Elvis & The U.S.S. Potomac



On Valentine's Day, February 14, 1964, Elvis presented actor/comedian Danny Thomas, founder of Memphis, Tennessee's St. Jude Children's Research Hospital with a very large Valentine. It came in the form of a yacht, the U.S.S. Potomac, also known as the "floating White House, " as it was once used by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was given with the hope that the hospital, which cares for children with ctastrophic diseases, could use it in some way to raise much-needed funds.

The Potomac was built in 1934 as the Coast Guard cutter Electra. It weighs 376 tons, is 165 feet long and has a cruising speed of 10 - 13 knots. In 1936, Roosevelt had it converted to the Presidential yacht, renaming it and re-commissioning it as part of the U.S. Navy. FDR disliked flying, preferring instead to travel by train or ship. He enjoyed the privacy and seclusion of conducting government business aboard the yacht. During World War II, the Potomac was the means used to take FDR to a top-secret meeting With Winston Churchill.

After Roosevelt's death in 1945, the Potomac changed ownership and eventually became a tourist attraction in Long Beach, California. In 1964, its then-owners put it up for auction. Elvis Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker, on the superstar's behalf, made the winning bid of $55,000 on January 30, 1964. The original purpose was to give it to one of Elvis's favorite charities, the March of Dimes, with the thought that they possibly could turn it into an FDR museum to operate as a fund-raiser. However, they declined the gift because they felt they could not afford to maintain it. The Miami Coast Guard also turned it down. The press began to ridicule the Potomac as a "white elephant" until Danny Thomas and St. Jude said they would gratefully accept the gift, which Elvis offered them to do with as they pleased to raise money for the hospital. The Colonel quickly arranged a press conference in Long Beach, California, where the ship was still located, and, overnight, had the side of the ship facing the shore freshly painted so it would look good for the presentation.

During the presentation press conference, Danny Thomas admired the beauty and history of the ship and thanked Elvis on behalf of the children it would help. He also noted that St. Jude Children's Research Hospital had been built near where Elvis once lived on Alabama Street in Memphis. The hospital sold the Potomac and it began another phase of its colorful history.

By 1980, it was seized by U.S. Customs in San Francisco for its role in a drug smuggling plot. It then sank near Treasure Island, California. The Navy re-floated it and sold it to the Port of Oakland, California for $15,000. The Port of Oakland and a group of volunteers completed a $5 million restoration. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark, operated by the Association for the Preservation of the Presidential Yacht Potomac as a museum in tribute to FDR (ironically and appropriately very much in line with Elvis' original vision when he first purchased the vessel and offered it to the March of Dimes). It can be visited in Oakland, California's Jack London Square.
Web site link: http://www.usspotomac.org/index.html

The March of Dimes and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital were two of many charities Elvis supported through the years with annual donation checks.