Century 21 Exposition Protocol Assistant Roger Martinsen Remembers the Fair

  • By Roger Martinsen
  • Posted 5/09/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10107

Roger Martinsen (b. 1936) was born in Seattle and attended Roosevelt High School and the University of Washington, graduating in 1958.  After three and a half years serving in the United States Navy, Martinsen returned to Seattle and took a job as Assistant Protocol Officer at Century 21 Exposition, Seattle's 1962 World's Fair.  Martinsen worked under Protocol Officer Saeed Kahn, who had been assigned to the fair by the United States Department of State.  The fair's Protocol Office managed all aspects of visits for diplomatic visitors to the fair of cabinet level and above, meticulously planning moment by moment in order to ensure enjoyment, comfort, and adherence to diplomatic protocol.  In this People's History, Roger Martinsen remembers his work at the fair, and some of the famous visitors he assisted.

A Military Background

Just prior to the Seattle World's Fair, I finished a three and a half year tour of duty as an officer with the U.S. Navy.  That was a great experience.  I have great memories of 13 months aboard the aircraft carrier Valley Forge as an Ensign, followed by the crème de la crème -- two years and three months at Newport, Rhode Island, as a navigation instructor for the Naval Officer Candidate School.  I loved it. 

Three weeks after my military release and a cross country drive from Rhode Island to Seattle, I was hired by the Seattle's World Fair, as an Assistant Protocol Officer. As part of my duties, I worked on President Kennedy's (1917-1963) scheduled visit to close the fair on October 21, 1962.  He was in Chicago, headed for Seattle, when his priorities turned upside down. He feigned a bad cold, returned to Washington, D.C., and slipped into the White House basement to work on the Cuban missile crisis. On October 22 (the day after the Seattle World's Fair closed), he disclosed the Cuban Blockade. 

The excitement of the Seattle experience later led me to take a similar job at the New York World's Fair, from February of 1964 through late October of 1965.

Saeed Kahn And The Job

I was hired by the Protocol Office in Seattle, thanks to Myra Noel (1907-2005). She had connections with several people at the Seattle Fair, including Willis Camp (1913-1993), a Vice President, who she spoke to on my behalf.  Willis introduced me to the fair's Chief of Protocol, Saeed Khan (b. ca. 1928).  Saeed hired me to assist him, because, as he told me months later, he was looking for someone with a military officer background.  

Saeed had been on loan from the State Department in Washington D.C., since three months before I arrived. His purpose in Seattle was similar to his duties in Washington: to properly manage the visits of United States government personnel of cabinet level and above, and visits of foreign diplomatic visitors.  At the fair, Saeed's staff also liaised with the managers of the various international pavilions.

Our office consisted of six people: Saeed, myself, Pat Baillargeon (b. ca. 1929), Margaret Bordon, and two other clerical persons.  Pat had worked for Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and she was in charge of dinners and socials. Margaret was from Argentina and banged out our visit schedules. We also had access to numerous tour guides. For transportation, we had Highway Patrol officers, who drove a small fleet of limousines.

Saeed was 34, eight years older than me. He seemed much older. He usually wore a double-breasted dark suit and always a hat. In his younger years in Pakistan, he was a Captain in the Bengal Lancers. At Seattle, he always knew what to do -- and he always did it right. He was remarkable. Throughout the fair, Saeed was praised for his smooth and thorough work.

We know that the Seattle press members were impressed with the detailed visitor programs that we created because they told us so.  The programs were deep in guest information. They typically included name and title, how to greet (such as Your Royal Highness, Your Excellency, Mr. Secretary, etc.), how to correspond, place cards, "in honor of" line on invitations, shaking hands, toasts, food preferences, flag placement, national anthem protocol, biography, and itinerary from the time of arrival at the airport to time of departure.

Does this sound like we must have worked seven days a week?  Well, we did. Saeed was fantastic and we were proud of what we contributed. 

Nations Served

Over the six months of the fair, the Protocol Office took care of government visitors from 74 different countries.  Here they are.

  • Afghanistan 
  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • British Guiana
  • Cambodia
  • Cameroon
  • Canada
  • Caroline Islands
  • Central AfricaRepublic
  • Chile
  • China
  • Columbia
  • Congo
  • Cyprus
  • Dahomey
  • Denmark
  • Ecuador
  • Ethiopia
  • Finland
  • France
  • French Guiana
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Great Britain
  • Greece
  • Guatemala
  • Iceland
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Kenya
  • Korea
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Luxembourg
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritania
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • New Zealand
  • Nicaragua
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Norway
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Rhodesia
  • Rumania
  • Somalia
  • Soviet Union
  • Spain
  • Sudan
  • Surinam
  • Sweden
  • Syria
  • Tanganyika
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Republic
  • United Kingdom
  • Venezuela
  • Viet Nam
  • Yugoslavia
  • New Zealand

From 50 years ago, the following visits are some of my strongest memories.

Visutr Arthayukti's Visit  

Visutr Arthayukti, the Thai Ambassador to the United States, was our very first fair guest.  His principle purpose in Seattle was to accept a medium landing ship at the Seattle Naval Supply Depot as a gift to Thailand under our Military Assistance Program.   

He visited the Fair on April 17, four days before the opening. We walked him through the fairgrounds, which were deserted. Well, almost deserted. At one point, there were three people walking towards us on the other side of street. One of them looked like a John Wayne (1907-1979) impersonator. It was John Wayne.

Our Protocol Office only had responsibility for government folks. Hollywood personalities were handled, very nicely, by the Special Events Division. The most prominent during the fair was Elvis Presley (1935-1977), very polite and well greased, making the movie, "It Happened at the World's Fair."  

The Thai Ambassador was the first of 12 visits by various Ambassadors to the United States.

The Shah of Iran

The Shah of Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980) and the Empress Farah (b. 1938) were guests of the fair on April 22, the day after the fair opened.  We had lunch in the Space Needle, followed by a ride on the Monorail. 

For a while, my responsibility was to escort the Empress, while she used her movie camera to capture the fair. My life-long friend Choo Nisbet, who at that time was in Spain on duty with the Air Force, mailed a picture of the Empress and me that appeared in the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes. I treasure it.

On Sunday, at the Shah's request, we took a tour of Seattle. Saeed let me direct the tour.  Two years later, I met the Shah again, at the New York World's Fair. He asked what happened after the Seattle fair closed and what the plans were for the site's future.

Gherman Titov 

Gherman Titov (1935-2000) was a Russian cosmonaut.  He was the second person in the world to orbit the earth in outer space. On August 6, 1961, at age 25, he orbited the earth 17 times in 25 hours and 18 minutes, then landed by parachute in the Soviet town of Krasny Kut. One year later, he and his wife, Tamara (b. ca. 1938), visited the United States and the Seattle World's Fair.

At this time in history, we were in the Cold War with the Soviets. The Berlin Wall was built in the summer of 1961. The Cuban blockade occurred in the fall of 1962.  However, Titov gave the Russians bragging rights and they were proud to show him off. Prior to his U. S. visit, he had been to the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Japan, and Brazil.

We were not informed by the Soviet Embassy that the Soviet Cosmonaut was headed for the Seattle World's Fair until four hours before his arrival. Saeed, however, had a tip from Washington of the visit two days earlier. The Soviet Embassy requested one car and rooms at the Olympic Hotel. Saeed made reservations at three hotels and lined up six cars. 

On arrival, a Soviet official said that they would need six cars. No problem. Secondly, the Olympic Hotel is too big. No problem. They eventually accepted the Camlin Hotel, which Saeed had already reserved. 

The Titovs arrived at the fair on a Saturday. In the afternoon, Tamara Titov wanted to have her hair done. I told Saeed I could handle that. We went to I. Magnin in downtown Seattle. They performed wonders and she was pleased. They would be having dinner that evening at Canlis Restaurant, near the Aurora Bridge.

At 7:30, Saturday evening, Saeed called me. Crisis. Crisis.  Tamara left her coat at I. Magnin and the store is closed.  I located the Magnin General Manager, Roy Strang (1914-1997). Told him we had an international crisis ... or something like that.  He arranged for me to meet his Building Superintendent at the store, with a key. He added that, if the coat couldn't be found, she could pick one of theirs for herself, compliments of the store. Let's hear it for I. Magnin.  Fortunately, Tamara's coat was hanging in the beauty parlor. I delivered it to her at Canlis.  And, no, I wasn't invited to stay for dinner.

The next day, after lunch, we had a chance meeting with Joseph Dunninger, a mentalist, who was performing at the fair. Dunninger was introduced to Titov, via his Russian interpreters. He offered to perform a sample of his ability to read minds.

Let's review the situation.  This is 1962. We have our secrets and Russia, ahead of us in the space race, has theirs.  We have generously offered to have a mentalist read the mind of Russia's heroic space pilot.

Dunninger held a blank card and a pen.  He said that he wasn't familiar with the Russian language characters, but asked Titov to think of a word. He continued to banter, through the interpreters, as he wrote on his card.  For the record, I was standing three feet away.  He showed the card, with the language characters, to the Russians.

Within nanoseconds, the interpreters took Titov to the other side of the room, far away from this mysterious mentalist.  I guess he got it right. Scary.

Lyndon Johnson

Serving as our country's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) visited the fair on May 9.  At the airport, when Saeed put out his hand to greet him, Lyndon put out both arms and bear hugged him -- because the Vice President owed him.  

A year before, on a visit to Pakistan, the Vice President casually suggested to a Pakistani camel driver on the road-side, that he visit America.  A few months later, the camel driver knocked on the front door of the White House and asked for the Vice President. The Press got word of the camel driver and were delighted.  A press conference was set. A chance to "test" the Vice President.  In a stroke of luck for Lyndon, Saeed Khan would be the interpreter.

It was a smashing success for Lyndon Johnson.  The camel driver spoke in his foreign language and Saeed interpreted for the press that the camel driver thought the lady members of the press corps were beautiful. He continued to speak, Saeed continued to interpret.  He loved the United States of America. He was very impressed with the Vice President  He was so thankful for his invitation. On and on.  Yes, the Vice President owed him!

Dean Rusk

Secretary of State Dean Rusk (1909-1994) brought his wife, Virginia (1915-1996), a former Seattleite, to the World's Fair.  After our pickup at SeaTac and delivery to their room at the Olympic Hotel, Saeed offered to fix them a drink.  Rusk answered, "Saeed, I continually hear reports of your excellent hospitality in Seattle.  Let me get you a drink."  

The next day, in addition to a fair tour, I took Virginia Rusk, via limousine, to Franklin High School, where she was a student in the 1930s. As we walked the halls, she named her teachers as we passed their rooms.  A surprise greeter was Margaret McCarney (1879-1969), one of Virginia Rusk's teachers and an adviser to the 1932 Girl's Club.

In addition to Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, there were many other prominent members of President Kennedy's cabinet and staff who visited the fair. They included Luther Hodges (b. 1936), Secretary of Commerce; Stewart Udall (b. 1920), Secretary of the Interior; Dr.  Walter W. Heller (1915-1987), Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors and Postmaster General J. Edward Day (1914-1996).

Prince Philip         

His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (b. 1921) had an impressive arrival to Seattle. He flew the plane, an Air Force Heron, from Vancouver to Boeing Field.  

As we did for every other prominent visitor to the Fair, we prepared his itinerary.  For two days, his every step was planned. His itinerary was 15 pages of detailed information, the most of any of our guests. The only thing we left out was to warn that you never put a microphone in front of royalty. 

There were 10 cars in the escorted motorcade. Among the passengers in the various cars were Sir David Ormsby Gore (1918-1985), the British Ambassador to the U.S., four Consul Generals, representing Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand, Governor Albert Rosellini (1910-2011), Mayor Gordon Clinton (1920-2011), Fair President Joe Gandy (1904-1971), and many more.

Herve Alphand

His Excellency Herve Alphand (1907-1994) was the French Ambassador to the U.S.  Saeed was not thrilled that he was coming. Possible trouble. His wife, Nicole, was named to the top 10 of someone's most beautiful ladies in the U.S. list.  A year later, in November 1963, she was on the cover of Time magazine as the number one hostess in Washington D.C.

Saeed made it clear that this one had to go perfect. 

The first glitch hit about three miles down I-5 from SeaTac Airport. As was customary for personnel at cabinet level or above, our limousines flew the United States flag together with the country flag of the ranking visitor.  Minutes after we were underway from the airport, the flag standard holding the French flag fell over sideways. Not good.

The highway patrolman pulled to the side of the freeway. Try as he might, he could not fix the flag standard.  Saeed and I were in the limousine behind the Ambassador.  I looked at Saeed, thinking -- you can handle anything, but I have no idea how you can fix this.  Saeed was twitching his moustache.  When he saw that the patrolman couldn't fix the flag, he got out of our car and walked up to the Ambassador's car.  After studying the situation for a few seconds, he removed the French flag.  He then walked to the other side of the car and also removed the U.S. flag.  I'm thinking, oh well, we just won't be flying any flags tonight.  Saeed, however, put the French flag on what was the U.S. flag rod, folded the U.S. flag, returned to our car, and we were back in business. 

At the hotel, we had a second issue. Alphand's hotel room at the Olympic was too much like a hotel room. This was something that the French Consul in Seattle should have checked, but it made us look bad. It was now about 9 p.m.  We asked what else was available.  Not much, we were told, other than the Presidential Suite.  Perfect again. 

Adlai Stevenson

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) was a Seattle visitor. What I remember most is that when we were at the Olympic Hotel, the elevator operator did a double take, then she froze, when Adlai stepped into her elevator.  Although there were several floor numbers called, she took us all, non-stop, to the top floor. 

For the record, the Olympic had buttons in their elevators, but they thought that having operators would add some class during the World's Fair.

Robert Kennedy's Visit

Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925-1968) brought his wife Ethel (b. 1928) and five children, on vacation, to the Seattle World's Fair.  Four of their oldest kids made the trip along with a young Shriver cousin.  Saeed and I were to meet them at the airport, along with Governor Rosellini (1910-2011), who would be driving up from Olympia. 

The plane was on time, but the Governor wasn't. Somehow, in 1962, Saeed had phone communication with the Governor's party. As their car approached the airport, Saeed told them that Kennedy's plane had landed. They said they would drive the governor as close as possible to the front door.  Saeed sent me down to meet the governor, to make sure that he came straight to the right gate.

When his car arrived, Governor Rosellini, 52 years old, was first out.  I said, "We're going to have to run."  And, we did.  All the way to the gate, roughly 10 seconds before Robert Kennedy appeared.

After greetings and loading the luggage, the governor returned to Olympia and Saeed and I took the Kennedy clan to the Olympic Hotel. The arrangements were to pick them up at 10:00 the next day to go to the fair.  I heard it with my own ears: 10:00.  Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy and five kids, ranging in age from 11 to 5, will be picked up at 10:00 a.m.. 

The next morning, I was at the office at 8:30.  Saeed wasn't there, but that wasn't too unusual.  At 8:45, the limousines arrived, but still no Saeed.  I called his house -- several times.  Clearly, Saeed was in no hurry.

Finally, at about 9:30, Saeed asked me to bring the cars to his house.  He and his family lived in a rental home, about seven or eight minutes from the office.  We roared toward his house. By now, no way were we going to make it to the Olympic by 10:00.

Weeks before, we were to pick up an Asian delegation at the same Olympic Hotel, with the same 10:00 pick up time. That day we hustled.  What I didn't know was that "on time" for this pick-up really meant 9:50, or 9:45 if we could. We arrived at 9:55.  They were waiting.  Saeed apologized.

On arrival at Saeed's house, I hustled to the door and rang the doorbell.  Saeed appeared, shirtless with shaving cream on his face.  We didn't leave the house until after 10:15.  At 10:45, we arrived at the hotel to get the Kennedys.  Saeed didn't even go to the front of the hotel, where we had agreed to meet.  Instead, he headed to the restaurant. At a table in the middle of the room, there was Ethel, cutting up pancakes for three of her kids.   

Saeed knew. Gutsy move, but he knew.

Eventually, we got them to the fair.  We were slightly concerned that the fair's president, Joe Gandy, would have given up, but there he was at the main gate to greet the Kennedys.  After a few minutes, the kids, herded by three tour guides, headed for the entertainment area and the adults toured the fair exhibits.  Robert Kennedy asked if there would be a chance to speak. Well, of course. Saeed arranged for the Arena at 3:00 and I used the fair's public address to alert fairgoers.   Unsurprisingly, the Arena was filled. Those present included Governor Rosellini and the Chairman of the Democratic Party.    

When the tour guides returned the kids, they were excited to tell their parents about the Wild Mouse ride, the barrel spin, etc.  I heard the challenge, "You'd be scared, dad."  After a little banter between the kids and their parents, Dad said, "Let's go to the barrel spin."  

Into the barrel went the five Kennedy kids, Bobby Kennedy, the governor, the Democratic Chairman, Saeed, and I.  The barrel, about 10 feet wide, went round and round, faster and faster.  When the floor dropped about five feet, the centrifugal force kept us all in place against the wall, spinning very fast.  When finished, Dad told his kids that he was really, really scared.

Back at the hotel, in the hallway, a couple of the Kennedy boys met some local kids about their age. I heard a local say, "Just because your uncle is President, doesn't mean you're important." 

At the airport, Kennedy was impressive.  The family had a short flight to Gray's Harbor, scheduled with West Coast Airlines, to continue their vacation. They missed the scheduled flight by a couple of hours, but no problem. West Coast had another plane waiting for them. Just for them. We drove to a point where the Kennedys could walk to their plane. Bobby and the family drew a small crowd.  Among them, I heard a lady with a camera ask him to wave just before he entered the plane.  I didn't see or hear a yes or no from Kennedy.  He continued his thanks and good byes for at least 10 minutes.  Then, he jogged about 30 yards over to where two motorcycle officers stood.  He thanked them for the escort.  Classy!  He jogged back, gathered the kids and walked to the plane, about 40 yards away. 

I was wondering, will he do it?  The kids walked up the steps to the plane.  Then Ethel. Then Robert.  Step, step, step to the top of the stairs. And, he stopped.  He turned. He waved.  The camera clicked.  And, the future presidential candidate disappeared into the plane. Very impressive.      

The Fair Is Over

The conclusion of the fair was spectacular. I had a personal glitch, but that last hurrah in Memorial Stadium was a fantastic show. It was easy to tell that everyone loved it.  They were on their feet, showing their appreciation with lots of cheers and applause -- for the bands, the bagpipes, the fireworks, the carillon, the 21-gun salute and for the memories. Then Patrice Munsel (b. 1925), a supreme opera singer from Spokane, sang her third and last song, "Auld Lang Syne."   It didn't take long for everyone in the crowd to start singing with her, knowing what this song meant.  

A lady from Special Events had handed me a bouquet of flowers, asking if I would give them to Patrice at her conclusion. What a nice task to have. When she finished "Auld Lang Syne," the cheers for her, and for the fair, were like thunder. On and on.  Should I give her the flowers now? Or let her enjoy a little more?  Bang. The lights went out. Damn. Too late. I blew my opportunity. 

President Joe Gandy spoke quickly, a slight tremor in his voice.  Then he swung the gavel with authority -- and it was over. 

It was wonderful. Working with Saeed, Patricia, and Margaret was an honor.  The fair had great leadership. The planning was spot on. The execution was near perfect.

Sorry Patrice.


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