As fictional Tacoman’s go Tugboat Annie is perhaps the most famous, appearing in 100 short stories in the Saturday Evening Post, books, radio, movies and even a mid century television show. Tugboat Annie was a force on the waterfront in the fictional Puget Sound seaport called Seacoma and even more formidable at the wheel of her sturdy tug Narcissus. Annie was the hard scrabble Depression era waterfront character created by Norman Reilly Raine in stories for the Saturday Evening Post, an everywhere magazine that has no equivalent in our modern culture of digital screens and screams. Raine was friends with Wedell Foss who’s mother was Thea Foss, the legendary matriarch of the tug and towboat industry on Puget Sound and a giant in Tacoma’s history. The strong, resourceful and sometimes violent superhero hit a major cord in American culture during the late 1920’s and 30’s when many families were held together by determined women. The many contests of skill and wit against her nemesis Captain Bullwinkle, were always tightly plotted adventures where Annie usually got the upper hand, even if it came down to a fist fight. Thea Foss passed away in 1927 but the fictional character based on her life and adventures was a fixture of popular culture for generations.

Thea Foss
Thea Foss

The first Hollywood telling of Annie’s adventures featured two of American cinema’s biggest stars at the time(1933) Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery. In the second big Warner Brothers picture about Annie a new cast was recruited and the premiere was held in Tacoma at the Pantages in 1940. Recognize anybody from that evening?


Written by tacomahistory

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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