Seattle Now & Then: MOHAI's Seattle Fire Mural

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: “Scientific muralist” Ruddy Zallinger works on his depiction of the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889 from a prospect that looks east on Yesler Way (Mill Street then) to its old pre-fire intersection with First Avenue (Front Street then). (Courtesy Ron Edge)
NOW: Jean Sherrard made a slight adjustment for his “repeat” of Zallinger’s art to better show the musical accompaniment to the Museum of History and Industry’s “last day” party last June 6, which was also the 123rd anniversary of Seattle’s Great Fire. MOHAI will open again later this year at its new Museum in its new old home - the reconfigured armory at the south end of Lake Union.

Imagine asking the famous – and stuffed – gorilla named Bobo what were the two most popular artifacts on show at what since early June of this year has been the old Museum of History and Industry in Montlake.  Bobo – being a modest gorilla who thru many years kept a steady eye on the museum’s exhibits from his own glass case – would, I think, choose the “Founding of Seattle” diorama with its puppet pioneers and the Great Seattle Fire mural. I would agree with the western lowland primate.

The mural is shown here with its artist, Ruddy Zallinger, in a press photo that was first published in this newspaper on Dec. 5, 1952.  The then 34-year old Zallinger explained that he’d been working on the 10-by-24-foot mural for four months and hoped to complete it by Christmas.  For rendering the pioneer buildings the “scientific muralist” studied old photographs kept by the Seattle Historical Society.  For the flames he studied fires nearby at the Montlake landfill.

Raised in Seattle and taught at Cornish School, Zallinger was still fresh from winning a 1949 Pulitzer Prize for a much larger mural “The Age of Reptiles” that took five years to complete for the Peabody Museum of Natural History on the Yale University Campus, where Zalinger was also an instructor.

Zallinger’s Great Seattle Fire mural was dedicated on Feb. 15, 1953, the first anniversary of the museum’s opening.  A band playing “There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight” accompanied the unveiling.  Those attending included at least fifty persons who were surviving eye-witnesses of the Great Fire of June 6, 1889, and some of their stories were told in a recorded program that followed the unveiling.  For the occasion of the mural’s 50th anniversary rededication on Feb. 15, 2003, there were, of course, no first hand witnesses attending.  Bobo, however, was there.

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For more about the mural, Paul says click on this photo!

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