Uncle Sam billboard
Description and history
The two-sided billboard, which depicts Uncle Sam, is located beside Interstate 5 (I-5), near Exit 72 in Chehalis. For more than 30 years, Alfred Hamilton used the sign to promote his "archconservative views in big block letters". Since Hamilton's passing in 2004, the billboard's conservative messages have continued; it is purportedly maintained by Hamilton's grandson. I-5 motorists have been called a "captive audience", as congestion often causes traffic jams between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, both generally considered liberal. In 2003, an average of 50,000 motorists drove the stretch daily, including northbound and southbound.
Hamilton began posting messages after I-5 was constructed across his turkey farm in the early 1960s. The first message he and his wife, Ruth, posted was based on their anger towards the government for funding welfare programs. Hamilton further resented the government for interfering with his ability to lease billboard space following Lady Bird Johnson's Highway Beautification Act. The New York Times described Hamilton as a "cranky crusader" who "loved a fight" and a "stubborn man, a turkey farmer with a big belly full of opinions". According to the paper, "Mr. Hamilton minced no words in attacking virtually everything and everyone that irritated him: gun control, the government and gays, Russians and radicals, Kissinger and Kerry." One of his friends recalled Hamilton's belief that "all Democrats were 'damn fools'", saying: "In many instances – and we were pretty close – I warned people not to get into discussions of religion and politics with him. He was so set in his ways that it was unusual."
The billboard was moved and reconstructed occasionally due to conflicts with the state and federal government. In 1995, The Seattle Times reported that Hamilton had sold his 130 acres (53 ha) of land between Centralia and Chehalis, and that the sign and other buildings on the land would be removed. The land had been in the Hamilton family since 1945. He and his wife moved to Alaska but continued to own nearby land. In the year leading up to the sale, billboard messages were changed once a month; before then, they were changed weekly.
Hamilton has said: "I'm not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking. But I want to make people think." He died in November 2004 at the age of 84. His survivors, who claimed that they did not necessarily share all of his opinions, were unsure if they would continue to use the billboard for political purposes. Hamilton's son said, "I know the billboard had a lot of repercussions politically, from the state and the feds on down, because he voiced his opinions and sometimes he stepped on toes."
Billboard messages have targeted abortion, big government, and homosexuality. Some messages which have appeared on the sign include:
- "Be thankful you live in America" (1974)
- "Bill Caruth tells why you must stick to your guns" (1978), referring to opposition of gun control
- "Hasn't Gregoire cost taxpayers plenty of $ $ in boo-boos?", referring to Democratic politician Christine Gregoire (2004)
- "Let's keep the Canal and give them Kissinger"
The billboard has received a mixed reaction. Hamilton once said that feedback to the sign had been "95 percent positive". However, in 1985, he told The Oregonian that he had received threats over the sign, and The Seattle Times reported that someone once attempted to burn it down. The New York Times called the billboard "a kind of grouchy chronicle of one man's one-sided take on things." Following Hamilton's death, one editorial contributor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, "We thought the billboards cranky, but worth looking at. That billboard is what makes America better because it celebrates a founding principle of our nation, the First Amendment. We completely disagree with Hamilton's view of the world, but praise his discourse." The editorial began with the phrase "Uncle Sam is no more", but ended with, "Forget what we said above. 'Uncle Sam lives.'"
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Uncle Sam billboard.|
- Chehalis, Washington: Right-Wing Uncle Sam Billboard at RoadsideAmerica.com
- Seattle to Portland: The "Uncle Sam" Billboard at Seattlest (2008)