Words: Norris Comer & Ozzie Wiese
What Mardis Gras is to New Orleans and Dropping the Ball is to Time Square, Seafair is to Seattle. Seattle’s iconic summer festival, which celebrates the city and our connection to the sea, is upon us.
Seafair kicked off on June 15 at Westlake Center Plaza with hallmark flair. The annually appointed King Neptune and Queen Alcyone ushered in the ceremonies for 2016, and Seafair personalities—ranging from clowns to pirates and hydroplane drivers to princesses—abounded at various Starbucks’ locations in the city (thanks to their Seafair sponsorship arrangement). Seafair festivities will continue into August and, as always, offer a flashy array of events for all ages to make an exciting summer inevitable.
Events like the regularly hilarious Milk Carton Derby, a series of boat races featuring homemade watercraft made of milk cartons, and the always popular Seafair Torchlight Parade have become staples. But Seafair Weekend, August 5 – 7, with its Albert Lee Appliance Cup hydroplane race and Boeing Air Show, is what most people think of when Seafair comes up in conversation. It’s an adrenaline-inducing weekend of world-class hydroplane action and the roar of the Navy’s Blue Angels fills the sky. The events conclude with Viking Days (think of a Scandinavian Renaissance Fair), on August 20 – 21 at the Nordic Heritage Museum and a showing of “Life of Pi” on August 27 at the Seattle Center.
Seafair is a Seattle cultural landmark, with average attendance of the Seafair Torchlight Parade coming in at 300,000 and the hydroplane races at 150,000. To put this in perspective, the average attendance at Seahawks games tend to hover shy of 70,000. The modern Seafair celebration is a patchwork quilt of many annual activities with roots that date to the 19th century. However, the first account of an actual Seafair is from 1950, when the newly recruited and ambitious event planner Walter Van Camp couldn’t wait for Seattle’s centennial, which was 1951, to celebrate the city’s identity. In an era when the city had no Seahawks or Mariners, and the Space Needle was still over a decade away, Seafair was an important event that helped to establish the city’s identity, and for the community to puff out its chest and declare proudly, “THIS is Seattle!”
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Photo contributors to this story include Seafair Photographers Gary Babcock, Gary Breedlove, Sherwin Eng, Rod Mar, David Rosen, Sterling Yun, and the Seafair Archives.