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Now & Then
Reindeer March

In 1898 Fremont, the Seattle neighborhood that describes itself as "the Center of the Universe," welcomed about 100 Laplanders and their reindeer. Here perhaps the tail end of the herd poses at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and 34th Street. Fremont Drugs, the building upper-left, survives, although it was recently moved one block west on 34th to make way for new commercial buildings.

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THIS ODD SCENE of eight or nine reindeer posing near the middle of Fremont's main intersection of 34th Street and Fremont Avenue was recorded probably on either March 7 or March 15, 1898 — most likely the latter.

On Monday the 7th, a few more than 500 reindeer were unloaded at Fremont after a transcontinental railroad journey. The trip created a nationwide commotion as locals in most of the towns along the line knew the special trains were coming and lined the tracks to get a glimpse of the herd and the 100-or-so Norwegian Samis (Laplanders) who cared for it. At first, their journey was reported as a mission of mercy — to carry food to the starving gold miners on the Yukon River. But by the time the trains left New York it was reported that, while the miners were not starving, the U.S. Army Reindeer Service would still deliver.

From Fremont the reindeer were marched to Woodland Park and fenced in. There they also served as a week-long sensation while the Reindeer Service arranged steerage for Alaska.

On Sunday the 13th it was estimated that 8,000 visited the park. A Sami living in Ballard was hired as interpreter. Twelve reindeer died from a combination of park grass and snacks the crowds fed them. The officer in charge had destroyed their normal diet of moss, shipped with them, believing that reindeer could eat hay and park grass instead.

On March 15, the herd returned to Fremont and boarded cattle cars for a short trip to the waterfront where the bark Seminole awaited to carry them to Alaska. The trip that began in Norway on Feb. 2, 1898, reached Dawson nearly one year later on Jan. 27, 1899. Most of the heard was lost to starvation and exhaustion on the overland trek between Haines and Dawson.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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