Festival urged, 1900 | Tom Camfield

Tom Camfield
Posted 6/1/22

I WONDER HOW MUCH LARGER it would have gotten over the past 130 years or so. And how tall was this tree?

As is occasionally the case I had no corresponding photo to go with the following blog I …

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Festival urged, 1900 | Tom Camfield


I WONDER HOW MUCH LARGER it would have gotten over the past 130 years or so. And how tall was this tree?

As is occasionally the case I had no corresponding photo to go with the following blog I wanted to use, But this big old tree illustrates my political attitude toward senseless (and harmful) exploitation of such limited resources as fossil fuels and forest products.

I don’t see us self-oriented humans as much in the forecast for 1,000 years from now.

IN ANY CASE, WHEN I WAS A KID working part-time at The Leader, we still were picking larger type for headlines and advertisements out of drawers, letter by letter. So I could feel my roots in people like Milton F. Satterlee. He was colorful editor, publisher, etc., of such early newspapers from around the time of the big tree above as the Port Townsend’s Daily Call, Key City Graphic, Weekly Record, Herald, Daily Democrat, Key City Mirror and Quilcene Megaphone —in the 1880s, 1890s and early 1900s.

Some 122 years ago, in 1900 (Aug. 29), a letter over the letters of his signature was printed in the Weekly Leader. It somewhat accurately foretold the Rhododendron Festival to which the community was to give birth 36 years later.

Satterlee wrote, in part: “Editor, Leader — Every city on the Pacific coast — and throughout the United States, for that matter — of the importance of Port Townsend has some has some celebration . . . There are features of Jefferson County and this city that make possible to have a street display that will bring thousands of visitors here and from a hundred miles or more away. I refer to a Grand Rhododendron Street Carnival of one week’s duration.

“The county tributary to this city contains thousands of acres of these most beautiful evergreen flowering trees . . . the size and delicate coloring of the flowers make them ideal for a grand display . . . As to decorating I would bring train loads of the shrubs to the city, place them along the streets, on the terrace, in every window of occupied and unoccupied business blocks, on arches and overhead wires . . . In a word, I would make certain streets, the terrace and the hill a veritable forest of flowers . . . “

[Remember. All this, and more, was written 122 year ago! In 1900!]

“On each day I would have some special feature, such as parades of school children bearing rhododendrons, and bicycles decorated with flowers. On the third day of the carnival I would have the Frost King and his army appear and threaten destruction of the flowers, while opposed to him would be the Flower Queen to thwart his designs.

“I would build a float, buried in a bank of rhododendrons, on which would be enthroned the queen with her retinue of court ladies, followed by her army of rhododendron-bearing school girls . . . but why enumerate the many possible features? They would unfold themselves as the plans for such a carnival proceeded.

“The rhododendron is the state flower of Washington. Its selection for so distinguished consideration was inaugurated by a Port Townsend lady, while the flower attains its highest perfection in Jefferson County. Then why should not a grand Rhododendron Street Carnival be an annual feature in Port Townsend?

“It is none too early to talk the matter up . . . I have made this suggestion of a rhododendron carnival for the purpose of bringing about a discussion of the subject, and I hope to hear from the public spirited men and women of Port Townsend in the matter.”

Sorry, Mr. Satterlee; you obviously were well ahead of your time. Your original words also have been edited here somewhat due to space limitations — and as the native rhododendron no longer blooms in quite the same profusion as was the case in 1900.

Satterlee’s entire letter appears on pages 319-320 of my first volume of early local area history, 2000. It does not include the name of the woman who allegedly proposed it as the Washington state flower. However, the Internet notes: “Before they had the right to vote, Washington women selected the coast rhododendron as the state flower. They wanted an official flower to enter in a floral exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.”

“Often I think of the beautiful town that is seated by the sea; often in thought go up and down the pleasant streets of that dear old town, and my youth comes back to me . . .” —Longfellow