By Darla Sathre (from The Depot Express newsletter, Summer 2015)
Although Bemidji gets visitors from far and near throughout the whole year, we really expect them in droves in the summertime. Bemidji has had numerous well-known visitors through the years, but this article is going to focus on two widowed First Ladies — Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, and Edith Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson.
Eleanor Roosevelt visited Bemidji in October of 1955, staying at the Markham Hotel. While the reason for her visit was to speak at a teachers’ convention of the Minnesota Education Association, she also attended several informal gatherings which she described as “delightful.” College president Charles Sattgast and his wife Mabel saw to her comfort during her short visit.
As a sidetrack, in the previous decade, Mabel Sattgast had mailed a package of wild rice to Eleanor Roosevelt. Here is another tidbit of a sidetrack: in a 1984 interview, Bemidji’s own famous person, Jane Russell, declared Eleanor Roosevelt to be her personal heroine.
According to Bemidji’s centennial book, Edith Wilson visited the city on August 22, 1934, staying at the Birchmont Hotel. In fact, she visited Bemidji many summers during the 1920s and 1930s staying at the Birchmont Beach Hotel, now Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge.
This next sidetrack takes us to Itasca State Park where Edith Wilson, among thousands of others, attended the Fourth Annual Schoolcraft Centennial Pageant on August 12, 1935. She commented, “The pageants were marvelous – the most interesting I’ve ever seen. Every state in the Union should have pageants similar to this each summer.” As a financial sidetrack, in case you are wondering about the cost to see such a marvelous show, the charge was 15 cents per person.