Thursday, May 28, 2009

Elephant causes pandemonium in the Park!

Well, it was exactly one hundred years ago today that it happened, but on May 28, 1909, a circus elephant named Queenie escaped from her handlers and ran amok in Madison Park for awhile before being recaptured. Queenie was one of the many animal attractions of a short-lived amusement park called White City located right here in Madison Park for several early years of the twentieth century.

As told by Alan J. Stein in an essay on, Queenie’s adventure started when a couple of little white dogs crept too close to her while she was being moved from her tent to another location in the park. The handler lost control, and the spooked Queenie gave chase to the dogs. As she rumbled through the park she managed to crash into the merry-go-round, breaking some of the wooden horses. Giving up on the dogs, which had broken to freedom by scampering under a fence, the pachyderm decided to take a break at the fruit stand, where she helped herself to a selection of apples and oranges. While she was munching away, she allowed a chain to be attached to her leg so that she could be tethered to the ground until her trainer arrived to lead her back to her assigned place.

The Seattle Times report of the incident has two women fainting as a result of the ruckus (this was apparently considered perfectly understandable female behavior in those days). It is lucky the two ladies did not stay around after their ordeal to witness a much more horrific event. Later that day, “a fox terrier owned by the manager of the animal menagerie wandered too close to a cage containing a Bengal tiger. In a flash, the feline reached through the bars, pulled the dog inside, and…” well, let’s just say that the poor terrier had a fate that was quite different from that of the two little white dogs that got away from Queenie.

Located south of Madison Street on the shore of the Lake, White City was a rather brief affair. It was apparently opened to take advantage of the crowds flocking to Seattle for the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition, which ran at the site of the University of Washington from June 1, 1909 until October 16, 1909. The Exhibition was Seattle’s first world’s fair and brought visitors from around the globe.

Admission to White City was ten cents; and in addition to its merry-go-round, the park boasted a Ferris wheel, side shows, and a miniature train ride for children and adults called the Lake Shore Railway. Some of the attractions were apparently brought over from the site of the Alaska-Yukon Exhibition after the fair closed.

White City appears to have lasted as a summer attraction only until 1912, when the park’s owners, the Borderland White City Co., finally called it quits. Queenie’s later career is not chronicled.

[Picture of Queenie pushing a White City concession building on rollers is from the Seattle Times May 30, 1909, courtesy of The White City postcard courtesy of Jim Abbate.]

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