Mid-morning on September 14, 1926, 5,000 people, including the honoree, gathered in Pioneer Park to dedicate the statue of Ezra Meeker. It was Pioneer Day at the Fair, and many pioneers and their descendants came to town to participate in both events.
The image is of Ezra Meeker, but the statue is meant to symbolize all pioneers who occupied and “civilized” the Oregon Country so that it could be made part of the United States.
The idea of a statue appears in the public eye about 18 months before the dedication. The image was already in work by a Seattle sculptor, a committee was formed, an out-of-town fundraiser was hired to collect some $6,000 statewide, and plans for the dedication began to take shape. By May, still short of the required total, the plaster model was sent to New York to be cast in bronze.
Two photographs survive to document the celebration. The first, a large format Boland photo, reprinted as advertising by the Puyallup Main Street Association, was taken with a special camera with a moving lens. This is one of two known photos that document a large number of local residents at a moment in time. In the photo, one sees movie cameras set up to record the event, causing one to wonder where the footage might be found today. A group of Yakima Indians in native dress is seen against the backdrop of the Carnegie Library, which was torn down some 50 years ago.
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Curiously, the statue does not belong to our community. At the dedication, Puyallup pioneer Charlie Ross, as the instigator of the project, presented the statue to the then-president of the Washington State Historical Society.
The second photo, taken shortly after the throngs of well-wishers had departed (and probably after the reception in the First Christian Church across the street), features Meeker and 26 of his relatives, both direct descendants of him and many from his father’s second family. The Historical Society recently shared the family photo with those Meeker relatives we are in touch with, and asked for help with identifications. We believe we can identify all but two of the people in this photo.
Curiously, the statue does not belong to our community. At the dedication, Puyallup pioneer Charlie Ross, as the instigator of the project, presented the statue to the then-president of the Washington State Historical Society. The president in turn asked Frank Spinning, of Sumner, to present it to the mayor of Puyallup for safekeeping.
The city has kept the statue in good condition, although today it is almost invisible to passers-by. Shielded from the road and from City Hall by the street trees that we all cherish, and from farmer’s market patrons by the concrete stanchions supporting the ivy vine marking the Meeker’ original cabin site for 150 years, the statue is easy to ignore.
We in the Historical Society will do our best to help the community celebrate the centennial of the dedication of the statue in another 10 years. Several of the family members have indicated they intend to be present as well. Now if only we could find those moving pictures …
Andy Anderson is the historian of the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone through the Meeker Mansion at 253-848-1770.