Many Ballard locals believe the legend. "It's just one of those things everyone knows about," says Birgit Trygg, a volunteer at Ballard's Nordic Heritage Museum. "I even think there was a city ordinance or something." Ballard First Lutheran Pastor Erik Wilson Weiberg agrees. "I think there must be truth to it," says Weiberg. But was there ever really a church-for-every-bar law?
According to a group of UW students who recently made a documentary called Ballard: A Church For Every Bar, there was never a written ordinance mandating a church for every bar. "We searched Ballard city records and the Washington State archives, but found nothing," says Dan Niemiec, a student who worked on the documentary. "It seems like the ordinance existed more in spirit than law." A few years earlier, local historian Kay Reiannhartz also researched the legend and found nothing on record.
However, Niemiec and his crew did find something puzzling. After searching the Ballard city directory and comparing it against a city list of liquor licenses, Niemiec discovered that, from 1904 until Ballard's annexation to Seattle in 1907, the number of bars was equal to the number of churches. Furthermore, Niemiec counted the numbers of bars and churches currently within the old Ballard city limits. The count: 27 bars and 27 churches. The mystery continues.