Robert W. Patten, the iconic Seattle street character known as the Umbrella Man, suffers a stroke that The Seattle Times reports two days later on April 17, 1910.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 10/23/2018
  • Essay 20653
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On April 17, 1910, The Seattle Times -- in a demonstration of the newspaper's connection to, and fondness for, Robert W. Patten (1832-1913) -- breaks the sad news that the Civil War veteran and eccentric downtown figure has recently been afflicted by a brain hemorrhage that "may result in his death" ("Umbrella Man Stricken ..."). Patten, since the day he arrived in Seattle in the 1890s, has conspicuously worn a unique umbrella hat, which he invented and that became his signature look. He gained some notoriety while hawking newspapers at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Union Street, and also by proffering weather forecasts to people who requested them. But Patten has really become a household figure via his daily depiction in weather-forecast cartoons that cartoonist John Ross "Dok" Hager (1858-1932) began drawing for the Times in late 1909.

Medical Emergency

It was on the evening of Friday, April 15, while doing his customary fishing for perch dinner from the porch of his Lake Union houseboat, that Patten was suddenly stricken and discovered that he was unable to get up. A friend named Edward Ellwood soon found him and, along with some other neighbor folk, carried Patten into his house and then contacted The Seattle Times offices to report the medical emergency:

"An investigation was made at once and Dr. H. A. Shaw was called immediately to the scene. Dr. Shaw after an examination said that the old man had suffered an apoplectic stroke, or hemorrhage of the brain, leaving his right arm useless and his left side partly paralyzed. Although he pluckily protested against being taken to the hospital, an ambulance was called and he was removed to Providence Hospital for proper treatment" ("Umbrella Man Stricken ...").

Headline News

The Sunday, April 17, feature was heralded by a blaring all-caps headline atop the front page: "UMBRELLA MAN STRICKEN WITH APOPLEXY -- CARTOON ORGINAL VERY ILL." The Times referred to Patten as a "cartoon original" because its cartoonist "Dok" Hager had recently introduced a character, alternately referred to as "Sport" or "the Umbrella Man," who was based directly on Patten's appearance, famous hat, and propensity for providing weather forecasts. Since November 1, 1909, the cartoon Umbrella Man had appeared almost daily on the paper's front page, a flag atop his umbrella hat offering a one-word weather forecast.

In the article about his illness, readers were also told that Patten was "lying helpless in a cot," but that he was beginning to be able to move his fingers a bit, and, like the old trooper he was, also soon began recovering his usual spirited sense of humor, telling a reporter:

"Of course I am going to get well. I have got a good many more days of fishing and other good things to enjoy before I die. I'll be alright in a few days and will be downtown shaking hands with all my friends" ("Umbrella Man Stricken ...").

Letter from the Soldiers' Home

Understanding that in reality his situation likely meant that he wouldn't be going back to the houseboat anytime soon, Patten added, presumably in jest: "I'll believe I'll go to the Children's Home if I am eligible" for an expected period of convalescence ("Umbrella Man Stricken ..."). Instead, Patten, who was a Civil War veteran, was sent on Friday, April 29, to the 181-acre circa-1891 Soldiers' Home care facility at 1301 Orting Kapowsin Highway in Orting, in Pierce County south of Seattle, where he recovered enough to ask a fellow veteran to pen a letter to The Seattle Times:

"I am requested by Comrade Robert W. Patten, Seattle's 'Weather Man,' to write you saying he has just arrived at the Soldiers' Home, been placed in a nice clean bed and is at this moment enjoying a good supper. He is extremely well pleased with the place and his surroundings. Will you please send him the Daily Times in care of the home at Orting?

"It is fine fishing here, and as soon as he makes a good catch Patten says he will send down a string of trout. He says he will be on his feet and walk a mile to the station as soon as he can get the use of the walking machinery again. ... Patten says to tell you that he will be back home in Seattle soon" ("Weather Man Happy ...").

Alas, that wishful thinking was not to be. Patten ended up living out his last few years in sunny Santa Monica, California, at the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, where he died on April 19, 1913.


"Umbrella Man Stricken With Apoplexy -- Cartoon Original Very Ill -- Umbrella Man Suffers Stroke While Fishing -- Robert W. Patten, Original of 'Dok's' Weather Prophet Cartoons in The Times, Now Seriously Ill in Hospital," The Seattle Times, April 17, 1910, pp. 1, 8; "Weather Man Happy at Soldiers' Home," Ibid, May 2, 1910, p. 20; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Patten, Robert W. (1832-1913)" (by Peter Blecha), (accessed October 23, 2018).

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