The Birth of SEAFAIR
Here’s how an early SEAFAIR Press Guide described the beginnings, “SEAFAIR had its birth in the minds of a few men who believed that Seattle as a pleasure-boating center should be pointed up”.
They formed an organization known as Greater Seattle, Inc. to direct SEAFAIR, and like most city-sponsored events, it had as one of its prime aims the attracting of tourists to the city. While it accomplished that aim, SEAFAIR had the added attraction of really reflecting the city’s maritime background and heritage.
SEAFAIR, Seattle’s consummate summer festival, began in 1950 as Sea Fair, a 10-day “water festival”.
The first festival was organized by a committee of businessmen from the community to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city*.
*The City of Seattle’s founding year is 1851. Seattle was founded by members of the Denny party, who arrived at Alki Beach on November 13, 1851. In April 1852, they relocated to the eastern shore of Elliott Bay. The first plats for the “Town of Seattle” were filed on May 23, 1853. Source: https://www.historylink.org/File/303.
SEAFAIR is primarily about community, civic pride, affordable fun and of course, the water wonderland we call home in the Puget Sound region. However, SEAFAIR organizers also envisioned the summer festival continuing as an annual event to promote the beauty and pride of the region and attract tourists to the Pacific Northwest.
They certainly succeeded. Today, SEAFAIR is a summer-long festival made up of dozens of sanctioned events, including neighborhood parades, cultural festivals, Seafair Pirates, a royal court, the evening Torchlight Parade, “fleet week” on the Seattle waterfront, and the grand finale “SEAFAIR Weekend” featuring the Blue Angels air show and Unlimited Hydroplane races.
In the earliest days of SEAFAIR, a ship (no longer in use) was loaded with fuel, explosives, and fireworks, and ceremoniously set on fire in Elliott Bay. After the fanfare, the fire was put out, and the ship towed farther out into Puget Sound, and sunk.
This tradition was a symbolic burning of Neptune’s flagship by the Seafair Pirates.
According to mythology, Neptune is the Roman god of the sea (counterpart to the Greek’s Poseidon). The Seafair Pirates are ceremoniously led by an appointed bad-boy: “Captain Kidd”, a once and real pirate from the 17th century.
Anyway, Kidd has a beef with Neptune. So, they blow his ship up. Burning (and exploding and sinking) a ship at SEAFAIR became a tradition that lasted into the 1960s.