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The Mule that Ran For Selectman – And Won
The story: We weren’t actually in Milton when we heard this story. We were in a neighboring town and workers at city hall dragged out the yellowing newspaper archives. “Be sure you go over to Milton,” they chortled. “You know, that’s the town that elected a Jackass mayor. Right here in the papers.” They said, thumping the page for emphasis, and you know what – it was true, pretty much.
The town of Milton was incorporated on August 16, 1907, but it was a mule named Boston Curtis who put it on the map or at least in the papers in 1937.
According to the record, Boston Curtis ran for Republican Selectman, not Mayor, but otherwise, the story is true and the candidate appeared as required in person with all of his paperwork filled out in advance and signed with the print of his hoof.
Since voters often come to the polls knowing nothing about the candidates and simply choose the most appealing name, it’s not surprising that the dignified sounding Boston Curtis won. He only received 51 votes but that was enough.
The candidate was sponsored by the Mayor of Milton, Kenneth Simmons, a Democrat, who said that he did it to prove a point. He believed people don’t bother to find out enough about the Candidates they vote for. Simmons made his point and his mark. The story of the Mule Hoax was told and retold around the world. More than 50 papers carried the story in that pre-internet world, but that was enough.
As Time Magazine put it, “Mayor Kenneth Simmons chortled hugely. He had proved his point that voters ‘have no idea whom they support.’” The story was highlighted on the famous Bob Ripley’s Believe It Or Not radio show and book, and is featured in the Museum of Hoaxes.
It certainly put Milton on the map. The people who knew Ken Simmons as a boy were not surprised. Ken was a high spirited kid, an excellent swimmer who had competed for the Tarzan movie role that went to Johnny Weissmuller. Simmons was once arrested as a youngster, for stealing a life-size manikin and throwing it off the Narrows Bridge causing people to think it was a jumper. This nearly landed him in jail but he was excused because of youth.
Ken Simmons kept a pet bear for awhile. Not your average guy. Simmons founded the town of Bonney Lake in what many considered a questionable deal land with “1000 acres from a Rodeo Man” according to one song. There’s a monument in the Ken Simmons Park in Bonney Lake with an inscription that begins, “Whether you consider him a scoundrel or a hero…” That’s not the usual tribute, either. But I talked with his daughter in law. Joan Simmons Branch, still lives in the area and she remembers nothing but kindness and fun from Simmons and his wife, Bertha.
Note from Dorothy Wilhelm: Do you have a great Washington Story – from Hudson Bay to the pig wars? Send your favorite story (300 words or less) to Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com and you’ll receive a free copy of my brand new book, and special credit in the upcoming Washington Story Book.