Capitol Hill And the 1918 Flu Pandemic, Part 3: Cancel Culture

Updated: Oct 6, 2020


Photoshopped photograph of Society Theatre at Broadway and John circa 1920 made to look as it may have appeared on October 5, 1918. Original photo via Museum of History and Industry

"Don’t grumble because you can’t see a movie or play a game of billiards—

or because the schools and churches are closed.

The health of the city is more important than all else.

An ounce of prevention now is worth a thousand cures…"

After three deaths and hundreds of reported cases of the flu, all places of indoor public assembly such as schools, theatres, sports venues, churches, and dance halls were ordered closed at noon on Saturday, October 5, by Mayor Ole Hanson, and city health commissioner J.S. McBride. The next day they expanded the ban to include billiard halls, card rooms, and cabarets. Culture had no doubt been cancelled. Capitol Hill was the home of nearly every type of business and institution affected by the order. In this third part of our pandemic series, we'll look at the initial impact of the shutdown on some of these entities and some cancelled events.

Movie Theatres

In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, the movie industry was booming. According to Tom North, west coast executive of Pathe, a major film distributor at the time that had just expanded it's office in downtown Seattle, all of Seattle's "52 high-class theatres" were "doing tremendous business." The flu obviously put a halt to this. Specifically, just like today, theatres back in 1918 lost money on refunds for any advance ticket sales and advertising and billing costs for upcoming screenings.

Excerpt from a larger article in the Seattle Times Oct 6, 1918 p.10

Capitol Hill's three movie theatres: Society Theatre at 201 Broadway E (pictured above), Bungalow Theatre at 505 15th Ave E (not pictured), and Madison Theatre at 906 E Madison St (corner Broadway, pictured below) no doubt suffered from this same loss. However, a closer look at the lives of their owners reveals that there were more unique circumstances that would have made enduring the shutdown more or less challenging depending on the case.

Left: Madison Theatre, circa 1940 via Seattle Public Library | Right: Broadway Building circa 1905 via MOHAI

Take Madison Theatre for starters. Its manager, Chester M. Biggs, had taken over the theatre barely a month prior to flu's arrival in Seattle and to make matters worse, it was a career change for him. He had previously worked as a traffic clerk for Southern Pacific Company. How he managed to take over a theatre on a clerk's salary and experience is a mystery, but we can say for certain he would have been in way over his head fearing he'd never make a return on his investment. So he naturally retreated for a time to familiar ground; he found work as a traffic manager for Bon Marche for the remainder of the shutdown. His employees would likely have been recruited for war work in the shipyards.

Meanwhile Bungalow Theatre on 15th suffered from a different set of problems. Founded in 1915 by brothers Herbert and Everett Hoke, it was the smallest and youngest of the the three theatres. Everett shipped out to France in December 1917 and had been declared missing in action since July of 1918. His brother Herbert promptly went looking for him, shipping out a week after he heard the news. Now derelict, the family movie theatre passed into the hands of James Crandall who'd previously operated a movie theatre on Yesler Way with a partner named Monroe. While more experienced than his colleague Mr. Biggs, Crandall would have suffered from a similar shock having only recently bought into a theatre in a new market when the flu hit.

Left: George Ring, 1949 via L.A. Times | Right: Society Theatre circa 1920 via MOHAI

Then there's Society Theatre, the oldest and most successful of the three. Its founder George Ring, noted for his innovations in theatre management, had been in the business since 1909. He'd owned, operated, and sold multiple successful theatres in Portland and Los Angeles before coming to Seattle in 1911. However, in September of 1918 he had to put his management duties on hold when the military summoned him for training at Camp Lewis near Tacoma. Thankfully, he had the advantage of leaving the business in the capable hands of his wife Frankie who'd been working alongside him since the beginning. They also owned the adjacent candy store and newsstand which was initially unaffected by the shutdown and would have given them some income. Therefore, Society Theatre was likely the least impacted of Capitol Hill's three theatres.


Below is the October 5 Seattle Star film section that lists all the films that would have been played in Seattle that weekend and the following week. Unfortunately, Capitol Hill's theatres did not advertise their showings in The Star on this day, but they likely would have been showing some of these films.

Schools

Clipping from the 1918-1919 Broadway High School year book via Ancestry.com

Capitol Hill was a major center for both academic and arts education where hundreds of students or more gathered in close quarters each day. There were 15 schools in all. These included four public schools and four religious schools serving grades k through 12 and one private college. There were six private art schools offering classes in dance, music, theatre, and elocution--Cornish being the most prominent among them. All classes (except one-on-one lessons) and sporting events were cancelled. The younger students would have initially welcomed the freedom until the novelty wore off. Without distance learning, mothers would have had to double as teachers as the only other option would have been private tutors--assuming they could even afford one. Faculty and of-age students would likely have either enlisted in the military or gone to work in the shipyards. As for the financial impact on the schools themselves, no reports were found. However, much like the theatres, tuition for large classes at the private schools, especially the arts schools, may have been refunded. To adapt to this new norm, many schools would have pivoted to private lessons whenever possible as Cornish was reported to have done in the Town Crier newspaper.

Town Crier, Oct 19, 1918 via Seattle Public Library

One mass gathering worth noting that took place the day of the shutdown was that of women teachers at Seattle Public Schools who signed a petition demanding equal pay with male teachers to the tune of a $25/month increase.

Cancelled events at Capitol Hill schools included a football match between Broadway High School and Franklin High School scheduled for October 12.

Churches

Left: St. Joseph's church circa 1909 - 1915 via MOHAI | Right: Sunset Club at 1021 University St, circa 1915, photo by Asahel Curtis via University of Washington

There were nearly 20 churches on Capitol Hill at the time of the shutdown and virtually all of them complied with it by either switching to outdoor services or shutting down entirely. However, St. Joseph's church unfortunately had a high-profile wedding scheduled for just seven and half hours after the City issued the shutdown order. This was the wedding of Ruth Marie Hamlin, Capitol Hill resident, Forest Ridge graduate (now Seattle Hebrew Academy), and daughter of Edward H. Hamlin, owner of a salmon cannery, to lawyer and Captain Roger Morse Bone. It was described as one of the few "large military weddings" held that fall with "friends to the number of several hundred, prominent in civilian and military circles" attending. So one can imagine the enormous amount of pressure felt by all involved not to cancel at the 11th hour. Or perhaps the reality of the situation just hadn't quite set in yet.

After all, the festivities continued with a reception at the Sunset Club on First Hill following the ceremony showing that there may have been little concern.


The next day though numerous representatives of Seattle's churches including Bishop O'Dea of the Seattle Archdiocese announced in the Seattle Times their intention to comply with the order. It appears some damage control was needed following the wedding.

Left: Andrew Black circa 1907 via Seattle Republican | Right: Mount Zion Baptist Church circa 1906, via Seattle Times

Conversely, when a high-profile death shook Seattle's black community, orders were followed. On October 6, Andrew R. Black, a prominent black lawyer in Seattle, most known for defending the right of Samuel and Susie Stone to live in Mount Baker, passed away of an illness not related to the influenza outbreak. He was a member of the Mount Zion Baptist church, then located within Capitol Hill's current borders at 11th and Union. The church only allowed his family and a few close friends to attend the indoor funeral servic