News - Spring/Summer 2020
History of 4th of July Celebrations
By Elaine Walker
Anacortes has a long history of hosting grand Independence Day celebrations. In fact, one of the first acts of the city’s founders was to throw and elaborate Fourth of July bash and invite all of Puget Sound. That was in 1890 - 10 months before the boomtown officially became a city.
Patriotic celebrations have had their ups and downs over the decades, but today, thanks to the work of many volunteers, July 4th festivities are more popular than ever.
Still, it would take quite an effort to top that first Fourth in 1890. In his book "Pictures of the Past," Wallie Funk describes it:
"The town marked the Fourth of July with a celebration that drew thousands of visitors from as far away as Tacoma and Victoria. At that time, it was the largest such event held on the Sound and won for the boom-driven city great praise for its historic gala. The ’grand parade,’ including four bands and horse-drawn floats, was photographed by D.B. Ewing as it headed south on planked streets and sidewalks which covered P Avenue (now Commercial). It was a memorable day that concluded with a spectacular fireworks display that priced out at $500 - all of it from local pockets."
That $500 translates to about $13,000 today - not too far off the $20,000 needed for the 2015 fireworks show.
The 1890 athletic competitions included a baseball game, 100-yard and a half-mile races, a 100-yard race just for fat men, a 50-yard sack race, a tug-of-war, catching of a greased pig, a baseball throw, wheelbarrow and potato races, a two-mile canoe race, a yachting competition with more than 20 sailboats and a firemen’s race with hose carts, 12-man teams and $25 to the winner. The community of 3,000 hosted an estimated 5,000 guests that day.
Independence Day parades and events were held regularly in the city, if not annually, until brought to a halt by the Great Depression. Civic activists and merchants such as Paul Luvera who missed the patrioti events - and the economic and morale boost they provided - came up with Marineers’ Pageant, which was held in late July for several years, starting in 1937.
There were parades, pirate girls, queen coronations, dances, a grand parade and watersports, including world-champion water-skiers, hydroplane races, tribal canoe competitions and battleships at anchor. There were also stunts that made national movie newsreels, such as a mass wedding of seven couples, and the unique and hilarious Cat-Putter-Outter-Derby.
The event stopped for World War II, made a couple of comebacks, then faded away for good in the late 1950s.
Events were somewhat less coordinated and less memorable in the next couple of decades, although fireworks at Flounder Bay were a hit with kids. Before Skyline was built, Anacortes Museum Director Bret Lunsford remembers, organizers with trash cans asked each carload of viewers to toss in donations. In 1976, Fidalgo Island Bicentennial Committee, chaired by "Mrs. Ben Hughes," organized a big, old-fashioned patriotic picnic, and the Lions Club hosted the fireworks at Flounder Bay.
Events were low key the next few years, but began to shape up in the 1980s and early ’90s, largely due to fundraising and organizational efforts led by Felicia Childs, who became known as "Mrs. Firecracker" and "Mother Red White and Blue." By the time Childs stepped down, the events had grown to include a patriotic picnic, a kiddie parade and fireworks.
In the early 1990s the Anacortes Women of Today began to play a role in parade organization. In 1994 Childs officially handed the parade and picnic to AWOT and Donalda Wiggins, who expanded the parade to include adults, marching bands and community floats, as well as children. After the patriotic speeches at Causland Memorial Park, various service groups presented sack races, pie-eating contests and other old-fashioned games.
John Curtis of Bubba Sudz and his family assumed responsibility for the fireworks display. Merchants donated to the show, and, for many years, the Curtis family sold fireworks at a stand at the car wash to raise money for the display. Curtis, who had a pyrotechnics license, supervised the show until his untimely death in an accident in 2009. Today, funds are raised through the Anacortes Parks Foundation, which oversees the fireworks.
For over 20 years, the Anacortes American has invited everyone in town to gather before the Fourth of July parade for a mass town photo .The proceeds of town photo sales are donated to the John Curtis Memorial Fireworks display.
Memorials In Anacortes
On Memorial Day 2020, a visit to significant sites may not be possible or recommended for all. To enable virtual visits, the Anacortes Museum has created new webpages to present the history and list the people memorialized on well-known community monuments, like those at Altair-Americus, Causland and Seafarers’ memorial parks. The project is part of the museum’s mission to interpret and help maintain these important sites, and the people honored at them.
The creation of Memorials in Anacortes pages on the website was a response to the recent temporary removal of the "Lest We Forget" war memorial wall at Causland Park. Structural instability required that the bronze plaques be removed while the wall, built in 1988, was dismantled. The plaques are being safely stored at the museum while a new wall for them is being planned -- made of stone to match the Causland landscape. People can find the names online in the interim, and learn more about these men, with information supplied from the museum’s research files. The Anacortes Parks and Recreation Department will be coordinating the wall replacement project, and looking to rededicate on the centennial of Causland Park’s original dedication, which will be September 25, 2021.
Our new webpages will also provide a way for visitors from near or far to identify and locate the names of family or friends listed on these monuments. Eventually, with help from the community, museum staff intends to include short biographical descriptions and photographs to accompany the names.
The Memorials Represented Include:
Altair – Americus Memorial Park is dedicated to the crews of the fishing vessels Altair and Americus, lost at sea on February 14, 1983. The park is located on R Avenue near Ninth Street on the Anacortes waterfront. The memorial was dedicated on September 15, 1991.
Causland Memorial Park is located on a full block in downtown Anacortes. It’s unique stone masonry, designed by Jean Baptiste Lepage, were a part of its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. The park was constructed as a tribute to Harry Leon Causland and the 13 other local men who lost their lives during WWI. The park was constructed between 1919 and 1921, and dedicated on September 25, 1921.
The Seafarers’ Memorial monument, placed in 1976 near the net sheds of Cap Sante Marina, was moved in 1999 to its current location in the park that bears its name. The plaque on the monument simply states its purpose: “The citizens of Anacortes erected this memorial in honor of those from this community who died at sea while in pursuit of their livelihood.” The memorial was originally dedicated on August 28, 1976 and rededicated on Memorial Day, May 31, 1999.
The Memorials in Anacortes webpages offer location, history and background on the people memorialized on these monuments. If you have more information to offer, please contact the Anacortes Museum at (360)-293-1915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Our New Documentary About Local Legend Bill Mitchell
Despite an auto-accident in his youth that left him paralyzed from the waist down, Bill Mitchell made it his life’s work to fill Anacortes, Washington with life-size murals of famous figures within the town. A true testament to perseverance, he refused to let his injury get in the way of his goals.
Filmmaker Corin Noronha spent time with Bill in late 2018 and early 2019; together they formed what is an intimate and joyful look at the artists’ legacy during the last stretch of his life. For the first time, get an inside look at the mural project through Bill’s own words. Learn about his inspirations, his struggles and his incredible 150+ mural project that has left an undying mark on our town. We hope you enjoy, "Bill Mitchell & the Anacortes Mural Project."
After watching, please check out our pages dedicated to Bill and the future of the mural project - now under Museum supervision!
Celebrate Bill Mitchell Day Remotely on May 3, 2020
May 3rd is the premiere of the Bill Mitchell documentary film made by Corin Noronha
Please join fans of Bill Mitchell and his murals on Sunday, May 3, 2020 – virtually – for Bill Mitchell Day. Watch the new Bill Mitchell documentary film, made by Corin Noronha, premiering on the Anacortes Museum YouTube channel. Find out more about the history and the future of the Anacortes Mural Project at anacortesmuseumfoundation.org.
Bill Mitchell was Anacortes’ public artist and public historian. His leadership of the Anacortes Mural Project has created a lasting and authentic impact on our community’s residents and visitors. He installed the first mural on May 3, 1984, and eventually created over 150 painted plywood likenesses of Anacortes personalities.
When Bill died last spring, it caused many to realize that a plan for the future of his historic murals is necessary. Mr. Mitchell had identified the Anacortes Museum as the logical long-term steward of his mural work, which involves art, history, education, tourism promotion and community engagement. Bill’s family has generously offered to donate the murals to the city.
The Anacortes Museum and the Anacortes Museum Foundation are well prepared to manage this project collaboratively. Previous donors have already established the start of a mural maintenance fund; the Anacortes Museum Foundation has the capacity to accept website donations and otherwise support Anacortes Mural Project fundraising.
In addition to the documentary film, museum staff are also creating a full inventory of the murals, and coordinating a virtual smartphone tour of the murals – augmented by podcasts.