Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A History Mystery: Who's in first?

I still keep in touch with my friends at the Friends of the Ballard Locks (of FOBL for short). For those of you new to this blog, we started our own historical society of volunteers who are putting together an archive at the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Seattle, Washington. If you like, you can catch up on the project from the first post about the project. Well, I couldn't be more proud of the way the group has flourished since I left Seattle in August of last year. In fact, they've been presented with a little history mystery by a local resident.

The Locks were formally opened on July 4, 1917 with a grand celebration. The "official" first ship through what was then known simply as the Government Locks, was the steamship Roosevelt. However, the FOBL was recently contacted by the daughter of Elmer Reed who always maintained that HE piloted the first vessel through the Locks on that opening day. Elmer was a local outdoor enthusiast with a passion for canoeing. When the gates of the locks were opened to allow boats into the canal leading to Lake Union, Elmer allegedly jumped in front of the his canoe!

But here's the rub. There are pictures of boats large and small on opening day. There are pictures of rowboats and canoes. We have a picture of Elmer in his canoe and we have a picture of the Roosevelt taken from Elmer's canoe. Unfortunately, we don't have any documentation, written or photographic, that Elmer's canoe was the first vessel to enter Salmon Bay when the Locks opened. And now we have a mystery to solve. Who was in first? Was it Captain E. Blerd piloting the steamship Roosevelt or Seattle's own Elmer Reed?
So we're putting out the call for help. Can you help to prove that Elmer Reed was the first person out of the Government Locks in Seattle on Opening Day, 1917? If you have any information to contribute, OR if you're in the Seattle area and would like to stop by for a visit, the Friends of the Ballard Locks are a great bunch of people who are doin' history. Contact them through Susan Connole at
All images courtesy of the Friends of the Ballard Locks and/or US Army Corps of Engineers. Please do not duplicate without permission.

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