Some shaken by Seafair Pirates presence at Kirkland Fourth of July parade

The Seattle Seafair Pirates fired cannons during the Celebrate Kirkland! annual Fourth of July parade in Kirkland. - Raechel Dawson/ Kirkland Reporter
The Seattle Seafair Pirates fired cannons during the Celebrate Kirkland! annual Fourth of July parade in Kirkland.
— image credit: Raechel Dawson/ Kirkland Reporter

Several members of the community filed complaints about the Seattle Seafair Pirates’ loud cannon explosions that, they say, frightened children and dogs during the annual Fourth of July parade.

Men dressed in pirates’ costumes engaged the crowd as they acted the part by adorning eye patches and swinging fake pirate swords. But as soon as the cannons blew, some say the fun turned sour.

“Kids were screaming and dogs were howling,” said Dean Jones, who submitted a complaint to the city on July 10. “People were leaving the parade, they were just so distressed.”

Jones, who lives in California but was visiting friends in Kirkland, said his little dog “relieved himself at both ends” and the driver of a mini-horse in the parade couldn’t get it under control for at least one minute. Jones was at the corner of Central Way and First Street when the cannons went off.

He said the cannon explosions reminded him of the recent Boston Marathon terrorist attacks and that it ruined him and his family’s Fourth of July.

Another parade-goer had a similar experience, but was seated farther down the parade route.

“People all around me were complaining about the loud noises,” said Jerry Forell in an email to the city of Kirkland on July 8. “I still had minor discomfort in my ears an hour later.”

Forell was sitting at the intersection of Kirkland Avenue and Main Street and said the pirates spouted their cannon three times when they passed that area.

Sudie Elkayssi, the city’s special projects coordinator, said in a reply to Forell that the city received “a handful of complaints” about the cannons and that it would be discussed at a later meeting.

“I was standing at the corner of Market and Central, so I too experienced the loud cannon blasts, which took me by surprise,” Elkayssi said, adding that police spoke with a Seafair Pirates representative at the parade to “scale it back,” to which they complied.

Rick LaValley also complained to the city, stating the pirate ship scared a lot of kids, babies and people.

And one Kirklander Shaun Kelly said the cannons were too loud and too frequent.

“I’m not pleased to hear that people may have felt compelled to leave a function due to our presence,” said Lance English, a Seafair Pirates Captain, who was at the parade. “We pride ourselves on being a family friendly organization and our goal is to enhance an event with a high energy performance, not detract in any way.”

English said for every parade the Seafair Pirates attend, they send a letter with an advertisement explaining the noise level is high with recommendations for parade placement. Additionally, the Pirates work with the city guidelines in place and they trigger a siren before firing the cannons as a way to alert spectators.

“We may be pirates but a healthy degree of professionalism is a necessity,” English said. “It is our desire to be responsible and thorough in our efforts.”

Deputy director of Parks and Community Services Michael Cogle said the Kirkland Police Department received verbal complaints as well, and that he expects the issue will be discussed at an event debrief meeting near the end of July.

The city’s special events policy states that noise must be kept to a reasonable level, but Cogle acknowledges that “reasonable” could be up for interpretation.

“That’s something we’ll work with Celebrate Kirkland! volunteers for next year,” Cogle said.

Kirkland City Councilwoman Penny Sweet, the organizer of the Celebrate Kirkland! Fourth of July parade, said complaints about the parade come every year but there hasn’t been much about the pirates’ cannons.

“I got three complaints about the noise of the cannons,” Sweet said. “I don’t think three complaints out of 30,000 is overwhelming.”

But Sweet did say they could have done a better job of alerting the parade volunteers about the Seafair Pirates’ cannons.

“I think we’ll ask them to tone it down next year,” Sweet said, noting she also received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the parade.

Sweet said the last time the Seafair Pirates participated in the Kirkland Fourth of July parade was in 2002 because they had gone over to Bothell, but because many of the pirates now live in Kirkland, they wanted to bring it back.

And there are Kirklanders who agree.

“It was so great to have a longtime Seattle tradition in our parade,” said Rochelle Nelson Haberl in a Facebook comment to the Kirkland Reporter on July 11. “I thought it was exciting. That’s how they roll and that’s part of the pride of Seattle.”

Others such as Dawn Moeller Jeske, Storey Ballard Hahn and Kelli Jonakin said they love the pirates.

“[I] loved having the Pirates there,” said Jonakin in a Facebook comment on July 11. “For those who thought the cannons were too loud, cover your ears and say ‘AARGHH!’”

The Seattle Seafair Pirates have been the “Pirate Kings of the Northwest” since 1949 and continue to make appearances around the Puget Sound area every year.


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