Don’t be cruel: Share your Elvis and other Seattle World’s Fair memories!
The 60th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair is almost here. KIRO Newsradio is marking the occasion with a series of programs and stories called SPIRIT OF ’62.
One way we’re celebrating is by collecting and sharing personal memories from that event. You can submit yours, and we might use them on the radio or at MyNorthwest.
What kinds of World’s Fair stories and memories are we looking for? All kinds!
It’s been six decades since the fair celebrated the future of “Century 21,” and the positive effects of the fair are still felt in and around Seattle. Thousands of people still remember the carnival rides, the cultural events, the new technology, the special buildings – along with the presence of a little rock and roll singer we like to call Elvis Presley.
Katherine White was born in Seattle in 1946. She’s a baby boomer, through and through. She’s retired now and lives in Tokeland, where she owned the Tokeland Hotel for many years with her late husband. She also spent several decades working for the old Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.
As an adolescent, young Katherine watched Elvis Presley sing his gyrating way into the hearts of young Americans on the Ed Sullivan Show. She was hooked for life.
It was a few years after that landmark broadcast, in July 1962, when Katherine and her friend created an official Elvis Presley fan club and registered it with a national Elvis organization. They called it the “Truly True To Elvis Fan Club,” after a lyric from one of Presley’s songs. The mailing address on the club letterhead was Katherine’s family home on Nob Hill Avenue on Queen Anne Hill.
Like many young girls in that era who loved dreamy pop stars, Katherine White also kept a diary. Perhaps not surprisingly, The King figures prominently in nearly every entry. One day during that Seattle World’s Fair summer of ’62, Katherine wrote:
“Elvis is coming to Seattle. I hope and pray with all my heart that I meet him when he comes. I just saw Elvis’s latest picture ‘Kid Galahad.’ It was really neat and tough. He sang six beautiful songs.”
Then, as it does every September, summer vacation ended. It was time to go back to school.
But school wasn’t as important as that popular singer who had indeed come to town to film scenes for what would become an MGM film called “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”
“Elvis is here in Seattle shooting scenes at the fair,” Katherine wrote in her diary in early September 1962. “I want to see him so badly.”
The official record will show that September 13, 1962 was a Thursday. It will be noted that this was also a school day. Katherine’s parents understood her, so it seems, and they gave their blessing to her extracurricular pursuit of meeting Elvis. Her mom even fibbed to Katherine’s school that day so she could skip class and instead go to the fair with her friend and fan club co-founder Betsy Maki.
The pair – who, at that juncture, constituted the entire membership of the Truly True to Elvis Fan Club – got close to where a scene was being filmed outside the Washington State Pavilion (later known as the Seattle Center Coliseum, Key Arena and, nowadays, Climate Pledge Arena).
“We stood there for [what] seems like hours, just watching the film crew,” Katherine White told KIRO Newsradio on Tuesday. “I waved to one of the cameramen asking him if he could get me Elvis’s autograph on a five-by-seven piece of [fan club] letterhead. And I handed that blank piece of paper to the cameraman and I said, ‘Could you please see if Elvis might put his autograph on this?’
“He came back within the half-hour and Elvis had written, ‘Thanks, Elvis Presley’ at the top,” White continued. “I just wanted his name, but he wrote ‘Thanks.’ He had the presence of mind to thank me. So I thought, ‘How polite!’”
“Then I gave [the camera man] my diary, the black leather-bound diary, and I had a picture of Elvis on the inside back cover, and the inside front cover,” White said. “And I showed [the cameraman] where these pictures were, and handed him my diary.”
“He brought it back, and Elvis had, in ballpoint pen, wrote his autograph on the front cover and the inside back cover, just his name,” White said. “And that is my treasure.”
But Katherine White wasn’t finished gathering treasures and making memories with Elvis Presley at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. It wasn’t long after getting those autographs when everything outside the Coliseum got, um, all shook up.
It all begins with The King climbing aboard a golf cart and heading off for points unknown.
“They were transporting Elvis and a couple of his crew members from one portion of the Seattle Center to another,” White said. “And he was in his flight gear or whatever he was wearing.”
That’s when Katherine White saw an opening, and went for it.
“I jumped up on this golf cart thing,” White continued. “I was only 15, [and] it was going like one-mile an hour. And I jumped up, and I had my brother’s Brownie box camera. And I had to look down into the camera [viewfinder] to get [Elvis] in the frame, and I only could do it once, and then I was pulled off the cart by the security [person].”
They didn’t rough her up, Katherine White says, recalling the incident nearly 60 years ago – she received more of a gentle admonishment, and she quickly apologized.
But, inside that old Brownie camera, she had a picture of Elvis. Or she hoped she did, anyway. It would be a few days before the film could be developed and a print made.
Was little innocent Katherine actually planning so bold a move as jumping on a moving golf cart the whole time?
“I have no idea. It’s just like the devil made me do it,” White said, chuckling at the memory. “I didn’t even think of hurting myself. But I mean, I was only 15 and was like 4’11” I think. They must have been going slow enough for me to have felt safe. I didn’t think I was doing a dumb thing, but in retrospect, it probably was.”
The Truly True to Elvis Fan Club took off, with something like $200 worth of $1 memberships arriving in that Queen Anne Hill mailbox, and the two girls sending newsletters and other correspondence to the club’s 200 members. Though, Katherine says, her dad footed the bill for all the printing and mailing, since the two friends had already spent all membership revenue on potato chips and pop.
Six decades later, Katherine White cherishes her memories and the ephemera from the Elvis fan club days. She still loves Elvis, of course. She wept when he died in August 1977, and she still listens to one of his gospel songs every day for inspiration.
And that perched-on-the-golf-cart Elvis photo? It did turn out, and it’s become a treasured memory of a special day at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair which Katherine White was kind enough to share, for the very first time anywhere, with KIRO Newsradio and MyNorthwest.
Please share your Seattle World’s Fair memories here!