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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Clown at the Milk Carton Derby
Clowning around at the Milk Carton Derby, the SEAFAIR clowns have been a lively part of the event since the 1950s Photo courtesy of SEAFAIR


Seattle's annual SEAFAIR has celebrated the community spirit of Puget Sound since 1950, when it began as a way to highlight the city's centennial. The festival's aim to attract tourists by accentuating the port city's maritime flavor has resulted in World Cup events and international attention. The first 10-day festival was produced on a budget of $40,000 and 17 volunteers. By 1999, the budget had increased to $2 million, and more than 5,000 volunteers worked to put on 40 events across four weeks.

SEAFAIR's theme was inspired by Roman mythology. A "Legend of Seafair," scripted by publicist Guy Williams, created characters King Neptune, Queen of the Seas, Prime Minister, princesses and other royalty who preside over SEAFAIR. Each of these roles is fulfilled by local noteworthy citizens. Annual "princesses" chosen from communities, commercial clubs, and chambers of commerce compete for the Queen of the Seas title. She is coronated during a colorful pageant at the civic center. Since SEAFAIR began, the duties of its "royalty" have broadened to serve as goodwill ambassadors throughout the year.

The first SEAFAIR had parades, boat races, amateur athletic events, and nightly aqua follies, with high dive acts, comedy skits, and synchronized swimmers. For each SEAFAIR that followed, more events were added. In the second year, the hydroplane Gold Cup competition was held on Lake Washington; that race set a world record by the powerboat, "Slo-mo-shun." During the 1970s, a three-day hydroplane regatta on Green Lake began. In 1975, the festival hosted the Heidelberg Inboard World Championships. By the time the 1962 World's Fair arrived in Seattle, SEAFAIR had hit its stride. Both events drew international attention to Seattle, the Emerald City. Celebrities, such as Anita Bryant, Tim Conway, Raymond Burr, Ernest Borgnine, often combined Seattle engagements with SEAFAIR festivities.

Parade grand marshals have included Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Ted Turner. U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy have participated in festivities. SEAFAIR parades provide opportunities for local communities to celebrate their heritage, diversity and cultural uniqueness. The first year's grand parade attracted 250,00 spectators. In future festivals the grand parade was replaced with a nighttime torchlight parade, featuring marching, motor and horse units, and illuminated floats. Spectators begin to line the streets in the morning for best curbside views. In 1977, a torchlight run was added before the parade. The run swelled to 10,000 participants during the 1980s. In 1999, the torchlight parade had more than 110 entries, 4,000 participants, and an estimated 350,000 spectators.

The U.S. military also participates in SEAFAIR. The U.S. Navy sails its grand vessels into Elliott Bay, where the ships are open for public tours. The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels also fly over a special route designed for safety. Other events include more than 16 neighborhood ethnic and heritage celebrations. A SEAFAIR ambassador program for high school students ran from 1985 to 1997, which provided leadership development and educational exchanges.

Project documentation comprises two 1999 catalogs, celebrating SEAFAIR's 50th anniversary; a 13 page report on the festival's history; 24 color slides; and 1997 and 1999 videos of SEAFAIR highlights.

Originally submitted by: Jim McDermott, Representative (7th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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