Published on February 17th, 2013 | by Kate Albert Ward


How an Earnest Irwin Celebrates Presidents’ Day in Tacoma

Happy President’s Day! Over the past century, nine active U.S. Presidents have visited Tacoma, from the bespectacled Franklin D. Roosevelt on his whistle stop tour, to the debonair John F. Kennedy, who attracted over 25,000 locals to Cheney Stadium in 1963.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt giving a speech from a train caboose at Union Station during his 1937 whistle stop tour. Photo courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library Image Archives

Of all the images of different Presidents visiting Tacoma, my favorite shows an event that never actually happened.

In 1956, Earl L. Irwin commissioned the Richards Studio to create the above picture of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s motorcade passing by his business, the B&I Circus Store. President Eisenhower had originally been scheduled to drive by Irwin’s store, but reports of threats led to a change in route that denied the businessman his shining opportunity to capture a photograph of the real deal.

In Irwin’s imaginings of his missed chance for glory and fame, President Eisenhower waves to a cheering crowd from his car’s sunroof while elephants perform tricks on the sidewalk. These items were added to a stock photograph of the B&I, forming an awkward yet endearing picture.


Richards Studio photomontage of President Eisenhower’s motorcade passing the B&I Circus Store in 1956. Courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library Image Archives

The proportions are just not quite right, Eisenhower’s car is going in the wrong direction for his intended destination, and the edges of the crisp-edged additions fail to mesh with the underlying image. Yet, this optimistic fantasy of what would have happened if fate had not intervened allows the viewer to better understand just how disappointed the earnest Irwin must have been.

Eisenhower may not have been the last president to come through Tacoma, but he was likely Irwin’s only chance for such a prestigious association.

According to my resources, the last President to visit Tacoma was Jimmy Carter in 1980, and he only stayed for three hours.

Maybe it’s time we changed that. Where in Tacoma would you like to see President Obama? Submit your vision of President Obama visiting Tacoma to, and if we like it, we’ll post it!

Update 2/24/13: Check out the submission we received from reader Mike Hahn.


“The Prez sez…” by Mike Hahn. President Obama holding a beer summit at the Parkway.


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About the Author

A writer for Post Defiance, Kate has done freelance writing for the Museum of Glass, The South Sound User's Guide, and 19th-Century European Paintings at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Kate’s previous experience includes working as the Kress Foundation Interpretive Fellow at the Portland Art Museum, and as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Portland State University. Kate currently works at Hilltop Artists, a youth development program that uses glass arts to connect young people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to better futures.

4 Responses to How an Earnest Irwin Celebrates Presidents’ Day in Tacoma

  1. daniel says:

    I love that there is even potholes back in 1956 in our beloved T Town!

  2. RR Anderson says:

    Where is Ivan’s torture cell?

  3. Jamie P says:

    On the positive side, Tacoma *really did* glitterbomb Rick Santorum.

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