May We Have Tacoma’s Attention, Please?

Well before the online era, promoters and performers went to great lengths to capture the attention of Tacomans. A look back at some of the creative lengths businesses, and the city itself, have gone to as catalogued and in the Tacoma Public Library‘s online archives…

On April 27, 1915, the Tacoma Publicity Committee sponsored a race from Tacoma to the Mountain, pitting a train against four automobiles. The race was then captured in motion pictures by B.B. Dobbs (bottom right) to be displayed at the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco.

Thousands lined the race course from Tacoma to Ashford, the terminus of the Tacoma Eastern railroad. The train was a Milwaukee Special, handled by Engineer A.W. Bagley and Conductor J.F. Beals. The train arrived five minutes before the leading vehicle, driven by Mrs. O.H. Ridgeway (in car 2) at a blistering speed of 40-50 mph.

Engineer Bagley gave the winning sack of $1000 in gold to the lady driver in admiration of her skill at the wheel. Following several minutes after Mrs. Ridgeway were the other three drivers, Van R. Layton, Frank Jacobs and Charles Atherton.

On February 7, 1924, the Irvings Imperial Midgets energetically attacked the county’s collection of confiscated stills in a free-for-all across the street from the Pierce County Courthouse. They were aided in their efforts by deputy sheriffs and jail trustees.

The troupe had been invited by Sheriff Tom Desmond to the annual demolition of liquor stills collected by the county dry squad during the year. The European theatrical troupe was the main attraction for “Midget Week” at the Pantages Theater.

The 25-member group, ranging in heights from 33 to 44 inches tall, was making its first visit to the United States and appeared in three shows daily during the week. The vaudeville style group, including two women, entertained crowds with musical comedy, acrobatics, boxing, wrestling, singing and dancing. Mayor Angelo Vance Fawcett presented the troupe with the key to the city.

In 1917, the United States was balancing on the brink of entering the European War and was looking for a Northwest location for an army staging camp. H. B. Blitz devised a publicity stunt to influence people to vote for the proposal to sell 2 million in bonds to buy 70,000 acres as a military site. The land would then be given to Uncle Sam as a gift, with the understanding that the fort would bring increased revenue to the area.

Mr. Blitz hired a man to drive a burro and two-wheeled cart around town a week before the Camp Lewis election. Sign: “Frisco Presidio, Greater Frisco. Pierce County Army Post, Greater Tacoma. All loyal residents will vote for Army Post.” The proposal carried 6 to 1 and Fort Lewis was born.

April 12, 1956: One million dollars in US currency is displayed as a promotion for the film “Meet Me in Las Vegas.” The MGM cinemascope musical starring Cyd Charisse and Dan Daily would play at the Music Box Theatre in Tacoma. The million dollar display in $10,000 bills is being guarded by two uniformed officers from Burns Security.

The money appears to be blocked from contact by metal screening and glass. Promoters are not advocating gambling, “We don’t recommend that you go to Las Vegas to win it” besides you might be out of town and miss seeing the movie.

April 18, 1941: Publicity for College of Puget Sound “Bricks-krieg” brick-selling campaign to build a new Student Union Building. Five young women pose with a mound of bricks outside of the American Machinery & Electric Co. at 2123 Pacific Ave. On the top row right are Beverly Berlie and bottom row right Jean Battin. Although the publicity shots were made with real bricks, souvenir paper bricks were sold during the campaign.

Plans to build the Student Union had stalled due to the increase in wartime construction costs. Bids to built the Student Union were up 50 percent over the original estimates. CPS policy was to have all funds in place before commencing construction.The student body stepped in to raise the needed funds. On April 23-24, 600 CPS students descended on Tacoma to sell the residents 40,000 bricks at 50 cents each.

On November 14, 1925, circus performer Jack Nerbuda performed the startling feat of pulling a loaded Chandler automobile up the hill from South 13th Street and Broadway to the Richardson Motor Co., at 734 Broadway, with his teeth.

Nerbuda, famous for stunts of this kind, pulled the vehicle with its five passengers up 2 1/2 blocks without losing a single tooth. The publicity stunt was staged to advertise the new 20th Century, four door sedan Chandler 1765 available at Richardsons.

July 25, 1959: Ernie Grindley, advertising manager for Washington Sports Shop, stages publicity for the store by bringing the Esther Williams Girls to Tacoma.

In addition to showing-off their swimsuits, the women are showcasing foreign automobiles–a Jaguar roadster, Austin-Healeys and MGs. The Washington Sports Shop had recently been selected as the exclusive Tacoma dealer of the Esther Williams Living Pool, available for as low as $58.50 per month.

September 10, 1946: Roxy Theater, advertising for “The Spider Woman Strikes Back” and “The She Wolf of London”, someone with a large mask pulls a gurney with a woman who “couldn’t take it” from the lobby while two other women scream at the sight of her.

November 1, 1930: Harry Kahne dazzled crowds gathered about the Broadway Theater as he hung by his heels suspended from the theater’s roof. They watched with astonishment as Mr. Kahne wrote upside the latest news in legible cursive script on the large Ledger blackboard several feet above ground.

Mr. Kahne was in town for Fanchon & Marco’s “Rhythm-a-tic” revue. He was known as “the man with the multiple brain” for his unusual talents.

With special thanks to Tacoma Public Library‘s Northwest Room.

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