Coulrophobia & Fog

Sometimes odd just happens. The day after Thanksgiving in 1935 it seemed perfectly normal to merge a Christmas parade with a toyland theme-especially for a parade sponsored by the downtown merchants just before the big shopping season. It seemed like the ideal way to tee up the buying season for downtown department stores and brighten the coming Christmas season for Tacoma’s families working to emerge from the struggles of the Depression. Kids were encouraged to make their own costumes and join Santa in the parade. Someone thought it would be a great idea to make head masks based on Disney characters and cartoon clowns printed in newspaper ads. What could go wrong.

A dense fog for one thing followed by the somewhat frightening emergence of really bad, over sized head masks and weirdly scary clowns. The floats were just plain creepy and the musician union band was missing most of its members giving the whole performance a weirdly fragmented, off key musical score. The cold, thick fog backed up the waiting paraders and created a street crowd of freezing clowns, mystified fairytale characters and mirthless, confused organizers. Into the cloudy throng stepped a photographer with a decidedly twisted eye for the oddly juxtaposed slightly creepy dreamland.

After 1935 the Christmas parade stayed with just Santa and a traditional theme. Tacoma’s toyland nightmare was mostly forgotten except for the photographs.

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.


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