Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates China Day and Montesano Day on September 13, 1909.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 3/25/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8962
On September 13, 1909, China Day is celebrated at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Montesano Day is also informally celebrated.  The A-Y-P Exposition took place on the University of Washington campus in Seattle between June 1 and October 16, 1909, drawing more than three million people. Visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. Each day of the A-Y-P was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups.  Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again. China Day features an impressive parade through downtown in the morning, followed by an even bigger parade through the A-Y-P grounds in the afternoon, with a 150-foot dragon the highlight of both parades. The China Day program at the Auditorium follows; festivities conclude in the evening with two fireworks shows. 

An Exotic Parade  

Bright sunshine greeted China Day at the A-Y-P on Monday, September 13, 1909, and Seattle’s Chinese community was well-prepared for its special day -- it had raised $5,000 (nearly $100,000 in 2009 dollars) to cover the costs of the day’s activities.  Chinese businesses closed and many of Seattle’s approximately 800 Chinese residents came out for the big day, which commenced with a grand parade downtown featuring a Chinese dragon. The bamboo dragon, 150 feet long and operated by 50 people, had been transported in sections at considerable expense from Marysville, California, and assembled in Seattle the day before the parade. Parade preparations began early that Monday from Quong Tuck’s tea house on Washington Street in Seattle, with Goon Dip (ca. 1862-1933), honorary consul for the Chinese government, overseeing operations. Promptly at 11 a.m. (by some accounts half an hour late) the parade began from Washington Street and 3rd Avenue, dropped down to 2nd Avenue, and then marched north on 2nd to Pike Avenue before doglegging up Pike to 5th Avenue and disbanding a block north on Pine.

The parade didn’t just stop at the dragon. It included 30 cars bearing Chinese visitors from up and down the West Coast (including Vancouver and Victoria), four Chinese bands (all riding in floats), and Chinese horsemen in full military regalia of armored suits and helmets leading detachments of footmen carrying weapons that many of the parade viewers had never seen before.  Small children marched, some swinging incense lamps; adults marched under bright colorful silken banners, and all around music boomed from the bands in the parade.

Just after noon Goon Dip hosted a luncheon at the Ah King restaurant in the Chinese Village on the A-Y-P grounds. In attendance were about 50 VIPs, including A-Y-P President J. E. Chilberg (1867-1954), A-Y-P Director General Ira Nadeau, Seattle mayor John Miller (1862-1936), as well as a number of Chinese businessmen and officials that the press didn’t identify despite the fact that the Chinese were well represented at the luncheon, outnumbering their Caucasian guests by about four to one.  The traditional Chinese menu, which included selections such as Yen Won Gong (bird’s nest soup), Shue Bock Op (Chinese fried squab), and Hong Geung (candied ginger) puzzled some of the non-Chinese guests. But the luncheon was evidently pleasant enough, and before it was over the grand parade commenced again, this time even bigger and better than the morning parade downtown. It gaily and noisily marched through the A-Y-P grounds to the Auditorium, arriving in time for the day’s 3:30 p.m. program.

Compliments and Fireworks 

Wagner’s A-Y-P band opened the program with the Chinese national anthem, and Chilberg escorted Goon Dip to the stage. Chilberg gave the welcoming address, observing that the Chinese were celebrating the day in their own version of the Seattle spirit, while Goon Dip responded with greetings from what he called the oldest nation to the youngest and strongest. Judge Thomas Burke (1849-1925) gave an address and complimented the visiting Chinese, saying that “If a Chinese owes you a dollar, that dollar will certainly be paid. The Chinaman is honest in his dealings” ("Chinese Parade Makes Big Hit").  

Other speakers followed. Reverend Fung Chack of Portland delivered his address in Chinese, doubtlessly bewildering the American spectators, but delighting the Chinese contingent in the crowd, who interrupted him frequently with applause. And there was a brief political moment in the program when Ng Poon Chew of San Francisco respectfully suggested that America relax some of the more restrictive terms in its then-current Chinese Exclusion Act -- a request that likely fell on deaf ears for most of the Americans in the audience. The remainder of the program was devoted to vocal solos and a piano solo.

 The day concluded with not one but two fireworks shows planned: one by the Chinese at 8 p.m. at the foot of the Pay Streak, followed an hour later by a show by the Los Angeles Fireworks Company. This second show was to include a reenactment (that had been postponed from its originally scheduled date of September 9) of a spectacular collision between two railroad locomotives on a long fireworks float on Lake Union.

Sources: "Dragon To Crawl Through Streets," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 11, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 4;  “Chinese Dragon To Glide Along Seattle Streets,” Ibid., September 13, 1909, Sec. 1, pp. 1-2;  “Chinese Parade Makes Big Hit At Exposition,” Ibid., September 14, 1909, Sec. 1, pp. 1, 4;  “Chinese To Have Their Own Day,” The Seattle Sunday Times, September 12, 1909, Sec. 1, p. 1;  “Chinese Day Procession Unique,” The Seattle Daily Times, September 13, 1909, pp. 1, 4;  “Plan Spectacular Fireworks Display,” The (Seattle) Star, September 9, 1909, p. 10. 

Related Topics:   Asian & Pacific Islander Americans | A-Y-P Exposition | Fairs & Festivals

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