Hello from the History Department.
Here’s another example of new artwork done for the Tacoma Elks Temple, plus one of the old photos that inspired the piece. Notice anything slightly off about it? (Besides the guy wrestling the octopus, that is?)
This colorful, fanciful work is by McMenamins artist Lillian Ripley.
So, just what is a salmon derby? The Tacoma Elks Salmon Derby was a competitive fishing event held every September in the Puget Sound. It drew many entries and fantastic prizes were given away, ranging from a new, pink-colored Jeep to boats and motors.
It was such a popular event that the derby continued well after the Elks moved out of their downtown Tacoma lodge and into their new lodge in the suburbs in 1965.
Here, in the artist’s own words, is Lillian’s inspiration behind her piece:
Photos taken at the Elks 1st Salmon Derby include [Tacoma Elk] Jerry Geehan posing in a fighting position with an octopus held by a fellow Elk. I instantly wanted to capture the fantasy behind the image because octopi hold a special place in the heart of Tacoma.
In the 1960s, Tacoma hosted the World Octopus Wrestling Championships for thousands at Titlow Beach near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Tacoma Narrows Bridge [a.k.a. Galloping Gertie, which collapsed in 1940] is said to be the home of Tacoma’s mythical 600-pound Giant Octopus. Divers allege it dwells in the ruins of Galloping Gertie. Sightings were also reported in the 1970s, when during an eclipse, Pacific Giant Octopi [were said to have risen] to the surface and did strange things near the Narrows Bridge pylons.
Since the Elks Salmon Derby took place in Commencement Bay, I decided to have the giant octopus drag the remains of Galloping Gertie into the painting.
And now here is one of the historical photos that Lillian used as a reference. If you were sharp enough to catch the “typo” in her work above (Annal instead of Annual), you’ll see it was actually an intentional detail, duplicating the original error from the signage shown here in the background.
This is just one of the many great stories we will have to share with our Tacoma guests, this one a tale that includes Elks, salmon, octopi and a historic typo.