Great Seattle Fire mural came from a blaze of inspiration
Rudy Zallinger's Great Seattle Fire mural was dedicated on Feb. 15, 1953, the first anniversary of the Museum of History & Industry's opening.
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IMAGINE ASKING the famous — now stuffed — gorilla named Bobo what were the two most popular artifacts on show at the old Museum of History & Industry in Seattle's Montlake neighborhood (now moved to South Lake Union).
Bobo, being a modest gorilla who through many years kept a steady eye on the museum's exhibits from his own glass case, would, I think, choose the Founding of Seattle diorama with its puppet pioneers and the Great Seattle Fire mural.
The mural is shown here with its artist, Rudy Zallinger, in a press photo that was first published in this newspaper on Dec. 5, 1952. The then-34-year-old Zallinger explained that he'd been working on the 10-by-24-foot mural for four months and hoped to complete it by Christmas. For rendering the pioneer buildings the "scientific muralist" studied old photographs kept by the Seattle Historical Society. For the flames he studied fires nearby at the Montlake landfill.
Raised in Seattle and taught at Cornish School, Zallinger was still fresh from winning a 1949 Pulitzer Prize for a much larger mural, "The Age of Reptiles," which took five years to complete for the Peabody Museum of Natural History on the Yale University campus, where Zallinger was also an instructor.
Zallinger's Great Seattle Fire mural was dedicated on Feb. 15, 1953, the first anniversary of the museum's opening. A band playing "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight" accompanied the unveiling. Those attending included at least 50 people who were eyewitnesses of the Great Fire on June 6, 1889, and some of their stories were told in a recorded program that followed the unveiling. On the 50th anniversary of its dedication, the mural was rededicated on Feb. 15, 2003.
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