Wednesday, October 26, 2005

To be or not to be the 'City of Destiny'

How will Destiny slogan smell in this modern age?

City of Destiny.

Those three words, first spoken by eccentric promoter George Francis Train, made Tacoma famous at a time when Train perceived our young city as pregnant with opportunity.

Some 120 years later, “City of Destiny” might make Tacoma famous once more.


One version of history says George Francis Train toured the West with other railroad executives in the early 1870s in search of the perfect end of the line for a transcontinental track.

Train himself claimed to have stood on the deck of a ship in Commencement Bay when, at his urging, decision makers from the Northern Pacific Railroad chose Tacoma in 1873.

By the time laborers pounded the final spikes into the track in 1887, Train had labeled Tacoma the “City of Destiny.”

Who knew it would stick? Train, perhaps not coincidentally, called himself “The Man of Destiny” during his second campaign for the U.S. presidency in 1872. In case you hadn’t heard, he didn’t win.

But Train did make his living from bombastic speaking tours, lending his name to causes and performing larger-than-life stunts.

Stand on the sidewalk across the street from Tacoma’s Theater on the Square on Broadway and look down. That little bronze plaque embedded in the concrete commemorates the start and finish of Train’s world-record trip around the world: Tacoma to Tacoma in 67 days in 1890.

He had previously made the trip in 80 days, inspiring French author Jules Verne to create the character Phileus Fogg for his 1873 novel “Around the World in 80 Days.”

Train fought for an unpopular cause – a woman’s right to vote. He created a popular weight-loss fad – strictly fruit and chocolate. He shunned the custom of shaking hands. He wore bright white suits and lavender gloves. He tried once to buy Ireland. He started a newspaper called “Revolution,” mainly to chronicle his exploits. For nearly five years, he didn’t speak directly to anyone under age 12. In his declining years in New York, Train reportedly held Sunday “services” of what he called the Church of the Laughing Jackass.

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