State Toll Bridge Authority agrees to give ferryboats Native American names on April 25, 1958.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 2/25/2003
  • Essay 5297
On April 25, 1958, the state Toll Bridge Authority agrees to give Native American names to two new ferries currently under construction. The state had officially chosen the names Vacation State and Washington State for the sister ships of the previously launched Evergreen State, but public outcry causes them to reconsider.

When launched in 1954, the Evergreen State was the first ferry built for Washington State Ferries since their takeover of the operations of the Puget Sound Navigation Company in 1951. The large ferry proved to be so popular that in 1957 the go-ahead was given to build two more ferries of similar design.

The keel for the first of the sister ships was laid in January 1958, and the name was listed as Vacation State. This produced much hue and cry from the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society and from Pacific Northwest Native Americans, who preferred the tradition on Puget Sound of giving ferries Indian names.

Tradition Runs Deep

The tradition began with William Thorniley, who named many of the vessels when he was advertising manager for the Puget Sound Navigation Company. In the 1930s and 1940s, Thorniley chose such distinctive names such as Kalakala (Chinook for flying bird) and Chetzemoka (named to honor a Clallam Indian Chief).

Some ferries in the fleet did not have Indian names, such as the Rhododendron (the state flower) and Olympic (named after the Olympic peninsula), but traditionalists wanted the new ferries to honor the region’s past. Faced with a petition and a list of 210 possible names the Toll Bridge Authority relented to the public.

Norman J. Box, secretary-manager of the Bremerton Chamber of Commerce, was named chairman of a committee to pick names. The only stipulation given by the Toll Bridge Authority was that the Indian names be fairly short, easily pronounced, and words for which the meaning was known.

When the two ferries were launched during the next year, they were named Klahowya (greetings) and Tillikum (friends).

Sources: Michael Skalley The Ferry Story -- The Evergreen Fleet in Profile (Seattle: Superior Publishers, 1983), 133-134; “State Surrenders to Indian Names,” The Bremerton Sun, April 25, 1958, p. 1; “All Ferries Don’t Have Indian Names,” The Seattle Times February 19, 1958, p. 9.

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