After calls for help and hours of research on line and off, this subject still puzzles me. The prospect is easy enough to describe, and I soon will. Rather it is the subject: seven women sitting on handsome horses who have been trained to stay balanced on those odd pedestals. Who are they – the women and the horses? That the riders are dressed up in the style of the time – ca. 1910 – we can corroborate by comparing them to the tiny pedestrians, far left, walking west beside Republican Street. They are draped the same.
This prospect can be figured within a half-block. Looking east, Capitol Hill is on the horizon, and the three-story structure above the posing line of equestriennes is the Roslyn Hotel at the southeast corner of Republican and Fifth Avenue. A Roslyn classified first appeared in The Times for Feb. 3, 1909, promising “elegant furnished rooms, electric lights, steam heat, hot and cold water in every room, absolutely the best in Seattle: rates $3 to $5 dollars per week; only 50 cents extra for two persons in the same room.”
The hotel’s sign is centered along its rooftop cornice, just above rider number two – from the left – one of the three riders in white and mounted on dark horses. A friend, the writer-collector Stephan Lundgren, first alerted me to the “gray scale rhythm” of this tableau. It alternates women in white on dark mounts with women in black on white ones (in black and white photography). Lundgren concludes, “That’s not random, those are costumes.” The novelist is pleased that the one dappled steed, third from the left, syncopates the otherwise regular rhythm of the line.
The pedestrians, far left, in the featured photograph at the top, are almost certainly either headed for a circus or leaving one. But which circus and when? Two experts (and past subjects of this feature) might have helped, but both died years ago. Michael Sporrer knew circus history hereabouts in great detail, and it was the historian Mike Cirelli who first shared this photograph with me. At that time, without much study, Cirelli knew where it was but not yet, very well, who or what it was.
After studying the Seattle Times for the years 1909 thru 1913 – I used The Seattle Public Library’s access to the newspaper’s archive – I conclude that in those years there were three “big top” circuses that set up their train loads of animals, performers, canvas, and feed. The biggest, Barnum and Bailey, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” performed on this site in 1910, 1912 and 1914. The other two were the Sells-Floto Circus, last here in 1913 for its fourteenth annual Seattle engagement, and the Norris and Rowe Circus, which last performed on these grounds in 1909.
Although the smallest of the three, Norris and Rowe came on two trains to these “old circus grounds at Fourth Ave. and Republican Street” with “herds of elephants, camels, and llamas, two rings and an elevated stage, one four-mile hippodrome track, acres of tents and seats for all.” In 1909 the trains also transported 600 persons and 500 ponies and horses, including, perhaps, these fourteen.
Anything to add, Paul? We love to answer “yes” Jean. Ron’s links to other relevant features will go up first. Since we did that Golden Anniversary reporting on Seattle Center in 2012 we are well stocked with features from ground-sixty-two, but will only feature two of the twenty-plus “Fair and Festival” offerings from 2012. One could key-word the others. We have included here four other features that relate – two of them about circuses.
[A Prompt Reminder: The next SIX photographs are LINKS TO DISCOVERIES, if you TAP THEM.]