By now, the commemorative events have run their course, the books have been published, the articles written and the souvenirs moved to the discount table. Like Christmas decorations stashed in the garage in January, the banner, displays and accompanying gewgaws to mark the 50th anniversary of Seattle’s coming-of-age event, the Century 21 Exposition, are being dismantled and packed away.
But just maybe we’ll want to remember where we stashed all those boxes, in case we need to haul them out again to mark the fair’s birthday as a sort of civic pick-me-up.
Round-number anniversaries can be opportunities for reflection and contemplation, to reinvigorate the community and inspire it to dream of what it might next accomplish. They’re also handy for reminding ourselves of a time when something actually went the way it was supposed to.
On that score, Century 21, aka the Seattle World’s Fair, filled the bill in multiple ways, with solid attendance, no lingering debt and a lasting physical legacy including the Space Needle, the monorail and the grounds of Seattle Center.
Beyond that, however, our portfolio of events to commemorate is, to be frank, looking a bit meager. We’re too late, for example, to mark the 100th anniversary of another formative moment in Seattle’s history, the Klondike gold rush of 1898. Of course, the gold strikes didn’t occur here, and Seattle’s main role was to separate many of the Klondike-bound fortune seekers from their grubstakes for supplies and provisions.
We’ve also missed the 50th anniversary of Boeing’s vault into the Jet Age with the delivery of the 707 in 1958. We could mark some other landmark events in Boeing’s recent history—the Boeing swoon of 1971 (perhaps to be memorialized with a recreation of the “last person leaving Seattle” billboard) or the day in 2000 when the headquarters move was announced—but those are a bit lacking in the inspiration department.
If, in keeping with the tradition of the World’s Fair, we want to commemorate events that put Seattle on the international map, what event more resoundingly did that than its hosting of the World Trade Organization in 1999? The frolicking on the streets became as synonymous with Seattle as the silhouette of the Space Needle. Put us on the map it did; it also took Seattle off the list of candidates for hosting any internationally significant gathering for decades to come.
We could celebrate Seattle’s more successful hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in 1993, except that hardly anyone cared at the time and no one remembers it now.
Perhaps the founding of our tech community might provide a nail upon which to hang a communitywide shindig. But what date do we select? The day Paul Allen and Bill Gates moved from Albuquerque to the Puget Sound region in 1979? The day of the Microsoft IPO in ’86? The day in 2001 when Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s breakup order was reversed?
If the world of business does not provide viable candidates, perhaps we should turn to the world of sports, in which past glories are always being celebrated. The 20th anniversary of the Seattle Mariners’ miracle season of 1995, capped by The Hit that Saved Baseball in Seattle, is three short years away, and given our continuing debate over sports franchises and facilities, it could well be a timely event.
But remembering that glorious season would also painfully resurrect the minor point that, in the midst of the fervor, the electorate actually said no to a new stadium and that the recent on-field performance by the Mariners raises questions about the quality of baseball that was saved.
The community faces intensive searching to find an event, however obscure, upon which to build an anniversary celebration that comes without misgivings, second thoughts or rekindled rancor. Or else it will have to be somewhat relaxed about recycling commemorations it’s already been through, and not caring whether the anniversary year ends in 5 or a 0.
So let’s not throw away all the World’s Fair stuff just yet. Given the lead time needed in planning and preparation, we may want to keep it close at hand. The 57th anniversary of the Century 21 Exposition is just around the corner.
BILL VIRGIN is the founder and editor of the subscription newsletters Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News.