Presidents in Tacoma

From September 16, 2014

I’m watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts and enjoying the many little known family visits to Tacoma which seem to be oddly missing from the film. President Theodore Roosevelt literally gave a stump speech in Wright Park in 1903 and then packed em in for a big talk to 30,000 at stadium in April 1911. FDR first visited on the campaign trail as Governor of New York in 1932 where he also charmed the crowds at the Puyallup Fair. He returned again in 1937 during the Depression where he met with Senator Homer T Bone to talk about hydroelectric dams. Tacoma’s pioneering enterprise in public power by building a citizen owned dam on the Nisqually is recognized as a model for FDR’s New Deal dams, irrigation and power projects on the Columbia. Eleanor made one of the most timely Tacoma visits of any Roosevelt visiting the city for the first time on December 12, 1941. Just 4 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor she made a point of meeting with Tacoma’s Japanese American community and then warned in her newspaper column, “My Day”, that turning against your neighbor because of his race is a sign of fear not patriotism. FRD’s last visit to Tacoma was during the darkest days of World War 2 on a secret trip that was hidden from the press and the public. Because he was traveling in a private railroad car, the telegraph operator and station master at Union Station were among the only people in the world who knew where the President of the United States was. They never told.


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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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