City of Subdued Excitement: Origin Story

Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Photo: mountainbikefarm.wordpress.com
Yesterday, I wrote:

As far as I know, the origins of Bellingham, Washington‘s unofficial nickname — The City of Subdued Excitement — are a mystery.

Some claim it derives from a locally famous mural on the side of an antique shop downtown, painted in 1994, and yet others swear that the nickname significantly predates the mural.

I’d heard this ‘mystery’ discussed many times over the years, including, as I say, disagreement on the facts, with some insisting that they’d heard Bellingham referred to by this nickname years prior to the painting of the mural (pictured here).

However, shortly after I posted that yesterday, since Fish & Bicycles posts are automagically shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr, it was seen on Facebook by Bellingham Herald arts and culture reporter Margaret Bikman, who commented:

[the ‘City of Subdued Excitement’ nickname] was coined by Mr. Peanut aka, Stephen Stimson, previous owner of Lone Wolf Antiques, next to Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, in 1995. You can research this.

Photo credit: poppiespoppy.blogspot.com/
Photo: ifeltit-poppiespoppy.blogspot.com
Well, I truly am grateful to Margaret for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight!

I had done a brief Google search, but nothing seemed definitive, and I didn’t see specific credit given to Mr. Stimson. If I had searched a little longer, I would have found the painfully obvious URL http://www.bellingham-subdued-excitement.com/history-of-bellingham, where Mr. Stimson is indeed credited.

But, since Margaret has access to the Bellingham Herald archives, she copied and pasted into the Facebook comments the definitive article on the subject, a March 25, 2007 piece by fellow Herald reporter Dean Kahn. (I subsequently tried every form of search I could think of in order to find this article online, but the Herald online archives do not go back that far, Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine was no use, and it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else.)

And so, without further ado, here are some highlights from Mr. Kahn’s article, titled Mr. Peanut radiates ‘City of Subdued Excitement’:

  • Stephen Stimson – aka Mr. Subdued Excitement – was wearing a black top hat when I met him at Rocket Donuts. That would be eye-catching enough, but there’s more. His black hat topped his Mr. Peanut costume.
  • Back in 1995, he explains, his mother suggested that he paint a “Welcome to Bellingham” sign on the north outside wall of the Lone Wolf building at 109 Prospect St., next to Whatcom Museum. Stimson opened the antiques shop in 1988 in the building that had been family-owned for decades. He decided to think up and paint a slogan for Bellingham…He thought of “s” words that would flow well with the soft “c” of “city.” He thought of “subdued excitement.”
  • But what is “subdued excitement?” … For many people, the appeal of Bellingham lies in its quieter attractions, ones that might not immediately attract hordes of tourists. Attractions like our trails, parks and waterfront views, the golden sunsets of late summer, residents’ love of the city, people who wear Mr. Peanut outfits.
  • The reason that “City of Subdued Excitement” rules…is that it feels right. We’ll know the city is changing, and not necessarily for the best, when the slogan no longer fits.

And, that last bullet item brings us full circle, back to the theme of my post from yesterday, titled You Can’t Take The ‘Subdued’ Out Of The City Of Subdued Excitement.

May the slogan ever fit!

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