Seattle Now & Then: "Testing Cedar River Water"

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN:Carolyn Marr, Museum of History and Industry librarian and Anders Wilse expert, answers the joking caption on Councilman Reinhard’s pant leg with another example. “Wilse had a wry sense of humor. In one photo he took during the Great Northern Railroad construction project, a group of 4 men sit around a table playing cards with revolvers and glasses of liquid. He wrote on the photo ‘A Merry Christmas.’”  (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)
THEN: Carolyn Marr, Museum of History and Industry librarian and Anders Wilse expert, answers the joking caption on Councilman Reinhard’s pant leg with another example. “Wilse had a wry sense of humor. In one photo he took during the Great Northern Railroad construction project, a group of 4 men sit around a table playing cards with revolvers and glasses of liquid. He wrote on the photo ‘A Merry Christmas.’” (Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archive)
NOW: Author-editor and friend Clay Eals accompanied Jean Sherrard to the new Queen Anne Standpipe to take Reinhard’s place.  Clay is drinking Cedar River water drawn from his own tap. Above him is 2 million more gallons of it.  (photo by Jean Sherrard)
NOW: Author-editor and friend Clay Eals accompanied Jean Sherrard to the new Queen Anne Standpipe to take Reinhard’s place. Clay is drinking Cedar River water drawn from his own tap. Above him is 2 million more gallons of it. (photo by Jean Sherrard)

For more than thirty years I have included this Anders Beer Wilse image in slide shows.  It always amuses.  Typically, I explain to those in attendance “Here are two members of the Seattle City Council ‘testing Cedar River Water’.” They answer with incredulous variations of “Oh really!”

“Testing Cedar River Water” is written clearly across the pants of the one tipping the bottle.  Who is he, where is he and when?  I did not know.  But now with a little help from friends and fellow heritage travelers I do and it can be told.

Anders Wilse was hired in 1899 by Seattle Public Works to photograph work-in-progress on the Cedar River gravity system.  Anne Frantilla, Seattle’s Deputy City Archivist, notes that the Norwegian photographer’s negative number “80.x” is also written on a pant leg. Deducting from other numbered Wilse negatives and also from news clippings of the city council’s long tour itinerary for this Tuesday, we may conclude that our two “inspectors” are joyfully lifting their arms on top of Queen Anne hill beside its then new standpipe.  It is early in the afternoon of May 1, 1900.

Using group photos and newspaper election-time mug shots Jodee Fenton and Carol Lo of the Public Library’s “Seattle Room” have identified these two transplanted Oregonians as the newly elected Scott Benjamin on the left and the third term councilman William V. Rinehard tipping the bottle – but a bottle of what?

Fred Cruger and John Cooper, two antiquarian beverage experts, think they know, and independently.  That is a long-necked, foil-capped bottle of a malt-extracted low alcohol drink that Rinehard is sampling. It was promoted as healthful, and new mothers were advised to use it to enrich – or fortify – their breast milk. Consequently, it was most likely not pure Cedar River water, which was still months from reaching Seattle, that councilman Rinehard was chugging.

8 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: "Testing Cedar River Water"”

  1. Although I understand the reason you were forced to issue an apology for your role in the Ivar’s hoax, my family and myself don’t believe it was necessary. We loved the whole thing! Seattle needs to unclench its little tight fannies and laugh about it. It was a contrivance Ivar himself would have admired. My Aunt and I were driving past the imitation billboard on Aurora last week, remarking on and enjoying the whole thing all over again. Thanks for your part in the fun.

  2. My husband and I enjoyed the “Ivar” hoax from day one. It’s hard to believe that anyone could have even considered it otherwise. But maybe that’s possible if you really believed that a large billboard could have been in Elliott Bay since the 1950’s when a double fish and chips was about 65 cents and the chowder at 75 cents would have been way overpriced. Thank you for including humor and fun in our local history.

  3. Paul,

    I’m sorry you got “pushed to the wall” regard the Ivar’s “caper.” If you’re guilty of anything, it’s failing to grasp the march of time and understanding that most people living in Seattle have little or no memory of Ivar, his sense of humor, and his contribution to the quality of life here.

    Anyone who was in Seattle when Ivar was “in his glory” and saw the stories about the “ads for the submarine races”, knew right off that there was a 99 44/100 percent chance is was a gentle hoax and the only challenge was to try to figure out what is was and by whom was it created.

    So you had to apologize. Big deal. You-and I and the rest of us who knew right off that SOMETHING was up-got the last laugh.

  4. Dear Mr. Dorpat

    Our school, Emerson Elementary is having a “Celebrate Emerson’s Centennial (plus one) open house. We would like to contact Alumni, Friends and Families. I will be sending you a flyer today, you should receive on Monday.

    I feel your great news resourse for “Seattle Now and Then” in the Seattle Times would be enourmous benefits for this project.

    I would like to sent you a flier, that maybe you can use to help in this great endeaverment we are attempting to do. Any thing else you might need, don’t hesitate to call.

    Feel free to attend,I will make a announcement of your great effort to make our celebration this great success.

    Zonyia Clayton
    Special Ed Assistant
    206-252-7138

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