This Week in Northwest History: President Franklin Roosevelt Visits Washington State
September 20, 2022 at 2:04 p.m.
Eighty years ago this week, on September 21, 1942, Boeing's B-29 bomber -- a top-secret aircraft that the company had been working on before America's entry into World War II -- made its maiden flight. Although the project later suffered a setback, thousands of B-29s were eventually used in the Pacific theater, and the Superfortress became the first, and so far last, aircraft to drop atomic bombs during wartime. The same day that Boeing engineers watched the prototype B-29 take to the air, military brass were gathered near Oak Harbor for the opening of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. During World War II, NAS Whidbey was used to train fighter and patrol-bomber crews and remains the Navy's principal air facility north of San Francisco and west of Chicago.
The day after the B-29 launch and the opening of NAS Whidbey, one more wartime event took place that few knew about at the time. President Franklin Roosevelt made a secret visit to Washington that the press was ordered not to report. He arrived by train, stopping first at Fort Lewis. From there he traveled north to tour the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard near Bremerton, and then viewed Boeing bombers being assembled in Seattle.
After spending the night at his daughter's home on Mercer Island (more on this below), he traveled the next day with her to Vancouver, where they toured the Alcoa plant before heading off to a ship launch at the Kaiser shipyard in Portland.
You can read another article from HistoryLink.org (File/11190) which recounts Roosevelt’s visit in more detail.
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The Seattle Times has an article by Marie Edwards in their archives (A Roosevelt On Mercer Island -- Living Next Door To A President's Daughter) about Anna Boettiger and her time on Mercer Island. As a teenager, the author of that article lived next door to Anna and her husband but didn’t realize the next-door neighbors were related to the President until one night after coming home from a dance in Seattle. While attempting to get back home, the teenager and her boyfriend encountered armed soldiers plus much hubbub on the streets, along with massive motorboats buzzing around on the lake in front of her home. She later learned that President Roosevelt had come to visit his grandchildren right next door. FDR slept at that Mercer Island house on more than one occasion.
You can view a video of the Boettiger family playing in the lake off their Mercer Island home (along with other locations) at this link: Boettiger Family at Mercer Island: FDR Presidential Library
Sometime after this historic visit, William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, had a falling out with Anna. It was reported that he no longer had a use for her after her father, the president of the United States, had died. Anna’s husband also left the Seattle-Post Intelligencer at that time, and the couple’s finances faltered. They moved away from the Seattle area after buying a paper in Arizona. The paper failed and the couple eventually parted ways. Anna later married Dr. James Halsted and the couple moved to New York.
In later years, Anna worked in public relations for universities. In 1963, she was appointed by John F. Kennedy to the Citizen’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and also served as vice-chair of the President’s Commission for the Observance for Human Rights.