Today is Aberdeen’s first Founders’ Day celebration, featuring the city’s largest parade in decades, and harkening back to 1914 and Aberdeen’s first Fourth of July Splash. Back in the early days of the Harbor, a logger’s two most anticipated holidays were Independence Day and Christmas; the only times they could get a week out of the woods and raise hell in the city. From the time of their founding, Aberdeen and Hoquiam held separate Independence Day celebrations; it took two decades for them to end that rivalry — and begin another.
It was early 1913 when the Chamber of Commerce managed to talk the two cities into merging their opposing celebrations into one large event that would bring everyone in the county together. The Chamber’s Fourth of July Committee received a proposal from the Hoquiam Commercial Club that a contest be held to name the celebration that would alternate annually between Aberdeen and Hoquiam. Nearly 300 entries were submitted ranging from the “Jungle Jiggle” to the “Grayport Giggle” to the “Lumberjacks Jamboree,” but ultimately the name they settled on was “Splash.” There were four entries with that moniker but the $20.00 prize went to the first person to enter the winning name, C.J. Sims of the Grayport Hotel in Hoquiam.
Miss Elizabeth Adams, also of Hoquiam, submitted the same name and gave many clever reasons to make that choice:
First — It makes no discrimination between the two cities.
Second — It is short.
Third — It is distinctive.
Fourth — It will appeal to all the loggers.
Fifth — A log “splash” has always been something worth seeing.
Sixth — It is euphonic — easily spoken.
Seventh — To people of non-lumbering communities who do not know what a “splash” is, the word will convey a dashy, sporty suggestion which fits well with the occasion.
Eighth — The fitness of this name and the unfitness of others that have been suggested will be seen at once if you will ask the question: “Are you going to the ________?” (followed by any of the suggested names).
The name quickly found popular support, with the Aberdeen Herald declaring, “‘The Splash’ is as appropriate a name for Grays Harbor as ‘The Round-up’ is for Pendleton.”
The first Splash celebration, held in Hoquiam in 1913, was a grand event that drew 20,000 people from throughout the county, as well as the Honorable Gov. Ernest Lister, who observed the grand parade from the reviewing stand in the front of the city library. The First Annual Splash was an unmitigated success — and set a high bar for Aberdeen the following year. This was just the latest bit of one-upmanship between the rival communities which were to meet for their tenth annual Thanksgiving Day gridiron game four months later.
The smoke from the fireworks had barely cleared when the movers and shakers of Aberdeen began planning their turn as Splash hosts. A committee was formed, with Jim Bowes, a gregarious promoter and real estate agent, named chairman. The committee set a target of $3,000 to stage the event. That April, the Rice-Dore Water Carnival was staged for six days on West Market Street from Broadway to L Street, raising $667.80.
The committee also ordered two automobiles which were raffled off at $1 a ticket, each holder having two chances. Over 4,000 tickets were sold, with the drawing held at the July 5 baseball game at Electric Park. The first prize was a $1,150 Studebaker (won by H.A. Comeau, of the Comeau Furniture Company) and the second, a five-passenger Ford (won by laundryman W.H. Cady, owner of the Grays Harbor Renovatory).
On July 2, 1914, with the city wrapped in red, white and blue bunting, the second annual Splash festival was kicked off with Captain Henry Dixon’s speed launch Grays Harbor pulling Henry Rundell of Cosmopolis, standing on a 12-inch plank, at a speed of 35 mph up the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers. For the next two days, events and contests filled every minute: greased pig race, flour diving contest, greased pole climb, shingle packing contest, fat men’s race, wheelbarrow race, and rope jumping contest, to name just a few. The banks of the Wishkah River between Heron and Market Streets were lined with spectators to witness the canoe races, log rolling, swimming contests and the timber falling contest, which featured huge logs standing upright on barges. For over 12 hours a day, there was literally something for everybody.
Perhaps the most exhilarating event was the July 3 balloon ascent by daredevil aeronaut Professor Frank Brooks of Vancouver, Wash. A huge balloon was filled with hot smoke and launched (from the parking lot next to the present-day D&R Theatre) with Professor Brooks dangling from a parachute. At 3,000 feet he pulled the ripcord, the balloon turned-turtle belching out a huge plume of dark smoke and the daredevil began his descent. Brooks drifted with the wind before touching down at Marion and Evans Streets in South Aberdeen. Where the balloon landed is unknown.
The highlight of the three-day event was the Grand Parade held on the Fourth, with George J. Wolff, the popular dry goods merchant, in charge. Wolff hired Pathé News to film the Splash for later presentation in the local theaters. The cameraman was stationed in front of the Finch Building on the southwest corner of Heron and H Streets as the parade passed by.
The parade floats and marchers snaked for 34 blocks through town and had over a thousand participants representing civics (Gov. Lister, Samuel and Mrs. Benn, A.J. and Mrs. West, and the mayors of Aberdeen and visiting cities); education (most of the public school students, Sunday Schools, Fathers and Mothers, Babies and Buggies); and fraternal organizations (featuring the Elks, Sons of Norway, Polish Independent Club, Croatian Society, and 300 members of the Finnish Brotherhood Lodge).
Following the parade, a huge Mardi Gras masquerade dance was held on Market Street. Jim Bowes assured the public that “the pavement will be in first class shape for dancing and music galore. The dancers will be masked and it will be a wide-open, go-to-it-as-you-please affair. The street will be well illuminated and everything in the fun line, but nothing in the way of disorder, will be tolerated.”
Without question, Aberdeen’s first Splash was a success, posting a tidy profit of $800 that was put in the bank to collect interest until the 1916 event. Other than a rash of pickpockets working the crowded street cars, crime was virtually nill.
For the next dozen or so years, the annual Splash celebration continued with the two cities trying to out-do each other, but by the mid-1920s, the number of both entrants and attendees began to wane. The automobile provided mobility and more people were taking advantage of the warm weather to make a mass exodus to the beaches and lakes and forests. The last time the Splash was advertised as such was in 1928, and by 1929 the only remnant left of the former celebration was the fireworks show.
In the 1990s the Splash celebration was resurrected in Aberdeen, and the fireworks show still draws thousands, but the water sports and grand parades of yesteryear are misty memories of the few left who witnessed it. Thanks to the forethought of George J. Wolff to film the event, we can still get a glimpse of that big day in 1914, including much of the parade, many of the water events, the aeronaut’s ascent, and Samuel and Mrs. Benn and other notable locals. In 1976, the 15-minute film was transferred to videotape and then DVD and is available through the public library and on the internet. The film can also be viewed at the Aberdeen Museum of History.
Today’s Aberdeen Founders’ Day celebration features the largest parade in decades and a street dance featuring the band Humptulips. Let’s do what we can to make it a success and create an annual event that brings back the spirit of the original Grays Harbor Splash.
Roy Vataja is the son of Finnish immigrants and will be riding in Jimmy McGiveron’s “Pumpkin,” a bright orange 1978 Ford F-150 4x4. See you all at the parade! Roy also wishes Dann Sears of the Aberdeen Museum a Happy Birthday!