Attorney General Robert F Kennedy visits the Seattle World's Fair with members of his family on August 7, 1962.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 2/22/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10022

On August 7, 1962, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy  (1925-1968) visits the Seattle World's Fair with members of his family. They spend most of the day enjoying a wide variety of exhibits and amusements. In the afternoon, Kennedy gives a speech to an overflow audience in the playhouse. Media coverage of Kennedy's visit to the Century 21 Exposition is slightly overshadowed by news of the suicide of Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) in Los Angeles two days earlier.

A Family Affair

The attorney general arrived at Sea-Tac Airport the previous night, accompanied by his wife Ethel (b. 1928) and four of their seven children -- David, Robert, Joseph, and Kathleen, ages 7, 8, 9, and 10, respectively. Also with them were Kennedy's sister, Eunice Shriver (1921-2009), and her 8-year-old son, Robert. The Kennedy clan made their way to the Olympic Hotel for a good night's rest.

The next morning, they arrived at the fair one hour late, to which Eunice Shriver noted, "You know how it is travelling with kids" (The Seattle Times, August 8, 1962).  Accompanying the attorney general  were Lem Billings (1916-1981), a close friend of the President; Courtney Allen Evans (1914-2010), assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Edwin Guthman (1919-2008), a former Seattle Times newsman who was tapped in 1961 to become RFK's press secretary.

Kennedy's first order of business was a press conference at the playhouse, but the procession slowed down in the lobby as everyone gathered around a replica of astronaut John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule, which had been temporarily moved there from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) exhibit. In its place at the NASA building, the actual capsule was on display for a week before heading to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Before Kennedy was introduced by Governor Albert Rosellini (1910-2011), the children had already scampered off to the Gayway, the fair's amusement park area. After answering a few questions from reporters, Kennedy accompanied fair president Joe Gandy (1904-1971) to see some of the foreign exhibits, while his wife, sister, and Guthman went to check on the kids.

Kids Will be Kids

The youngsters -- chaperoned by Guest Relations staffers Rose Hill and Dorothy Sorter -- were having a blast. Young Bobby had ditched his chewing gum (most likely brought with him to the fair, as none was sold on the grounds) and headed first to the Wild Mouse ride. Joe enjoyed the Bumper Cars and Kathleen opted for the Rotor. They also took part in a dart game, where Bobby won a giant stuffed donkey. Joe outscored him and received an even larger teddy bear.

After Kennedy's speech, the parents met up with children and headed for lunch at the Space Needle's Eye of the Needle restaurant, where they enjoyed their meal and the view. After dining on steak and salad, the Kennedy family headed groundward to visit the United States Science Pavilion. The attorney general seemed to enjoy the exhibit as much as the children did, and took part in a variety of hands-on experiments.

The family made a brief strip to the Fine Arts exhibit, but the attorney general said little about the modern art on display. He did stop at the famous George Bellows painting of boxer Luis Firpo knocking Jack Dempsey out of the ring. "That I like," he said (The Seattle Times, August 8, 1962).

The Northwest and Beyond

At 3:00, Kennedy delivered a speech to an overflow audience in the playhouse, while the children took in a magic show at La Petite Theatre.  Kennedy heaped praise upon the Pacific Northwest, calling it "America's last frontier," and noted how fitting it was that Seattle should host a World's Fair that previewed the frontiers of the future.  He found it "particularly refreshing to come from the other Washington to a region of the country which is not mired in the past, not constantly looking backward over its shoulder ... but instead is peering boldly and joyfully ahead into the 21st century."

On a more serious note, he touched briefly on current events in Southeast Asia, noting that, "reservists who were called upon last summer at a time of crisis are now returning to their homes all across the country. Where a year ago the situation in South Vietnam was dark, the forces of natural independence now have a fighting chance" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 8, 1962).

Having Fun

After finishing his speech, the Kennedy family met up again for a tour of the NASA exhibit. Afterward, Kennedy bid everyone farewell while his entourage boarded limousines near the fair's gate. He joined them, and the vehicles made their way back to the Olympic Hotel -- except one. Kennedy's car went  around the corner and stopped near the Gayway. Out stepped the attorney general, Governor Rossellini, Democratic national chairman John Bailey, and Captain Saeed Khan, the fair's protocol officer.

They made their way towards the amusements as discreetly as they could. The four men then enjoyed a ride on the Wild Mouse, a spin on the Rotor, and a turn on the Cakewalk. As Captain Khan later told Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Jack Jarvis, "Protocol was thrown out the window  but we sure had fun!" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 1962).

The next day, the Kennedys left Seattle for a seven-hour fishing trip at Westport before meeting up with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) and his wife, Mercedes, for a week-long camping trip along the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula.


Sources: "Robert Kennedy Family Arrives for Tour of the Fair," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 7, 1962, p. 1; "Four Young Kennedys Descend on Fair," The Seattle Times, August 7, 1962, p. A; "Bob Kennedy Salutes Northwest," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 8, 1962, p. 1; "Attorney General is Hit Attraction at Fair," The Seattle Times, August 7, 1962, p. A; "VIPs Go Along with Crowd," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  August 8, 1962, p. 3; "Kennedy Kids See Fair, Visit Gayway," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  August 8, 1962, p. 18; "Kennedy Clan Zips Through Fair," The Seattle Times, August 7, 1962, p. A; "Big Day for Bob K's at Westport," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  August 9, 1962, p. 1; "Rain Pull's 'Em in by The Thousands," Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  April 8, 1962, p. 23; "Kennedy Party Conquers Forest," The Seattle Times, August 10, 1962, p. A.

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