Elephant Walk @ Theatre District


On a really hot summer day under the tropical sun at Broadway and 9th in 1897 Tacoma what could be more normal than a couple elephants sauntering along past the Bostwick Building. Someone with a poor sense of Washington state geography might note the two handlers walking with the animals under the blazing heat and think this is wallah wal…never mind lame joke. Anyway circus parades were really quite common in Tacoma after the big top shows like Barnum and Baily and Ringling Brothers began traveling by train. The NP shops in south Tacoma did contract maintenance for the circus cars that were brightly adorned with wild animals, clowns and advertising murals. While the railroad equipment was in the shop the circus set up on the east side or the southern outskirts of Tacoma. While the wranglers set up the tents and rigged the trapeezes, the performers and big animals paraded through the heart of downtown advertising the big show and handing out free tickets to lucky young onlookers. A free ticket handed to a 10 year old watching the parade with parents and a batch of older siblings was a sure way to fill seats with paying customers. As imposing as the towered Broadway Theatre in this photo was, the people standing in front of the ticket booth seem to be much more interested in the Imax sized 3D spectacle walking down Broadway.


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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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