During the late 1920s to mid-1930s, three national celebrities walked the halls of Kennedy School alongside their fellow students. Not movie stars or athletic phenoms, Robert, Rollo and Richard Palmer were identical triplets.
Today, a guestroom at the Kennedy School is named for the famous Palmer Triplets – here's their story...
An identical triplet birth was and remains exceedingly rare, occurring just once in every half-a-million births. But in addition to that, each of the three Palmer infants weighed at least six pounds at birth! That's nearly 19 pounds of newborn baby, the heaviest triplets on record at the time. They were overnight sensations. (Several articles about the home birth made a point to mention that their mother "was recovering nicely.")
From the time they were born on June 28, 1922, until their graduation from Kennedy School fourteen years later, the Palmers were a regular focus for media around the country, featuring photos of the boys dressed in matching outfits with taglines like "Three of a Kind - and Livelier Than Crickets."
Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, naturally, were also enamored with their boys. Proud father Carl called them his Three Kings, while mother Katherine lovingly compiled a scrapbook of the many news articles, as well as friends' cards and more personal photos of the boys posed in their carriage, or set on a blanket on the grass or playing with the family dog. One sweet snapshot shows four generations of Palmers, in which their dad, grandmother and great-grandmother each holds a chubby infant.
The album also included an acknowledgement of the triple workload of having three boys all at once. Among the expressions of congratulations, news clippings and newborn photos is a simple card on which is printed a verse entitled, "Courage": If the hill's hard to climb; if it's rugged and steep, you'll sure reach the summit if Courage you'll keep... 'Tis Courage that helps me so cheerful to be.
From the beginning, mother Katherine faced many challenges raising the triplets, the first being how to tell them apart. Initially, she put distinct marks on the bottoms of their feet to keep track of who was who. In time, of course, she came to know differences in their personalities and appearances. Robert, for instance, was the only one of the three to be right-handed. The other two were lefties. Rollo was known for his stamp collection; Bob was quite handy around the house; and Dick was "inclined to take things easier."
A week before their fifth birthday, the triplets moved with their parents to a new house in the Kennedy School neighborhood. Six months later, in January 1928, the boys entered Kindergarten. "Pity the poor teacher who tries to tell them apart," was the quip from a newspaper story. Kennedy School students and teachers of that era vividly recall the Palmer Triplets, simply because it was such a novelty to have gone to school with them.
All three of the kids were regularly noted for their vim and vigor: "They are healthy, blue eyed, full of pep and aggression and ready to gang up on their mother any time. ..." Certainly courage and fortitude were what their mother needed, however, when her six-year-old boys all came down with a succession of measles, mumps and chicken pox (causing them to miss an entire school term).
Thankfully, the boys bounced back and returned to Kennedy the following term, joining in all the usual school events, like the annual May Day celebration (a tradition we carry on to this day), theater productions and sports activities. And when not in school, particularly in summertime, the boys, their parents and sometimes grandparents took many camping and fishing trips, traveling together from the mountains to the coast, throughout the Northwest.
The brothers graduated from Kennedy School in 1936. The next year, Carl and Katherine Palmer welcomed a fourth son, whom they named Kenneth. By then, his triplet brothers were already 15 years old. Initially, little Ken lived somewhat in the shadow of his famous siblings. "My poor dad. Can you imagine?" chuckled Ken's daughter in 2013, thinking about what that must have been like. Soon, though, Ken came into his own, making life-long friends from the neighborhood, all of whom went through Kennedy School together.
It is Ken's daughter, Donna (Palmer) Wakefield, to whom we owe many of these wonderful memories of the Palmer family and their famous triplets.