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By Bert Smith
Them Dam Writers online 2020 

Scrip and a tragic ballet


Last updated 6/3/2020 at 9:20am

Grand Coulee Dam and the Spokane's Golden Jubilee of 1939

The “Great Spokane Fire” occurred on August 4, 1889, destroying 32 downtown city blocks. Exactly 50 years later, Spokane would host the “Golden Jubilee” statehood celebration. For this celebration “Wooden Money” or scrip was produced with a value of 5 cents. Scrip was given to Spokane residents, tribal members, and workers building the Grand Coulee Dam. Three script versions were made and included pictures of the Dam, James Glover (Father of Spokane), and Curly Jim (Spokane Tribe).

The celebration began with a parade lead by the Governor. Festivities followed for 4 days, but the highlight was an outdoor performance called the “Columbia Cavalcade.” It consisted of 23 separate scenes of historical events related to Spokane. Scenes 20-23 were related to the Dam. Scenes 20-22 were re-enactments of early visions and development of the Dam. Scene 23 and grand finale included 70 ballerinas in costumes holding sparklers near a model of the Dam. The first 2 nights this finale went as planned, but the third showing turned deadly.  Costumes on five ballerinas caught fire and two would perish. Their deaths prompted a “Coroner’s Inquest” that found the fire was caused by the sparklers and that the show Producers were “not guilty” of Criminal Negligence.

— Bert J. Smith, Them Dam Writers online 2020


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