Seattle's first expo is You Tube-ready

Uncovered film footage takes you to the 1909 world's fair.
Uncovered film footage takes you to the 1909 world's fair.

Seattle's first world's fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909, will be remembered in many ways during its upcoming centennial year, but giving people a live-action sense of the expo has proved elusive. A fairly extensive photographic record exists, including some early aerial shots. But film footage has been almost non-existent and the city's centennial organizers have been eager to find some.

The known footage consisted of a viking ship full of wooly warriors arriving from Kirkland to the fair site as part of recognizing Seattle's then-flourishing Norwegian community (an event that will be re-enacted in 2009). But I recently checked with centennial organizer Michael Herschensohn to see if any other film clips had turned up in someone's attic and the good new is yes, a short bit has.

It was found in a collection of newsreel footage shot by a man named Will E. Hudson, who was known for his work in Alaska and has been called the "dean of newsreel men in the Pacific Northwest." It's an early, short clip that the Whatcom Museum of History and Art has. It features footage of an opening speech by Great Northern railroad baron James J. Hill (whose impressive bust, unveiled at the fair, is still visible on the UW campus near More Hall), a scene panning the crowds and attractions of the popular midway area called the Pay Streak (I love the larger-than-life statue of the bare-fisted boxer, John L. Sullivan), and fairgoers being flung around on a ride called the Fairy Gorge Tickler (see photo here), which apparently was the Wild Mouse of 1909. You can see the newsreel clips here.

Of course, it would be great if more footage turned up, so you mossbacks check your attics, closets, and under grandma's bed. In any case, the Seattle Channel is planning a one-hour documentary about the AYP exposition that will link images from the past with the legacy of the fair today.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.