Fact or Fiction: Inside Episode 3

From debilitating panic attacks and outwitted Secret Service agents to the platonic state of the Roosevelts’ marriage, which elements of Atlantic Crossing’s third episode are true? Series’ co-writers Linda May Kallestein and Alexander Eik divulge the real story and the back story in this Episode 3 fact check.* [Contains spoilers.]

  1. 1.

    Fact or Fiction: The ship evacuating Martha and her children navigated floating mines.

    WW II poster referencing the Battle of the Atlantic, reading
    Propaganda poster with a slogan of warning that originated during WW II.

    FACT: The transport ship was forced to thread its way through mine-infested waters in the Finnish fjord and again off Scotland’s northern shore, according to Atlantic Crossing’s co-writers. “We know the [ship’s] alarm went off several times and the engine was often turned off,” says series co-writer and historian, Kallestein. “Some passengers’ experience of this was so bad that they slept on the deck with life jackets on.” The SS American Legion’s ocean crossing ultimately took 12 days, arriving in New York City on August 28, 1940.

  2. 2.

    Fact or Fiction: Upon arriving in New York, Martha suffered a panic attack when asked to address the press.

    Actress Sofia Helin in her role as Norway's Crown Princess Martha in Atlantic Crossing.

    FICTION: While there was an actual press conference upon the family’s arrival in America and it’s true the Crown Princess disliked speaking in public, her panic attack was a dramatization. Atlantic Crossing creators concocted both fictional nosebleeds and the episode of intense anxiety to convey Martha’s very real struggle with migraines and ill health throughout her life.

  3. 3.

    Fact or Fiction: President Roosevelt dodged the Secret Service while driving with Martha.

    Actress Sofia Helin as Crown Princess Martha in a car with actor Kyle Mclaughlin as Franklin Roosevelt in Atlantic Crossing.

    FICTION: While FDR did invite Princess Martha on many a scenic drive, their eluding his security detail is a fabrication. With his legs paralyzed from polio, Roosevelt enjoyed the freedom of operating a specially outfitted Ford Phaeton, which worked via hand controls. It even had a cigarette dispenser attached to the steering wheel shaft with a button to light the President’s smokes.

  4. 4.

    Fact or Fiction: Buckingham Palace was struck by bombs when the King and Queen were present.

    British King George and Queen Elizabeth stand amid WW II bomb damage at Buckingham Palace, September 1940
    King George and Queen Elizabeth amid bomb damage at Buckingham Palace, September 1940

    FACT: Nikolai Østgaard’s diary entry for September 7, 1940 describes bombs falling near the palace – one hitting and smashing balustrade stairs – and the British and Norwegian royals being ordered to shelter in the basement. A week later, German bombs hit Buckingham Palace nine more times according to Alexander Eik, Atlantic Crossing’s creator, director, co-writer and executive producer, who chose to combine both events. A few staff were injured in the later bombardment, but King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (mother of Britain’s current Queen) were unharmed.

    The scene involving a light switch alarm hidden behind a palace curtain was inspired by an anecdote the Atlantic Crossing writers found in a biography of Haakon VII. King Haakon reportedly told the British king that he should be able to trigger an alarm from his study. Once the alarm was installed, surprisingly little happened when it was first tested, eliciting humor both then and later among the royals.

  5. 5.

    Fact or Fiction: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt lived as platonic partners.

    Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt disembark a train, November 1935
    Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library archives

    FACT:  It is well documented in articles of the day and later biographies that FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer forever changed the marriage, say Atlantic Crossing writers. (The Roosevelts married in 1905 and had six children together.) Eleanor hired Mercer as her social secretary when Franklin became Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. Eleanor discovered the affair five years later and offered her husband a divorce; her formidable mother-in-law said she’d cut her son off if he agreed. Franklin’s advisers added that divorce would likely end his political career.

    In their research, Atlantic Crossing writers discovered Eleanor set two conditions for staying married: she would no longer share a bed with Franklin and he must permanently break things off with Lucy. (The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library archives reveal Franklin and Lucy Mercer maintained correspondence during the 1920s and 1930s and met on occasion once Lucy’s husband died in 1944. Mercer was in Warm Springs, GA with the President when he died in 1945.)

*Based on a series of articles (in Norwegian) written by Mari Aftret Mørtvedt and Ola Nymo Trulsen for NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Company.


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