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Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbus Day…

Standing corn

October 10, Columbus Day in the Valley…and everywhere that honors the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, I guess. Of course, today is Columbus Day “observed,” which in essence means many hardworking Americans tear themselves away from the office for another three day weekend. The official Columbus Day is October 12,  Wednesday this year, and it simply wouldn’t do to have such a short break mid-week. Columbus Day, 2011, and I remember where I was this day forty-nine years ago. “So here my history begins for your understanding and my poor telling….”

Seattle, 1962, the year the world gathered around the newly erected Space Needle to celebrate the World’s Fair. Friday, October 12, Columbus Day. I was a struggling freshman at the UW, a provincial country boy straight from sagebrush country suddenly surrounded by the ivied walls of that stately campus, bewildered by academia, and swallowed up in a sea of students 27,000 strong, many of whom, I suppose, were as bewildered as I. Room and lodging that year were with my paternal grandparents, who most likely were equally bewildered at having a teenager in their daily lives.

That fall I became friends with a couple of young men in my English 101 class. Their names escape me, but I still remember their faces. One was a Seattlelite, born and raised there; the other came from out of state. My Seattle friend was short and always had a peppery smell about him; the other, blonde and odor-free. Not that any of that matters, but it’s a way to keep track of them as I wend my way through my story.

My short, peppery friend that summer of the World’s Fair, became quite familiar with the Seattle Center, the Fair venues, and exhibits on the grounds—so familiar, in fact, he knew how to access the fairgrounds without paying admission. The World’s Fair for free! If you are a frugal college kid, what’s not to like about that! So that Friday, October 12, Columbus Day, 1962, with an entire weekend ahead to study, the three of us decided to attend the Fair on the cheap.

That evening was stormy, a mounting wind, the sky unsettled with scudding clouds and the occasional flash of lightning. Around sevenish, Shorty picked up Blondie and swung by my grandparents’ house where I introduced them to my friends and the three of us headed to the Seattle Center. We parked the car and followed Shorty to a cement stairwell, down the stairs and along a short corridor to a heavy metal door. Our guide stopped, gripped the door handle, and grinning superiorly, swung the unlocked door open and ushered us through. How he knew that door would be unlocked, I still have no idea. We proceeded under the stage of the Opera House and arrived in the midst of the World’s Fair free of charge.

We wandered onto the grounds and immediately noticed something was amiss: a Friday night and the Center was nearly deserted. Had we tried to pay our “fair” share of admission, we would have been turned away. Unaware to us, authorities had closed the fairgrounds at 8:00 p.m. due to a severe storm warning. As we strolled about the empty grounds, the storm intensified. Flashes of lightning burst above us. Soon we had to bend into the wind to stay upright and were dodging large metal trash cans that bounced and rattled down the midway like tin cans kicked by a kid. The night boomed and howled around an abandoned Space Needle. As I passed the Needle’s base, I grabbed one of the huge metal nuts that fastened one leg of structure to its base. The vibration was so strong I could hardly maintain my grasp. The shriek of wind through the six hundred foot tower was frightening and we were frightened ourselves. The giant Ferris wheel at the Fun Forest was spinning in the wind like a giant hamster’s cage. Groundskeepers had released its brakes and let the ride freewheel in the wind.

As we struggled along, we were approached by a security guard carrying a bullhorn. The bullhorn blared: “The fair is closed. Get in a building and stay there!” One of the closest buildings—and the one most suitable for three college kids--was the Food Circus. We chose that venue, and there in the safety of exotic food stalls we stayed until 2:00 a.m. when authorities finally gave the all-clear that it was safe to leave.

The great Columbus Day storm, October 12, 1962, proved to be the West Coast’s worst storm of the Century, clocked sustained winds of 70 mph and did millions of dollars damage up and down the coast. That night it terrified me;  it terrified Shorty and Blondie; and terrified my grandparents who spent a sleepless night worrying about a wayward grandson who never had the courtesy to call to say he was safe and sound.

If you were around October of 1962, maybe you remember the Columbus Day storm, where you were, what you did. As the storm of the Century roared through the Center, I was surrounded by the Foods of Foreign Lands. I can’t remember which exotic dishes I sampled over the five hours I was there, but I sampled several. After all, I had extra money to spend, didn’t I?

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  1. What a great story with a great piece of trivia.

  2. Ah, Ms. Bridget, but isn't that what The Ripple is all about?

  3. Well, I've never heard this story! I suppose it could have encouraged dishonest behavior in an impressionable child. :)

  4. You mean like making off with an entire bowl of plastic fruit??

  5. My dear Farmer J,
    I too was a struggling freshman at the UW in Oct. of 1962. (perhaps we were in the same English class!!)Anyway, That howling night in October, I was on the road to eastern WA. in a camper, with one of my brothers, to go deer hunting. We were nearly blown off the road more than once but I don't remember any fear. The fear was in Jack's heart. He declared us "nuts". Nancy L

  6. Why, Nancy L, what a surprise! I suppose we could have been classmates in a UW English class. Strange, but I don't remember much about the coeds in my English classes those days...except that girl in the blue sweater! Farmer J