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 centennial Herald Masthead 
  home > news > centennial front > Monday, October 20, 2003 


SOCIETY & EVENTS
Mt. Baker Marathon inspired Ski to Sea
On the morning of the first Mount Baker Marathon, Hugh Diehl drove for Joe Galbraith, the ultimate winner. GALEN BIERY COLLECTION


ack in 1911, an irate 1,800-pound bull caused quite a commotion at the new Mount Baker Marathon.

Starting in the evening, contestants had to drive or take the train from downtown Bellingham to the foothills, then climb to the top of Mount Baker. The first one back to town would claim a $100 purse. The Chamber of Commerce created the August event to generate interest in Bellingham.

Whatcom County's Joe Galbraith may have won the race, turning in a time of 12 hours and 28 minutes, but it was a Glacier miner, H. E. Haggard, who stole the show.

Tallest tree

It stood 153 feet tall, towering over the businesses along Railroad Avenue in the winter of 1949.

It lit up for the first time when famous broadcaster Edward R. Murrow pushed a button from his studio in New York.

It was the world's tallest Christmas tree, and it was ours.

"I was down there for that," recalled Bellingham resident William McGillivray, grinning ear-to-ear.

"I even bid on how much that Christmas tree weighed. They sold tickets for a dollar and you could win some pretty good prizes."

How do you weigh a tree that big? Good question, said McGillivray. All he knows is that he didn't win.

Haggard was the first competitor off the mountain and aboard the special train back to town - the other racers would need to find another way down. Exhausted, Haggard stripped naked for a soothing rubdown.

Then, as the train rumbled around a corner in Maple Falls, a mammoth red bull exploded from the underbrush and stood right in front of the oncoming train. The collision was a dandy; the train derailed and the coach car flipped up and over - yet no one was hurt.

Haggard was pulled from the wreck, a bit shaken and decidedly naked. Standing up, the resilient 20-year-old announced, "I am all right, but I am afraid I've lost the race."

Nonetheless, he donned his clothes and hitched a ride with a passing horse and buggy. By the time Haggard reached Maple Falls, he had to be lifted out of the buggy and onto the back of a waiting horse, which galloped at breakneck speed to a waiting car at Kendall.

Unfortunately, the horse took one look at the automobile and froze with fright. Haggard flew over the pony's head, landing in a heap. Haggard's driver picked him up, put him in the car and roared back to Bellingham, with Haggard fainting twice along the way.

Haggard arrived back at the Chamber of Commerce at 11 a.m. to the cheers of an astounded crowd, who passed the hat and raised $50 for the persevering racer. The chamber added another $30, and Glacier and Maple Falls thew in a whopping $100. Next thing Haggard knew, he'd been crowned King of Glacier.

The Mount Baker Marathon ran for just three years, but much later inspired today's wildly successful Ski to Sea race.

Springtime fun

During the intervening years, however, there were plenty of community festivals to keep the growing town of Bellingham busy. In 1920, the Tulip Time Festival debuted, showing off the Bellingham area while the spectacular spring bulbs were in bloom.

Jeff Jewell, photo historian at Whatcom Museum of History & Art, says automobile camps, like the ones at Cornwall and Fairhaven parks, were gaining in popularity, so organizers figured the festival would snare a healthy slice of the automobile tourism pie.

"Everyone had a car, they weren't dependent on the train anymore," Jewell said.

The festival included a parade down Cornwall Avenue (an elevated street at the time); a carnival at the old circus grounds, where Bellingham High School stands today; and the Tulip Time queen.

People were invited to vote for their favorite Tulip queen contestant at several polling stations downtown. By the mid-1920s, however, a vote was going to cost you.

"They had Tulip Festival pens," Jewell explained. "If you bought one, you bought a vote."

By the end of the '20s, he says, the event had shriveled to "crass commercialism."

The last Tulip Time Festival was in 1929, the start of the Great Depression.

After World War II, the spring festival re-emerged as the Blossomtime Festival. Tulip operators had migrated south to Skagit County, but that didn't stop Bellingham from coming together to celebrate the end of winter.

"Blossomtime was more of a community event," Jewell said. "The parade floats were fantastic; it was like the Rose Parade in Pasadena."

In the waning years of the 1960s, the community's attention turned to more serious topics - the Vietnam War, protests, changing social norms. Enthusiasm for festivals like Blossomtime dwindled.

"It might have seemed hokey and backward to them at the time," Jewell said.

But the demise of Blossomtime in 1973 overlapped with the emergence of Ski to Sea, the new and improved version of the Mount Baker Marathon.

Begun in 1970, Ski to Sea reflects the various elements of Bellingham's spring events over the years - part promotion, part competition, part just plain fun. Up to this point, there have been no 1,800-pound bulls.

- Bonnie Hart Southcott

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