President Taft Visits Seattle, on TV Tonight!

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This is the centennial year of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE), or, as tonight's hour-long television documentary would have it, "Seattle's Forgotten World's Fair." But local historians are doing everything they can to discourage that cultural amnesia. There are at least two photo books out this year on the subject, one by HistoryLink's Alan J. Stein and Paula Becker, who are primary sources for this doc (narrated by Tom Skerrit, produced by John Forsen and Gayle Podrabsky).

The documentary basically follows the proven Ken Burns historical format: new interviews, old stills, and precious bits of silent newsreel footage--including the Norwegian frenzy attending the sailing of a Viking longboat (this before the digging of the Montlake Cut). Today, the most tangible legacy from the temporary fairgrounds is the UW campus layout by John C. Olmsted, whose firm would later design many of our greatest parks. Unlike the '62 World's Fair, which left behind the Seattle Center and an Elvis movie, most of the AYPE buildings were immediately torn down (though a few remained in service for the UW through the '30s). Apart from the Taft visit (this when Seattle was solidly Republican, but progressive), some neat little historical details jump out of the doc: It was publicly funded, and we citizens bought shares in the AYPE company. (Amazingly, the expo turned a profit.) Among the many contests and giveaways, an orphan baby was offered for adoption! (No one claimed it.) It was dry, meaning no beer or spirits were sold, unlike most fairs and carnivals. And toward the end of the fair, which ran from June to Oct. 16, 1909, a plumbing mishap connected Lake Washington--then full of sewage--to the city's drinking supply; 61 people died of typhoid as a result! (That compared to the 3.7 million who visited the fair, three times the state population at the time.)

The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Seattle's Forgotten World's Fair KCTS Channel 9, 7 p.m. Sat. Oct. 17 (expect multiple rebroadcasts)

 
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