The five photographs included here were taken from several sides of Pier 56 (excepting the north side) and on the sidewalk there, between 1962 when Ted Griffin opened his aquarium at the end of the pier and 1970 when he was getting regularly advised at the sidewalk to free his mammals. The copy that follows is part of a considerably longer piece I have written on the history of Seattle aquariums. It is still rough and so not yet published. Actually it never will be “normally” published. Instead it will be part of the longer Ivar biography I’m writing – the one that will be both read and heard on DVD to avoid the cost of pulp and waste of paper while sharing the longer story of Seattle greatest self-promoter with those who enjoy having someone read to them on and on about tricksters.
Ted Griffin must be counted among the handful of exalted characters to have worked Seattle’s waterfront. His stage was at the end of Pier 56, and he was candid about its shortcomings. That is, Griffin’s visionary interest in his aquarium came with modesty. ‘Someday Seattle is going to have its own Marineland. This we hope is just a prelude.” At the start “this” was 6,000 square feet of covered space, an impressive cadre of skin-diver friends and other volunteers. But most saliently “this” was, in the figure of Griffin, then still in his twenties, a kind of energized ego whose want of subtlety was made up for with physical courage combined with a heroic sentimentality that the ironic Ivar, who closed his aquarium nearby on Pier 54 in 1956, could only wonder at – and did.
Griffin’s Seattle Marine Aquarium opened on June 22, 1962 or in the ninth week of Century 21 and adjacent to the fair’s waterfront helicopter pad at the end of Pier 56. The chopper noise had to have irritated the dolphins. At 20,000 gallons Griffin’s main tank alone was much larger than all of Ivar’s combined, but most of his specimens and claims for them were the same. Griffin noted, “Puget Sound has more beautiful marine life than anywhere else in the world – even Key West, Florida.” But, as most locals old enough to remember the city’s Namu enthusiasm will know, what Griffin really wanted was a whale – a killer whale. In 1962 Ted Griffin was not yet publicly association with whales, although privately he pursued them both in his dreams and in speedboats. At the opening of his aquarium the Times columnist and nostalgic humorist John Reddin noted, “Thus far the only whale is the figure on their outdoor sign.” But Griffin and his curator Eric Friese would harvest other excitements like Homer, an octopus captured on Puget Sound, which at 88 pounds was a record-breaker for captured octopi.
July 19, 1962 (Courtesy, Seattle Public Library)
Early in 1964 when things were getting desperate his publicist learned that that there were big sharks prowling the bottom of Puget Sound. He asked if they had teeth, and when assured that they did the press agent convinced Griffin that he should go after them. This was a deep pursuit or not a superficial one. The six-gill sharks were hooked with a very sturdy line that was longer than Queen Anne Hill is high. The line was tied to a buoy and dressed with ham, raw beef, and lingcod. For the aquarium the sharks were cash cows. The lines were long. (The revelation of what lurks in the basement of Elliott Bay was made, unfortunately, ten years too soon to further benefit from the release of Steven Spielberg’s film Jaws, otherwise – to use an example — even those seasoned and burly members of the West Seattle Polar Bear Club might have reconsidered their annual New Years Day plunge at Alki Beach and visited the aquarium instead. Such fears, however, would have been highly irrational for to be in any danger of these sharks – and they still patrol the Sound – the Polar Bears, or any swimmers for that matter, would have to dive to at least 500 feet — the level at which Griffin caught his. The beach at Alki is thankfully shallow.
Keeping the sharks alive was measurably more difficult than catching them, that is, it was impossible. In captivity – and in daylight – the Elliot Bay leviathans lost their appetite and most importantly their motivation. Entering the pool and the unknown armed only with his wet suit Griffith would prod and push at them to move. He also force-fed them with mackerel. In spite of it the sharks all soon expired and hopes of maintaining the impressive draw their exhibition engendered were lost. Still during this brief but sensational excitement the aquarium prospered and was able to stay open after the sharks’ last roundup.
July 7, 1964 Courtesy, Seattle Public Library
But at noted it is killer whales not six-gill mud sharks with which Ted Griffin will be linked as long as men like to chase and capture things. Rodeo style, Griffin first tried to lasso a whale by jumping on its back and throwing a net around it. In the summer of 1965 Griffin’s whale mania was no longer a private matter. A fisherman in whose nets a young male killer whale became entangled somehow learned of the aquarist’s quest. Griffin rushed north to Namu, British Columbia to negotiate. All the bidders except Griffin retreated when they reflected on what it might take to move the whale. When, as Griffin retells it, “I was the only one left. They cut me a deal. They quoted me $50,000. I agreed to pay them $8,000, which was approximately the price of the nets.” He flew back to Seattle and collected the eight thousand from friends and businesses on the waterfront. When he returned to Namu he carried a gunnysack filled with small donated bills amounting to the eight Gs. Griffin named the whale for the place, and the fame of Namu began the moment it set off on its 19-day and 450-mile odyssey to Seattle accompanied by a strange flotilla of advertising subsidized Argonauts, featuring celebrities and representatives of the competing media like Robert Hardwick of KVI-AM radio and Emmett Watson then of the Post-Intelligencer. The floating pen that Griffin and his new partner Don Goldsberry fashioned from oil drums and steel lines became a kind of bandwagon as Griffin’s list of volunteers – including, in absentia, Ivar — swelled. Griffin asked Ivar to pay for bringing the whale back. Ivar countered with an offer to feed the often soaked swashbucklers and their hounds as well as send Claude Sedenquist, his head chef, along to do the cooking. The reluctant chef’s recollections of the trip are worth introducing.
Namu in his tank was the water end of Pier 56.
“Ivar told me ‘Pack up a bag, you’ve got to go pick up a whale. You’re going north with Watson to bring back Namu.’ I objected. ‘Ivar we have got the Captain’s Table to open.’ Ivar answered, ‘No you have got to go. After all when you return you can learn from someone else’s mistakes at the Table.’ So I obeyed and Ivar paid for all the food and fuel.” But not the nets.
We will probably continue this story here later on. As noted it is part of a work-long-in-progress on an Ivar biography called “Keep Clam.” Other roughs from that work have been give rough premiers here and can be found in our earliest archives -whenever we manage to rescue them from what we are told is a temporary digital disappearance.
Whale sidewalk protest in front of Pier 56 on June 33, 1970. Photo by Frank Shaw.