Potentially Presidential Chair on Display in McGrath

Photo by Josh Edge
Photo by Josh Edge

In a small museum in McGrath, among a plethora of gold rush and Alaska Native memorabilia sits a rocking chair fit for a President.

The room contains everything from a transportation timeline to traditional Alaska Native garments, and even a replica of a typical miner-trapper cabin.

But, the rocking chair stands apart, different from the rustic frontier articles in the rest of the room.

It’s easy to see that it was made by a careful hand, crafted for more than mere functionality.

According to Ray Collins, the chair of the Tochak Historical Society, this is because the chair wasn’t just fit for a President – it was meant for one

“It was made by Victor Hill, one of the miners over at, over at Ophir. And he made two chairs – they’re all handmade – and they were made for General Eisenhower,” Collins said.

Meticulously carved in spectacular detail into the top of the chair are five stars, noting the five stars that President Eisenhower wore on his shoulders as a General. Just below the stars is inscribed, “Love And Good Luck” – a personal message from Hill to the President.

Down the backrest of the chair are a series of intricately carved designs. Even the armrests are finished off with an elegant curl at the end.

But, as Collins says, Hill was ultimately unable to send the chair to Eisenhower.

“He made one for Ike and Mamie – When he wanted to give it to them, he wanted to give it to them for their retirement, but he found out if he gave it to them while they were in the White House, they couldn’t take it with them. The Presidents can’t receive personal gifts like that to take with them in their retirement. It would have ended up in a warehouse somewhere. So he never sent them to Ike,” Collins said.

Though it was never sent to the Eisenhower, the chair – and the story – both have been passed down since it was made in 1954.

According to Collins, the Tochak Historical Society, which runs the museum in McGrath, acquired the chair in October of 2010, not long after it was rediscovered in its most recent owner’s estate – having been believed to have been lost since it was put in storage in the late 1980s.

“We wanted to keep it over here because it was made over by Ophir; and it has that story about Ike in it, so it’s kind of unique,” Collins said.

So, if you happen to travel through McGrath, definitely stop by the museum and check out Ike’s chair.

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Josh is the Statewide Morning News Reporter/Producer for Alaska Public Media | jedge (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8455 | About Josh

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