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Originally published September 18, 2009 at 12:08 AM | Page modified September 18, 2009 at 12:08 AM

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Is there something fishy about Ivar's latest stunt?

More than half a century later, the late Ivar Haglund's underwater billboards pitching his restaurants have been found anchored at the bottom of Puget Sound. Hoax or not, they add to his legacy as Seattle's greatest self-promoter

Seattle Times staff reporter

He has been called the greatest self-promoter in the history of Seattle.

And now, more than 24 years after he died at age 79, Ivar Haglund apparently has managed one more fantastic stunt.

Underwater billboards that date to around 1954.

Anchored to the bottom of Puget Sound with concrete footings.

Yes, at the bottom of Puget Sound.

At around 55 to 80 feet in depth, depending on the tide, and near the shore.

You know, just in case you were in a personal submarine cruising along Elliott Bay, or Edmonds, or Alki Point.

There they would be:

"Ivar's Chowder. Worth surfacing for. 75¢ a cup."

Or, "Diver's special. Kids 12 & Under Eat Free* with regular entrée. Includes Jell-O."

There apparently were plans for seven underwater billboards.

In the past month, the company has had divers bring up three of the billboards — about 7 by 22 feet and made of stainless steel — using a map found in their founder's immense collection of artifacts stored on the top floor of the chain's headquarters at Pier 54.

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Included in that collection are Haglund's LP vinyl collection, his rosé wine collection, illustrations, photos and ...

Apparently the actual naval architectural drawings, permit and location map for the billboards.

The operative word is "apparently."

"This still could be a hoax. Someone could be doing something," says Bob Donegan, president of Ivar's. "That's why we're being careful on the authentication."

Of course, if it was a hoax, a prime suspect would be the Ivar's chain itself.

Ivar's is promoting the find of the underwater billboards on its Web site, which includes a 2 ½-minute mini-documentary about finding that first billboard Aug. 21 off Alki Beach.

It's also started running 30-second commercials about the billboards during prime time, budgeting more than $100,000 for television ads through mid-October.

As the chain explained about the underwater billboards, "Ivar's decided to do what Haglund would have done: promote them."

But making this all up?

"If I was smart enough to come up with this hoax, I'd be doing other stuff," says Donegan.

He said the company will send samples of the paint to be tested for lead, trying to figure out when they might have been painted.

Seattle historian Paul Dorpat also says he doesn't believe the billboards are hoaxes.

If anyone should know about Ivar Haglund, it is Dorpat. He is writing a book about Haglund, and interviewed him a number of times. Dorpat also has been granted access to all of Haglund's archives.

"As far as I can tell, it's the real thing," says Dorpat about the papers documenting Ivar's plans for the billboards. It was Dorpat who found the documents.

Dorpat remembered a poem that Haglund likely wrote in the mid-1950s that celebrated cross-sound submarine passenger service, with lines that included:

"As we go ping-ping-pinging along, We sing our happy song, Up periscope down down down, We're diving in Puget Sound ... "

Ivar, obviously, was a man with vast imagination.

And so, for Dorpat, here you have Haglund writing about Puget Sound submarine service, and then around that time, commissioning plans for underwater billboards.

And what to say about the documentation that Dorpat found, typed with manual typewriters and including old-style telephone numbers that began with, for example, ME, for Melrose?

"Either someone planted this stuff or Ivar was scheming to pull a few official legs with a promotional first — underwater billboards."

Then, Dorpat speculates, Ivar probably became preoccupied with any number of other promotions. "Or just forgot it."

After all, promotions were aplenty for Haglund.

He was the one who staged an underwater fight between an octopus and a boxer named "Two-Ton Tony Galento."

He was the one who, when a train tank car spilled 1,000 gallons of syrup near his restaurant, had pancakes cooked up, put on hip waders, and posed for the media spooning syrup off the street.

Donegan says divers have gone to five of the seven sites on the old Ivar's map. He doesn't know when the last two will be visited. Nothing was found at two of the sites.

Dorpat says Haglund would be very proud that more than a half-century after he — allegedly — dreamed up the underwater billboards, they were making news.

"This is the ghost of Ivar Haglund," says Dorpat. "The greatest self-promoter in the history of Seattle. He will not die."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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