although the president of the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs claimed that 90 per cent of the local organizations were more concerned with studying literature than with investigating social problems, their convention produced demands ranging from advocacy of more public libraries to sex education in the high schools. The Federation, moreover, demonstrated a practical “uplift” movement when it awarded scholarships for the artistic and higher education of young ladies. Judicious newspaper reporting and tacit recognition of women’s rights given by exposition officials who helped to arrange the meetings suggest that the more enlightened members of the community were accepting women’s new role in society.
The interest in urban planning and beauty which had been manifested in the creation of the exposition grounds was demonstrated further by a meeting of the Interstate Federated Improvement Clubs, which included 125 men and women delegates from Washington and other far western states. They discussed improvements in government, parks, and other aspects of city life. Seattle men led a “Congress” which advocated improved roads and highways and discussed the engineering problems involved. Their concern for this type of civic improvement undoubtedly was popular with the fair’s management, since their very meeting place, the Good Roads Building, had been constructed expressly to advertise the state’s needs for improved communication as a means of attracting capital and industry.
Seattle’s growing wealth and increased leisure had inspired a new interest in the arts and in musical performances which prepared the way for satisfactory artistic offerings. One outside observer, who was highly critical of the amenities and of many of the fair’s displays, reported that the galleries of the Fine Arts Building were excellent, though small, and that the pictures hung there were of the “highest quality”. A more noteworthy critic, the eminent artist Ernest Peixotto, did not find the paintings uniformly distinguished, but wrote that “one heard enough eager groping for knowledge and enough intelligent criticism in these galleries…to wish that the more discriminating class of visitors could have been aided in their enjoyment by a careful segregation of the pictures.”
Only two years before the exposition opened, Seattle had granted substantial support to its symphony orchestra: and in the midst of the exposition season, Alden J. Blethen, editor of the Seattle Times, wrote that his city had become “one of the musical centers of the world.” He was joined by Erastus Brainerd of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, whose assertion of Seattle’s musical leadership was hardly less startling in its exaggeration.
The editors were strongly influenced by the large audiences that attended the numerous concerts offered by a variety of local musical organizations. The applied the quantitative judgment of the market place and did not, apparently, recognize its inadequacy when applied to music. Blethen’s highest praise was bestowed upon the concerts under the stars which drew great crowds of listeners; his greatest censure was reserved for those who criticized the Seattle Symphony Orchestra when it played “ragtime” as well as Beethoven.
The location of the George Washington and William H. Seward statues on the exposition grounds presented a satisfying blend of cultural achievement and demonstration of patriotic faith. Four years of solicitation and planning by Seattle’s Rainier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution had resulted in commissioning Laredo Taft to create the 14-foot figure of Washington at a cost of $14,600. Although the ladies had hoped to finance it exclusively from Daughters of the American revolution funds, they were forced to call upon the state’s commission to the exposition for an $8,000 subvention. The unveiling thus became a public witness to faith in the past.
The speakers at the dedication ceremonies recalled the many examples of Washington’s greatness which set a high standard for patriotism. When Thomas F. Kane, president of the University of Washington, accepted the statue for the University and the state, he emphasized the special inspiration it offered for future generations of students. He declared that the grantors of the statue were adding their “convictions” to his belief that “the first and basic service of the university to the state is in sending out young men and women as citizens of character, of patriotism toward the state and of established virtues.” It has since been a continuing tradition for patriotic groups to rally students and townspeople at the foot of the statue on Washington’s Birthday to keep fresh the memory of his patriotic example.
William H. Seward occupied a unique place in the hearts of many of Seattle’s businessmen and promoters. They supported a Chamber of Commerce project to erect a Seward statue because the accepted him as the first political leader to recognize the potential value of Alaska and as the man who had made it possible for them to reap the profits of Alaska’s resources a generation after its purchase. The Seward statue, created in Paris by the American artist Richard Brooks at a cost of $16,000, was unveiled on the exposition grounds on September 10, 1909, in a ceremony which inspired the speakers to exalt their hero to a high place in the American pantheon.
The amusement section, called the Pay Streak, offered little which had not been tried at previous fairs. Newspaper reports indicate that probably the most unusual and intriguing show that of the Igorot Village, a community of Philippine Island native headhunters who wore scanty native costumes and lived in a simulated native habitat. A movement to “trouser” the Igorots was fully exploited in the press as well as by a group of civic dignitaries who inspected the village and even tried on the native breechclouts over their regular clothing. On this and other occasions, newspaper feature stories revealed a sense of amused tolerance tinged with curiosity.
A mock Battle of Gettysburg and a simulated naval engagement were additional popular attractions which purportedly had educational value. The proprietors attempted with some success to attract teachers and their students and even elicited a public comment from a Japanese admiral that the naval engagement seemed like a real battle.
A variety of shows produced exotic dancing, such as that of Princess Lola in the “Death Dance of Cleopatra”, and La Belle Zamona in the “Salome Dance” in the Streets of Cairo concession. These performances probably were not very daring, since the management showed great sensitivity to criticism from the churches and sought vigilantly to exclude shows of questionable taste and moral standards.
The promoters boasted that the Pay Streak possessed the largest Ferris wheel in the world. The variety of rides included a thrilling miniature railway journey through an artificial complex of mountains, valleys, and tunnels. There was a Foolish House and a Tickler, each of which is easily recognizable as a forerunner to attractions on today’s midways. A daily aeronautical show provided the newspapers with occasional feature stories.
Military spectacles, athletic events, and other contests crowded the calendar from the opening day. The exposition corporation had build a $25,000 stadium which held most of the larger spectator events and was more than paid for in prestige and glory with the staging of the National Amateur Athletic Union’s track and field championships on August 13 and 14. The Seattle Athletic Club won the team trophy, although a team from Seattle had never before entered that meet. Seattle was proud of defeating the eastern clubs, and her press was equally proud of the financial success of the promotion.
The sports program offered a variety of spectacles from virtually every class of society. Military drill and maneuvers by cavalry, infantry, and artillery units thrilled large numbers of people. Mock battles between Indians and white settlers and soldiers were popular attractions which evoked vicarious excitement about a day that had passed.
An almost unprecedented rowdyism by hundreds of University of Washington students on Greater Washington Day, just three days before the closing, shocked the management into urging a record attendance of Seattleites on the final day and a redemption of the reputation for good behavior which, they asserted, had distinguished their fair from all of its American predecessors. The size and spirit of the crowd on closing day, October 16, fully met the hopes of the officials. The evening generated a romantic spell which was reminiscent of the last hours of the St. Louis exposition of 1904. At the final ceremonies, Exposition President Joseph E. Chilberg spoke emotionally of the sadness that comes with closing. Then, at midnight, he threw a switch and in the twinkling the fairy city…was wiped from the map of Seattle. An instant after the president had pressed the electric button, a bomb burst high above the banked multitude. In the darkness absolute quiet reigned, save for the soft whisper of the wind in the giant firs which tower back of the amphitheater.
Silvery clear, intensifying the solemn loneliness of the night, a bugle sounded taps. Sadly and sweetly the crystal notes swelled and diminished. Quiet fell. The crowd sat immovable.
Ellery’s band began to play “Auld Lang Syne”, and the 20,000 people became a great chorus as they took up the words. This strongly moving scene dissolved at the end of the song when “a wild straggling cheer, full of good will, pride of achievement, and congratulation, marked the end.”
The chorus of self-congratulation swelled as Seattleites reflected upon the economic gains which would be theirs when Easterners, Southerners, and Middle Westerners began to move to Washington, bringing their wealth with them. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer claimed that 3,740,561 persons had passed through the gates in the 138-day season. The official paid admission, however, totaled only 2,765,683, which placed Seattle above the Portland fair, but far below those held by Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Buffalo. The sanguine estimate by the Seattle Times that “at least” 125,000 visitors had come from the East and the Middle West suggests in retrospect that the fair was largely regional in its influence. Seattle waited in vain for the anticipated influx of people. Census reports showed only an estimated 5,000 population increase per year between 1909 and outbreak of World War I in 1914, with only a thousand new jobs being created in that time. The city was experiencing a slackening of the pace of economic development which affected the entire region from 1910 until the war’s demands changed the local economy.
Seattle’s hope of stimulating the further development of Alaska was frustrated as that frontier’s attributes were less attractive to prospective investors and settlers than were those of many places in the states. The ambition to develop better trade relations with other Pacific rim countries was also thwarted, since, with the exception of Japan, they did not even participate in the fair. There is no evidence of a significant increase in trade with the Orient in the years immediately following the exposition.
Satisfaction on the cultural expectations, which for many Seattleites were as great as the economic hopes, was limited by financial realities and other mundane considerations. The expensive and impressive fisheries exhibit, which had been great admired during the fair, was dismantled when the Board of Regents of the University decided that it did not have the authority to remodel the exhibit building. The thirty-six county exhibits apparently were quickly dissipated, but some of the state exhibits were transferred to the University for educational purposes.
Frank P. Allen, Jr., director of works for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, expressed the highest expectation of Seattleites when he advocated that the entire fairgrounds should be retained as a part of the city park system, catering to the needs of a growing urban population. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce and local improvement clubs showed considerable interest in this idea, which was in accord with Seattle’s history of park development. Akin to this ambition was the hope of music and art enthusiasts that the inspiration of the exposition might lead to the building of art museum and to the granting of increased support to the symphony orchestra and other musical endeavors.
The increase in the number of buildings occupied by the University of Washington and expansion of the campus proper were the most spectacular of the consequences of the exposition. Through a series of agreements, the Board of Regents commandeered the three permanent buildings and more than twenty of the temporary structures. Hailed as a magnificent gesture on behalf of culture and formal education, these agreements actually represented a considerable measure of opportunism and niggardliness. The need for a carefully planned program of campus construction was urgent, but the fair’s largess lined the campus with temporary structures which retarded planned development.
The three permanent buildings erected by the state at a cost of $600,000 were remodeled and equipped for university use for the sum of $88,617 and, fortunately, served the educational purpose very well. The temporary structures that were retained and revamped hardly justified the claim that the University of Washington had been given property worth more than $1,600,000. They were expensive to adapt and constantly presented maintenance problems, and the passing years brought serious deterioration.
The landscaping of the grounds which were now added to the campus proper had been a monumental task, and the value to the university was probably far greater than the $381,000 spent by the exposition authorities. It had removed the wilderness and opened new vistas and possibilities for a radically new set of university installations. The actual creation of a worthy campus, however, awaited a new era of construction.
The conservative urban middle-class management had created an exposition which, while not truly international, had met most of the standards of the traditional American world’s fair. Its corporation, indeed, had achieved a goal which has remained almost unmatched in American exposition history by returning a modest profit and payinga 4 per cent dividend to the stock holders. Thanks to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle enjoyed a season of stimulating enterprise and gay entertainment. The realization of the major economic goals was not to come as quickly as had been hoped. Yet the community was aroused to action, and significant public improvements were brought about. Surely the exposition deserved to live long in memory.