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Celebrating Seattle: The Next Fifty and King Tut at the Seattle Center

Published on: April 28, 2012

Seattle activities for kids: The Next Fifty at the Seattle CenterFifty years ago, my dad, a 22-year-old from North Dakota, piled into a convertible with three buddies and headed west for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. With all of its futuristic buzz, the Century 21 Exposition didn’t disappoint.

“Remember, we hadn’t been 50 feet off the ground before. So here we were at the Space Needle, where you could look out with the great view to the Puget Sound,” he remembers. “As soon as we were back down, we got in line to ride back up again, then waited in long lines for the exhibits. It was all very exciting.”

“Everybody has a story,” says Sara Thompson, director of Seattle Center’s Next Fifty program. “Whether you are from Seattle or not, people have a connection, as it was a huge thing for the country at that time.”

With the official kickoff at Seattle Center on April 21, the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair is now under way. For the next six months, special events and exhibits at Seattle Center, collectively termed “The Next Fifty,” aim to recapture the excitement and forward thinking of the seminal event my dad attended — and to help us create and tell new stories of our age.

The World’s Fair anniversary happily coincides with another golden event: a much-anticipated must-see exhibit of King Tut artifacts at the Pacific Science Center.

Celebrating Seattle's past and future: The Next Fifty

The wide range of Next Fifty activities and exhibitions is a lot to digest. In fact, it can be downright confusing to track them all. We recommend downloading the 25-page guide and checking the Seattle Center website or for updates on events. (Also see this article’s “If You Go” sidebar.)

To start, know that there are two overarching themes: arts, culture  and design and history. Then, programming during each month of the anniversary period will focus on a different area: sustainable futures in May; science and technology in June; global health in July; learning in August; and so on.

Where to start your visit? The Next Fifty Plaza, located between EMP Museum and The Armory/Center House building, will be the hub of anniversary activities. Your kids may want to head straight to the open-air area of the plaza, called the Seattle Center Playway, open from May 25 to Sept. 30. A zipline, inflatable bounce houses, a climbing wall and other interactive games will be big attractions for energetic kids and adults — bring cash or credit as these attractions are not free.

The Next Fifty Activity Tent, adjacent to the Playway, is a fully enclosed space with free hands-on activities based on monthly themes. Meanwhile, The Next Fifty Pavilion, located in the plaza, will have three interactive exhibits (also free) with changing themes: sustainable futures, global health and world vision.

4 other “Next Fifty” events that are great for kids and families:

1. The Seattle Science Festival, an inaugural event held throughout the month of June at Pacific Science Center. Local superstars in science and technology will show off more than 150 hands-on demonstrations in subjects ranging from aeronautics to biomedicine to computing. 

2. A traveling GeoDome, located in the plaza, where you can take a half-hour tour of NASA’s Digital Universe Atlas, the most “comprehensive map ever of the observable cosmos.”

3. The International Fountain Pavilion, which will house three exhibits focusing on World’s Fair history: “Centuries of Progress: American World’s Fairs, 1853–1982,” videos, pictures and mementos; “Looking Forward, The New Heroes”; and “The Future Remembered,” a range of artifacts and documents from the 1962 World’s Fair.

4. “The Classroom of the Future” exhibition, throughout August at the Playhouse/Intiman lobby, which will showcase ideas from area youth on how their learning environments will look in the future.

These peeks into the future can inspire legacies; my dad had a long and decorated career in science and technology. Maybe there was something in the air atop that Space Needle after all.

King Tut at Pacific Science CenterKing Tut: The rock star of pharaohs

Meanwhile, the Pacific Science Center (which 1962 fairgoers knew as the United States Science Pavilion) will soon host an exhibit that’s perfect for its golden 50th anniversary: gold, gold and more gold of ancient Egyptian rulers, including the rock star of pharaohs, young King Tut.

“Tutankhamun: the Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,” which will be on display from May 24, 2012 through Jan. 6, 2013, has been selling many hundreds of tickets per day all spring. The exhibit has 130 artifacts, 100 of them from King Tut’s crypt, the others from 2,000 years of Egyptian history. Pacific Science Center has prepped for years for this show, installing a new glass elevator, climate-control systems and renovating restrooms for the 15,000-square-foot exhibit.

The exhibit will walk visitors through Egyptian history, then up a ramp into crypt discoverer Howard Carter’s tent and then into the four chambers of Tut’s tomb. Tut was a boy king, ruling from age 9 to 19, an added draw for children. His mysterious death is also intriguing: an X-ray taken in 1968 revealed damage to his skull that some Egyptologists find suspicious.

“He transcends generations,” says Crystal Clarity, Pacific Science Center’s marketing director. “There are artifacts from his tomb kids can relate to, such as a game he played as a boy, the bed he slept in, a chair made for him in the afterlife. Everything was so tiny.”

Because of advance timed ticketing, families today will not need to wait in line like we all did for Tut’s 1970s national tour, the exhibition that made him a pop phenom. For that exhibition, my mom’s diary recalls our waiting nearly three hours, with, of course, no electronics to occupy us. Imagine that with a 5- and a 7-year-old!

On this go-around, with a guaranteed entry time, families can use their tour to really appreciate the displays. There are twice as many artifacts as in the 1970s exhibition, although the famous King Tut death mask that many of us remember will not be here, as it is now permanently housed in Egypt.

Seattle is the last stop on this exhibition’s eight-city farewell tour, adding to the sense of urgency. After that, the artifacts head to Cairo for permanent display.

Writer Hilary Benson lives with her family in the Seattle area.

If you go . . .

“Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” runs from May 24, 2012 to Jan. 6, 2013 at the Pacific Science Center. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance:

The IMAX movie Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs at the Pacific Science Center will add context to the exhibit. A planetarium show, Star Secrets of the Pyramids, will explore ancient Egyptian astronomy’s influence on pyramid design, with the ancient structures’ angled sides leading to heaven.

The Next Fifty events at Seattle Center run from April 21 to Oct. 21, 2012: or Want even more info? Download a 25-page color “Next 50 Guide” at

The Seattle Center’s Next 50 Playway is open May 25–Sept. 30, 2012. An unlimited day pass costs $12–$19; $1.25–$7.50 for individual rides.

The Seattle Science Festival will be held throughout the month of June at Pacific Science Center, with a large-scale, family-friendly event, Science Expo Day, on Saturday, June 2. 

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