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9.15.11: The Needle is Higher than a Horse

Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle

Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence

The French pavilion at Century 21 made the statement that "The present springs out of the past. And today makes tomorrow. But what will our tomorrow be like?" That perfectly fit the theme of the future-focused fair. But it also suggested something you see a lot of in coverage of the fair, that is using the past as a yardstick of progress.

The fair featured an teepee Indian village, cowboy shoot-outs, a giant cake with Paul Bunyan on top. There were many hat-tips to the past, and part of it was for entertainment, but also as a way to compare how far we'd come. Newspaper stories often featured interviews with old timers who were asked for their impressions of the fair, and the result is the startling realization that Seattle's frontier past was close at hand.

One fair visitor was an Englishman, Casper Vashon Baker, who was the great-great grandson of Lt. Joseph Baker, who was on Captain George Vancouver's ship Discovery when it explored Puget Sound in 1792, the first European expedition to do so. Mt. Baker, which you can spy from the Needle, was named after him. Casper Baker's great-great-great grandfather was the British admiral for whom Vashon Island was named (he wasn't on the expedition, though). The Age of Discovery wasn't many generations past.

One visitor to the Space Needle was a 101-year-old Edmonds resident named Isaac Newton, a former blacksmith, whose family took him to the top for his birthday. He also remembered visiting the Alaska-Yukon- Pacific Exposition, when he was a mere lad 48! Think of it. Isaac Newton went to the top of the Needle and rode the Monorail, but he was born during the Lincoln administration in a country where slavery was legal. It was also the year the Civil War started. What did he think of the Needle and the Space Age? "This probably is as close to heaven as I'll ever get," he said.

Another guest was Daniel Hicks, age 92, of Umatilla County, Oregon. His jaunt to the fair was his first visit outside of Pilot Rock since 1877 when, the paper reported, "he took a trip to Missouri after riding horseback 30 days to Ogden, Utah, to catch a train." He was awed by the Needle views. "I had never been higher than the saddle on a horse before," he reported.

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