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Gone, But Not Forgotten: Roosterville

Harriet Baskas
11/07/2005

Sometimes city officials hunt and peck for a way to draw attention to their town. In 1888, the founder of Gig Harbor, Washington, offered free land to anyone willing to build a house there. 50 years later, the sleepy fishing town got nationwide attention with another gimmick: Rooster races. Harriet Baskas explains in part five our our series..

TRANSCRIPT

CLIP: "….hahaha, this one'll make you swallow your gum…"

IN THE 1930'S, MOVIEGOERS WERE TREATED TO NEWSREELS BEFORE THE MAIN FEATURE. AND FOLKS IN GIG HARBOR WERE THRILLED WHEN A MUCH LOVED LOCAL ATTRACTION SHOWED UP ON SCREEN.

CLIP: "Racing fans are flocking to Gig Harbor, Washington taxing the hotels and restaurants to capacity. Its rooster derby day and they're betting millions in cracked corn."

ROOSTER RACING WAS A BIG THING IN GIG HARBOR FROM THE MID 1930'S TO THE LATE 1940'S. A FUN-LOVING LOCAL SIGN PAINTER NAMED CLARENCE E. SHAW HATCHED THE IDEA, BUILT A TRACK, AND TRAINED YOUNG LEGHORNS TO RACE FOR FEED AT THE SOUND OF A BELL.

CLIP: "The thoroughbreds are lining up for the start. They're having trouble ..the favorite's just found a worm…"

SHAW'S RACING ROOSTERS HAD NAMES LIKE WOBBLY TOES, DIZZY, POOP A DOOP, DOT AND DASH. AND SHAW'S GRANDDAUGHTER, JOY HERMAN, SAYS HER GRANDFATHER DIDN'T JUST RACE HIS ROOSTERS.

Herman: "He taught 'em to ride a bike, and ride in a little car he made them. When I was a little kid, we'd fight to see who'd ride in the car - and they always won - I never got to play in the little blue car."

THE ROOSTERS RODE THAT LITTLE BLUE CAR AROUND A TINY VILLAGE OF CHICKEN COOPS DUBBED ROOSTERVILLE. SHAW'S DAUGHTER, 90 YEAR-OLD JANE SHAW KARLSON REMEMBERS THAT EACH TINY BUILDING HAD A FALSE FRONT - AND A CORNY NAME.

Karlson: "Scratch Café, Pin Feathers Dry Goods, Pick and Peck Grocery, Dr. Wattles. He did have an imagination…"

CLIP: "Dizzy the first .. in the lead… listen to the crowd…..cluck cluck cluck. …come on…(FADE UNDER)"

THE ROOSTERS WERE ONLY PART OF THE ATTRACTION. LOCAL BUSINESSES SPONSORED ROOSTERETTES: YOUNG GIRLS WHO SERVED AS RACE ATTENDANTS DRESSED IN UNIFORMS WITH SHORT SKIRTS AND SMART FEATHERED HATS. AND, SAYS JANE SHAW KARLSON, THERE WERE ALWAYS CONTESTS.

Karlson: "My sister had a little baby and they had a baby contests. Her little boy won the baby contest. There were going to have a legs contest and you got a free bathing suit so I came home to get in that and won 2nd place. Fox Movietone came out and took pictures."

CLIP: "What a race look at them drumsticks… on the roosters, on the roosters…"

THE RACING ROOSTERS WERE RETIRED IN 1948. SOME SAY IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH STATE GAMBLING LAWS. AND WHILE CLARENCE SHAW WENT ON TO HOST A ROUND ROCK CONTEST IN TOWN, FOLKS STILL HAVE FOND MEMORIES OF DOT AND DASH AND DIZZY AND THE CHICKEN COOP TOWN THAT PUT GIG HARBOR ON THE MAP.

CLIP: "Dizzy the 1st wins the derby.. served with dumplings… hiya dumpling… and they call him dizzy."

HARRIET BASKAS, KUOW NEWS.

© Copyright 2005, KUOW

04.26.18

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