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Fiends and Bathing Beauties

100 years ago today in Seattle. April 8, 1924:

Summer arrived in Seattle on a pleasant Tuesday, April 8th, 1924, according to Seattle newspaper reports. “With a veritable flood of rich, mellow sunlight” the spring day aroused “palpitations and longing, and visions of cool, leafy retreats, washing sea air, and a thousand and one week-end and vacation delights.” While Seattleites longed for time outside in the city’s parks and on its beaches, the Seattle police were wrapped in struggles to see that the citizens would be able to enjoy it.

“Fiends Infest Parks” was splashed across the front page of the Seattle Star on a pleasant 54-degree afternoon. In a story that sounds all too familiar to modern day Seattleites, the public had been complaining to the mayor’s office about the lack of policing and how the city's parks had become unsafe for Seattle residents, namely children and young people. Complaints regarding the law-enforcement situation reached the mayor’s office from all corners of the city.

The letters and petitions that poured in were from a wide assortment of Seattle citizens, parents and even school officials. In particular the upcoming change to weather that increased park visitation and parks that were in the vicinity of schools were a major concern. They complained that Seattle’s parks, despite the millions of dollars spent to create clean outdoor recreation for the residents, had become the “haunts of morons and criminals of the lowest type.”

That Tuesday morning a meeting and conference was held with Mayor Edwin J. Brown and police chief William Severyns. They acknowledged the need for increased police presence and public safety but cited a lack of police officers as the primary factor in the situation. The mayor announced that Chief Severyns needed no less than 50 additional police to meet the need. While most cities maintained an average of one officer per 500 residents, Seattle provided just one per 700 citizens.

“Seattle parks must be kept clean of loungers. We must have more police to effectively guard them,” proclaimed Mayor Brown. Chief Severyns claimed that the police department would require a larger facility to house an increase in officers.

Seattle Mayor Edwin Brown

Meanwhile, the city was also occupied with another “important” police matter in who was to be appointed Alki Beach’s official “Bathing Suit Censor.” The appointee was to be selected from the officers of the West Seattle precinct and all of them were clamoring for the job. Chief Severyns had appointed Lt. C. G. Carr of the West Seattle precinct to handle the situation, but he was also desirous of the difficult and treacherous assignment. The responsibility of this officer was to carry a ruler and “stop all young ladies whose bathing suits gave indications of violating” the county ordinance on swimsuits. It was required that one-piece suits were forbidden and “all suits must have skirts and be cut reasonably high on the neck.”

In lobbying for the job, Lt. Carr so humbly stated, "I'll admit that I don't know anything about the city regulations on bathing suits, but I am going to do an awful lot of studying, and until I find one of my officers who is better qualified than I am to judge the bathing beauties, I'll consider myself the most promising candidate."

Ultimately, Patrolman W. E. Bobbit was appointed to the job. When asked about his new responsibilities, he stated, “I dunno. I dunno if I am qualified, but if the chief says I am censor, while I’ll censor ‘em.” Opposition to the restrictions were expected to be unpopular, especially with “physical culture enthusiasts and devotees of the body beautiful.” The park board responded by suggesting the opponents “see how far they get” in their attempts to protest or resist the mandate.

Preparation for Seattle’s summer recreation was getting off to a bumpy start. Things were about to get much worse for Chief Severyns in early summer…

Sources: Seattle Star, Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Union-Record, April 8, 1924


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