Obama, 5 other presidents have visited Snohomish County

OSO — President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the debris field of the mudslide today holds local historical interest on at least two levels.

It will mark the first time a president has come to Snohomish County after a large-scale tragedy and the first time the primary destination has been outside of Everett.

Obama, who was in Everett in 2012 to tour of the Boeing Co.’s 787 production line at Paine Field, is the sixth sitting president to set foot in the county.

David Dilgard, a historian with the Everett Public Library, could not recall a president visiting Snohomish County after a natural disaster.

“That’s pretty unusual,” he said. “Thank God so are the slides.”

So far, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed 41 deaths.

Other presidents have come to campaign, to visit political allies and to pitch economic plans.

The list begins with Theodore Roosevelt, who on May 23, 1903, arrived in Everett by steamer and was driven up Hewitt Avenue. By some estimates the crowd numbered 35,000, more than triple Everett’s population at the time.

William Taft followed on Oct. 9, 1911, where he met with students from Lincoln School, which was across Colby Avenue from Everett High School.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a whistle-stop speech in Everett Oct. 1, 1937, on his way from the Olympic Peninsula to Grand Coulee Dam.

Harry S. Truman visited Everett twice as president, in 1948 and 1952. He too gave whistle-stop speeches from the back of a train. He also visited the county at least two other times when he was a U.S. senator to visit colleague U.S. Sen. Mon Wallgren, a Democrat from Everett.

Bill Clinton flew into Paine Field aboard Air Force One on Feb. 23, 1993, to promote his economic plan to the American people. He also met privately with Boeing workers at a time of heavy layoffs.

Over the years, future presidents have come to Snohomish County. They include Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

With the Oso tragedy the focus of Obama’s trip Tuesday, a visit to the Evergreen Cemetery in Everett is not part of the itinerary. Genealogy research in 2008 revealed his great-great-great grandmother is buried there. Rachel Wolfley’s grave marker was unearthed that October, buried beneath the grass. It turned out that her name was misspelled.

Anyone wanting to correct the spelling error and install a new marker would first need to get permission from her descendents, perhaps even Obama himself.

“Maybe some day,” Dilgard said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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