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I Forgive You, Paul Dorpat (and maybe Ivar’s, too)

One of Ivar's mock-undersea billboards Credit:

What a deep-sea downer to learn this morning that the Ivar’s underwater billboards were a hoax! I should have known better, but I have a history of falling for tall tales — Paul Bunyan, UFOs, Colin Powell at the U.N., to name just a few examples.

And I have a habit of getting too excited about anything old being dug up or raised from the bottom of the sea. Worse still, I’ve polluted the next generation of my family as well. When I woke my then 7-year-old daughter last year with news that an old parachute had been unearthed in a field midway between Seattle and Portland, her first words to me were, “Is it D.B. Cooper’s?” Turned out it wasn’t.

It also turns out that Paul Dorpat, godfather of all things historic in Seattle and unofficial Ivar’s historian (and a neighbor and old friend), was complicit in the underwater billboard hoax. I had emailed Paul a few months ago, when I first learned of the “discovery” of a billboard in Puget Sound and his role in the project. I gushed over how I thought it was one of the coolest discoveries ever in the history of Seattle. In retrospect, Paul was cagey in his email response — offering unrelated color photos of Eastern Washington shot in the 1950s and dodging a bit on the Ivar’s story. When I ran into him a few days later — again, in retrospect — he was cagey in person, too. But, as mentioned above, I’m a sucker for recovered treasures and for local history. Combine the two and I’m a willing buyer at any price.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think Ivar’s earlier attention-grabbing stunts — pushing a pram around downtown with a baby seal aboard, rushing to the site of a massive syrup spill with a plate of pancakes in hand — were as elaborate as this billboard stunt. Maybe those earlier stunts can’t even be classified as hoaxes since they didn’t involve any real deception. If getting attention in our more distracting age requires bending the truth, I doubt we’ll see anymore stunts like this from Ivar’s (or anyone) in the near future. Let’s hope there’s no flying “Clam Boy” in the works down at Pier 54.

But this story has taken a more serious turn. According to Erik Lacitis’ Seattle Times story today, the Times is reviewing its decades-long relationship with Dorpat on account of this chowder-induced prevarication. Dorpat’s “Seattle Now & Then” column (comparing historic and contemporary photos) runs in the Times every Sunday; burying or deep-sixing this unhidden treasure over the billboard clam-haha would be a mistake.

I forgive Paul, and I urge the Times and everybody else to do so as well. There’s no use crying over spilt chowder, but maybe Ivar’s ought to give everybody a free cup of the stuff (and some fish & chips) to make it up to those of us who didn’t keep clam about this formerly exciting story.

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