A Roaring ’20s Smokestack Wedding at the Port of Olympia

Olympia closed out the roaring ‘20s with a smokestack wedding stunt that was the focal point of a whole town party. Thousands of enthusiastic Olympians joined the Fort Lewis marching band in celebrating a wedding that garnered support from more than a dozen local businesses. It all started with a guessing contest, and it ended with an invitation to the Liberty Theater.

Near today’s Olympia Farmers Market, there once stood two major veneer companies with smokestacks that towered over Budd Inlet. First was the Olympia Veneer Company, then the Washington Veneer Company established business at the northern end of the Port of Olympia. Washington Veneer was home to Olympia’s tallest smokestack, scraping the sky at 225 feet. The stacks, their smoke and their product were the pride of the town at that time, the puffing clouds of smoke indicating the prosperity of the industry. So, a celebration that included a new and potentially productive smokestack was part of the Olympia logging-era culture. The celebration, that included the wedding, was primarily centered around the Washington Veneer Company’s newest stack.

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The Washington Veneer Company was located near the present day Olympia Farmers Market at the Port of Olympia. It was their 225 foot smokestack that was the focal point of a public wedding. Photo courtesy: Washington State Archives

Community support for the local industry drew people in. Though ultimately a publicity effort, it was an organized day of lighthearted fun to be had by all. The Daily Olympian hosted a brick guessing contest, and a special committee was in charge of selecting a betrothed duo to be wed atop the chimney. With five couples all wishing to be chosen, Mayor George Mills drew the names out of a hat to decide the lucky pair. After the first drawn couple declined the opportunity to exchange their vows under such conditions, the chance of a lifetime went to a very young couple, William Jackstadt (also spelled Jackstead in news reports) and Grace Carr. With one competition decided, the brick count guesses continued to be accepted up until the evening before. Suggested totals ranged from 9,500 to 2 billion. Everything was set for the following big day.

The community came out of the woodwork with civic pride and enthusiasm. The first exciting spectacle of the day was a midday fire safety test that must have looked like an urban geyser. Water was sent through a hose from the ground to the top in 22 seconds and sent shooting out of the chimney. Not long after that, a procession of about 4,000 people in cars and on foot headed to the port led by the Fort Lewis marching band. At 1 p.m., all of the mills and veneer plants closed in preparation for the matrimonial event. Olympians were looking forward to a wedding which they would not see. They would only know that it was occurring high above their heads.

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After the vows were exchanged between William Jackstadt and Grace Carr, a flag was waved to indicate their status as a newly married couple. Fox News outtake D0580 Couple Weds Atop a Smokestack. [35mm Black and White Silent Film]. Photo courtesy: Moving Image Research Collections, Copyright University of South Carolina
William and Grace were raised up through the 225-foot smokestack of an altar in a bucket, which hung by a rope and was the main mode of transportation to the top. The bucket operator pushed against the brick walls with a stick as they ascended to prevent the bucket and passengers from bumping the sides. Cameraman C.S. Piper from Fox in Portland, Oregon filmed the ascent, the wedding ceremony atop the stack and their final exit as a married couple. The 1929 film footage shows his scenes in the order of entry and exit of the stack and dim scenes of the chimney interior. It includes the preacher reading the vows and the young couple smiling for the camera. William and Grace were both 18 years old. Piper’s film also captures the flag waving, indicating to the crowd below that the vows had been made. Ten people were present at the top, some on a small, lower platform, including the superintendent of the smokestack’s original building job.

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The chance of a lifetime went to a very young couple, William Jackstadt (also seen spelled as Jackstead) and Grace Carr to be married on top of the 225 foot smoke stack of the Washington Veneer Company near the Port of Olympia in 1929. Fox News outtake D0580 Couple Weds Atop a Smokestack. [35mm Black and White Silent Film]. Photo courtesy: Moving Image Research Collections, Copyright University of South Carolina
After descending the tower, the Jackstadts’ fortune continued as they were showered with gifts from local Olympia businesses. The wedding accoutrements of a ring and bridal bouquet were provided by Talcott Jewelers and Hampson and Herbert Flowers. Even a bridal party and a honeymoon cottage were gifted to the couple.

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Grace Carr, and her fiancé William Jackstadt, were the lucky couple to have their names drawn from a hat to win the opportunity of being married atop the Washington Veneer Company’s smokestack during a 1929 publicity event. Fox News outtake D0580 Couple Weds Atop a Smokestack. [35mm Black and White Silent Film]. Photo courtesy: Moving Image Research Collections, Copyright University of South Carolina
Prizes were also bestowed on the brick guessing contest winners. First place and $20 in gold went to A. N. Anderson who guessed 94,241 bricks. Olympia Sand and Gravel provided the cash prizes, $5 in gold to third and fourth place and $10 for second place. Local businesses generously provided gifts to close guessers in the contest as well. Olympia Drug gave a dresser tray. Rockaway Café gave a $5 meal, and Knox Garage give 10 gallons of gas. The Liberty Theater not only gave passes to those with the 10 best guesses, but it also had handbills for the Saturday night show dropped from an airplane that circled the smokestack after the ceremony.

The crowd dispersed and the marching band continued their reverie, playing at various street corners in Olympia that day. The smokestack piped on. In 1949, it suffered damage in an earthquake, losing about 53 feet of its height. Finally, in 1970, a single stick of strategically placed dynamite brought it down for good. Had it still included its missing bricks from before the earthquake, there would have been 94,390 in all, very close to Anderson’s guess.

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