Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Those Norwegian boys from Everett and the 1926 Rose Bowl

George Guttormsen  Graduation, 1927
UW Tyee Yearbook
I ran into George Guttormsen a couple of weeks ago while writing about the Central Everett Library, its architect Carl F.  Gould and the events leading up to the firing of University of Washington President Henry Suzzallo in the Fall of 1926 by a Washington state governor who anticipated the Tea Party by nearly 100 years, Everett’s Roland Hartley.

Guttormsen showed up in a Seattle Times article where he was addressing a crowd of 3,000 people, mostly students, who went to president Suzzallo’s house to indicate their support late in the day he was fired by Hartley’s railroading board of regents, October 3, 1926.  Guttormsen spoke at the rally and was identified by the Times as “student body president and captain of the varsity football team.”  I’m a sucker for that combo, so I followed him through time and discovered a kind of Forrest Gump figure – a really smart Forrest Gump figure – whose journey brushes past some amazing events and people in Cascadia.

During the month of December, I have obsessed about the Guttormsen family and the late twenties in Seattle.  It was a time when Seattle's population had consolidated and exploded, its public university was becoming a really good one, and its arts and culture were thriving, though the rest of the country hardly noticed.  But people in Seattle were seeing something they really liked and there was considerable pride in the place they lived.  I have obsessed so much I've turned this piece into a two-part series because it is too long to comfortably read in a single sitting.  The first part starts with the immigration of the Guttormsen family from Norway to America and then Everett, Washington.  It ends 23 years later with one of the great Rose Bowl games ever and the establishment of the University of Alabama and the University of Washington as national football powers.  

There is a big external cast in the Guttormsen story. Let’s start with the real Tarzan, the one selected personally by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the one who looked and talked like Lord Greystoke and, unlike Johnny Weissmuller, didn’t grunt.  Then there is arguably the greatest football player ever to play at the University of Washington, George Wilson, whose skills propelled the university’s football program into the big time and who shared, in 1925, the All-American backfield with Red Grange and Ernie Nevers, matching them stride for stride and maybe a foot or two ahead.  

Guttormsen is closely involved with two of Puget Sound’s best known and most accomplished women writers, one of whom becomes a lover.

We meet the state's greatest high school football team, a team that lost one game in a decade and played a game for a national championship 82 years earlier than this year’s Bellevue High School national championship team.  

George with 1928 broadcast team Walter
Reseberg at left and Arthur Lindsay center
Associated Press
Guttormsen is in at the very beginning of sports broadcasting on the radio in Seattle, the information live, the young law student Guttormsen confidently striding along the sidelines and providing color, analysis and other information to football fans who were used to getting news of their sports events delayed by several minutes or even by a couple of days.  Some of the techniques used in today’s college football  broadcasts were invented by Guttormsen and others like him at the end of the twenties.  

When he ran for student body president, he had as his campaign manager one of the great tactical politicians the state has produced, a man who self-destructed as a widely publicized congressional clown and then as a suicide from the fifth floor of Seattle’s Arctic Building.
Geberg in about 1917 on front row left, George with hand
on Geberg's shoulder, Agnes seated right in front row
Geberg Guttormsen Decendents Facebook page

In addition to bumping into so many interesting Cascadia citizens, Guttormsen’s story is about the successful absorption of an immigrant family in Everett, Washington at the beginning of the new, 20th century, an even dozen Norwegians who found their way here and would entertain us, defend us, nurse us, log our forests, catch our fish and make our plywood, paper and airplanes. 

So, let’s start this story with the vessel  Carpathia entering New York Harbor from Liverpool in 1903 where George’s dad is the advance man of the Guttormsen journey from Steigen, Norway. The rest of the family stays in Steigen, until Geberg Guttormsen, just into his thirties, has scouted out the new place across the country from New York.

Awaiting word are Gunnar, five years, twins Esther and Ethyl, two years, Andrew, one, wife Agnis (later Americanized to Agnes) and George, our varsity football captain and student body president, in utero. 

Geberg is a blacksmith.  Stepping into the mayhem of Ellis Island and the lower east side docks of New York on June 8, 1903, you can imagine him saying, in Norwegian, something like “I’ve got to get the hell going!” Jeg må få helvete går. His family follows about a year later, George arriving in Everett at six months old.

By 1910, they are living in a house at 1801 McDougall Avenue in Everett, Norwegian immigrant families acoss the street, at 1802 and 1810 and down the street at 1813.  Their playmates are Mathias, Sigret, Carl, Magnus, Belle, Ole, Engveld and Inga, to name a few.  Norway supplied nearly 600,000 immigrants to our country between 1890 and 1910.  Along with North Dakota and Minnesota, Norwegian immigrants had a knack for finding their way to Washington state.

1801 McDougall, Everett, WA
Google Earth
Their house is now across the street from a Key Bank branch and is still standing.  A granddaughter of one of the kids, Eleanor, still lives a block away.  In addition to Gunnar, now 11, and the twins, now ten and Andrew, seven and George, five, Geberg and Agnis have added by 1910 Harold, three and Caroline, five months.  Also, John Westlund, Agnis’ brother, is staying at 1801.  Each Guttormsen is listed by the census taker as speaking English.

The Guttormsen men, about 1916.  The little guy is Leonard,
then George, Harold, "Tip" as Andrew is called, Gunnar
and Geberg
Guttormsen Descendents Facebook
Andrew, George and Harold grew into terrific athletes in a town that worshipped its football team.  It's clear that Gunnar would have been a powerful athlete as well, but he left school after the 8th grade to work and, later, join the Navy and serve on a submarine.  

It’s astounding how good Everett High School football was during the early part of the last century.  Coached by the former Broadway High School player and University of Washington star Enoch Bradshaw, the football teams after 1910 were nearly unbeatable.  By nearly, I mean that they lost only one game in the decade and had a handful of ties.  Everett's 1919 and 1920 teams each played a game against a standout Ohio team on the following New Year’s Day to determine the best high school team in the country.  The 1919 team tied Toledo and the 1920 team beat Cleveland Tech soundly.  They were good, for sure, but great because of George Wilson, as good as any football player the state ever produced.  With Wilson on the field after 1917, the Seagulls were simply ridiculous.  In addition to being undefeated, the 1920 Everett team beat the University of Washington Freshman team 20-0 and the St. Martins College Varsity 17-0.  A 1915 team allowed just six points all season, while scoring nearly 400.    The amazing David Eskanazi, the living memory of Seattle sports, reported on Sportspress Northwest, that the Everett Seagulls had a collective victory margin of 3,001-365 in the incredible Bagshaw decade .

Andrew at Swarthmore
Of course, there then was no official national high school champion, but just like today, there always is a national champion high school team, the title Bellevue claims this year.  George Guttormsen played on that 1920 team as a young, 145 pound reserve quarterback, two years after Andrew went off to play football and track at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. 

A 1928 Seattle Times sports page feature headlined “Guttormsen Brothers Like Variety – Gridiron Kind.”  The piece noted that the last football shoe to drop in the Guttormsen family would be that of Harold, a star on the Everett High School football team of 1925.
Harold Guttormsen, UCLA
in 1930
He enrolled at the University of Washington in 1927, George’s last UW football season, but was apparently too small, at 150 pounds, to contend for a spot on the freshman team.  He went off to sea for two years and came back a solid 170, but somehow had been drawn toward UCLA’s football program and enrolled there in 1929.  The Seattle Times article had him headed for stardom at UCLA, but while on the roster in 1930, he did not letter and he moved on to life outside of football, living with his sister, Ethel, in Los Angeles, working construction for the LA public schools.  He may have harbored dreams of acting, which he was good at in high school.

A particularly disappointing season for the Huskies in 1921 – punctuated by a 72-3 loss to Cal -- led to the firing of coach Stub Allison after just one season.  Everett’s Coach Bagshaw took over and he brought a new coaching staff that included Tubby Graves as the key assistant.  Husky football fans were delighted to see the change. 

Enoch Bagshaw, 1921 Everett High
School Yearbook, Nesika
“The gridiron outlook for 1922 cheers the heart of every Washingtonian. We have a real coach – a crew of husky material – and the determination to do or die,” the Tyee Yearbook writer gushed.

Bagshaw was the key to attracting George Wilson to the University of Washington. It was likely the number one reason he was hired. Wilson’s brother, Abe, another Everett High School standout, was playing there, but Bagshaw lit the way for Wilson and many other Everett players, including Guttormsen, following Wilson a year later.  In all, seven players from the national high school champions of 1920 went to the University of Washington and they all started as first year varsity players. Players then only had three years of eligibility, but when Wilson ended the freshman purgatory, in 1923, Bagshaw’s team immediately produced.  The 1923 season led to the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, where Wilson led the Huskies to a 14-14 tie against Navy, the victory denied by a “tricky wind” pushing an end-of-the-game field goal three feet to the right. 

George Guttormsen,
1925 Tyee
Actually, George Kicked

Guttormsen joined the varsity in 1924 and the team lost only one game, to the University of Oregon, in a muddy, 7-3 scramble in Eugene where the Ducks only touchdown came when Wilson punted from the endzone, the ball striking the crossbar of the goal posts, sploshing into the end zone mud where an Oregon player covered it for a touchdown.  It cost them another appearance in the Rose Bowl of 1925 which went to Stanford and Notre Dame.  Especially heartbreaking was that Stanford lost to Washington 13-0 in early November of 1925, with our boy Guttormsen returning a punt 70 yards where the Stanford great Ernie Nevers pushed him out of bounds on the Stanford eight.  Nevers hurt his shoulder on the play and did not return.

Walter Camp in 1924
He would die the
following year
A highlight the 1924 season, though, was the west coast swing of Walter Camp, one of the inventors of modern football and then the singular arbiter of America’s football talent -- to football then what Robert Parker is to wine now.  Camp’s list of outstanding players each year came to be known as “Walter Camp’s All-Americans” – and he had come to see the great UW Junior George Wilson play a game of football.  The game was against the College of Puget Sound and Camp saw plenty of George Wilson, who scored five touchdowns.  George Guttormsen secured his reputation as a great kicker by booming the ball out of the Loggers’ end zone time and time again.  The score was 96-0 and Wilson was five yards from 102 when he was wrestled down as time expired.

George was an excellent student and deeply involved in the social and political life of the institution.  He liked public speaking and was good at it, of course.  He was planning on being a lawyer.  He liked being a leader.  The fact he was an outstanding football player on one of the great teams in the country proved a useful bow on the package.   

1920 drawing of Husky Stadium
University of Washington Collections
During George’s career at the UW, the campus was experiencing a massive building boom which surfaced a number of political issues.  Which buildings should be built first – those for academics and student life or those for the growing popularity of collegiate games?  Some students, like Marion Zioncheck, thought that athletics were playing too big a role in the capital budget.  Husky Stadium, replaced Denny Field in 1920 and it had a capacity of 30,000.  A lot of games, even those played by the mid-twenties Bagshaw teams, were played before significantly smaller crowds of 8-15,000 people.  When the team would go south and play at Berkeley or Stanford at Palo Alto, the crowds were much bigger and some students thought it was envy, not student interest, that motivated the athletic department.

Marion Zioncheck
UW Student Body President
Tyee Yearbook
Zioncheck, who became the congressman whom Senator Warren Magnuson once called the best political strategist of his day, was deeply involved in campus political life and believed a building should be constructed to support student life sooner than just another building for jocks.   Planning for a building called the Athletic Pavillion, a basketball court known today as Hec Edmundson Pavillion, was underway in the 1922-1925 period and Zioncheck fought it, proposing instead that the student building, today’s Husky Union Building, be constructed first. 

Looking for support, he turned to George Guttormsen, befriended him and served with him on the Board of Control, the student executive council.  He urged Guttormsen to run for Student Body President, ran his campaign and supported his election by successfully advocating for voting machines on campus to make it easier for the sometimes apathetic student body to vote. 

Two years after Guttormsen, Zioncheck became Student Body President and despite his friendship with Guttormsen had a rough time with the jocks and the greeks on campus.  He was once thrown into the campus fountain by a bunch of angry football players and frat rats, a chunk of hair cut off.

He lost the fight over the basketball building which was completed in 1927, 22 years before the Husky Union Building opened in 1949.

Zioncheck went on to lead the recall against Seattle Mayor Frank Edwards in 1928 (Edwards had fired J. D.  Ross, the hero of public power in the Northwest) and won the First District Democratic nomination in 1930 and was elected to Congress in 1932.  Zioncheck killed himself in 1936.

George Wilson runs the ball against Alabama,
1926 Rose Bowl
The 1925 football season ended with the Huskies once again invited to the Rose Bowl.  The Huskies at first voted not to accept the invitation, confirmed it with a second vote but bent to pressure and finally said yes on the third.  It was hard to find a team to play them.  Eastern powers like Dartmouth voted against going and Tulane begged off, saying the Huskies were just too big and fast.  Finally, Alabama voted to play the Huskies for the 1926 Rose Bowl title. 

Huge underdogs, the much ridiculed hicks from the south beat the Huskies 20-19, scoring all their points in the third quarter when George Wilson lay on the sideline, knocked senseless.  The game was a mixed bag for George Guttormsen.  He scored on a 20 yard pass from Wilson, but his usually reliable drop kick failed him, he missed twice, the last hitting the crossbar.

28 second clip shows Guttormsen scoring on a pass from Wilson and then missing the drop kick extra point. Watch him turn away in disgust when the kick hits the bar.

It was, however, a tremendous football game, the first Rose Bowl played by a team from the South and it put football in the South on par with programs across the country.  The Seattle Times called it “The Greatest Thriller” and Times Square was packed to watch the mechanical recreation of the game on the side of the Seattle Times building.  It was the first Rose Bowl broadcast on the radio and cemented the idea that the Rose Bowl was the national championship game -- at least that was what they were saying in Tuscaloosa.

Our post next week will have the movie stars who played in the 1926 Rose Bowl and George's encounters with literature and the law.  We'll also tell you whatever happened to all those Guttormsens.

Documentary on 1926 Rose Bowl
Sportspressnw often has terrific sports history to go with its intelligent sports reporting.
Historylink's essay on George Wilson
Marion Zioncheck's Suicide


  1. Loved the Norwegian Boys story ... and the film clips really worked. Great story.

  2. 1801 McDougal is still a family home.

  3. That house is NOT 1801 McDougall !

    1. That is 1801 McDougall. Sorry

  4. Thanks for writing such an interesting article on the Guttormsen boys! My family loved seeing some photos we'd never seen before! - Elin (Tip's great-granddaughter)

  5. Wonderful story. I was an associate in George's law firm right out of UW law school in 1958 with office next to his. He never spoke of any of this. I knew he was a star player because out of county judges always asked about him whenever I appeared on their motion calendars. John Thomas Fort Myers

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