By Linda Emley
My Grandmother Schooler saw President Coolidge when he came to Kansas City and dedicated the Liberty Memorial in 1921. My parents saw Gerald Ford at Monticello on July 4, 1976. They just happened to stop by Thomas Jefferson’s home and found the President there.
I love Monticello and would’ve enjoyed being there, but I’m still waiting for my chance to see a president with my very own eyes. If I could visit with any president, it would be Jefferson. He had an interesting house and a large library, so I could’ve found something to read as I waited for him to wake up from his afternoon nap.
I’ve often wondered if any President ever visited Ray County besides our own “give-em hell Harry” Truman. The Richmond News on Oct. 14, 1936 helped answer that question: “See President at Carrollton. Many Ray Countians in Crowd Hearing Chief Executive in a Brief Speech. Ray Countians who were unable to go to Kansas City yesterday afternoon, motored to Carrollton last night to see and hear President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when his train stopped there at 8:55 and made a five-minute talk before a crowd estimated at 15,000. From 6:00 last evening, a steady stream of motor cars poured into a large field, apparently donated by some good Democrats. The stream of cars continued until about 8:30. Members of the state highway patrol were assisted by the CCC boys who have camps in Carrollton. At exactly 8:30, the pilot train came through Carrollton, many thinking it was the train carrying the President running after it. Upon arrival of the President’s train, an immediate rush toward the end of the train started. Hats were thrown away, babies lost and people were literally walked over.
“Gov. Guy B. Park appeared on the rear platform, making a short speech and introducing President Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt also appeared on the platform with her husband and was presented a large basket of roses. President Roosevelt in his brief speech said he felt more certain of victory every mile he traveled and compared the Democratic election to a barometer as ‘getting fair and warm’. He also said that during his whole career he had never seen anything so spectacular as the new Municipal Auditorium at Kansas City, and urged all who had not attended it to try to do so.
“Mrs. Roosevelt was said by the president to have made her longest speech since the pilgrimage had started at Carrollton when she stepped forward and thanked the people for their splendid response and for the roses. The train pulled out eastward bound for St. Louis leaving thousands of people to mill their way back to their cars. It took more than two hours to get all the parked cars out of the large field used for parking.
“A large number of Democrats from Ray County, including a group of young people who have never voted for a President, formed part of the throng of 200,000 who saw President Roosevelt at Kansas City yesterday. Most of the Ray Countians obtained good seats in the mammoth Municipal Auditorium and were able to see and hear the President as he spoke on the subject ‘youth’.”
After reading this story, I wondered if the people of Ray and Carroll county seemed normal or was anyone thinking “What in the world just happened?” Did the President know that people were “walked over and babies lost”? I doubt many of the 15,000 people ever saw another President besides Truman and I’m sure it was a long ride home because it was late before they got out of the parking lot. How many young children were dragged to see the President and really did not understand what a big deal it was? But the most important question of all is, did FDR’s “whistle stop” campaign help him win the election? How many of the 15,000 people voted for FDR and would not have done so if they had not gotten to see him in person?
I was curious about who got to see FDR at the “mammoth” Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City and I found the answer in the Richmond News on Oct. 9,1936. “A special honor is in store for 100 ‘first voters’ of Ray County, that is, young men and women who will cast their ballots in November for a President for the first time.”
Clint Ellington, an employee at the Central Drug Store, called Judge McElroy in Kansas City and asked the city manager for 100 reserved seats. His request was granted and 100 people got to hear FDR speak at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Ellington and Edwin Cates, who was president of the Ray County Young Democrats, worked out a plan for the 100 seats. Young Democrats at Hardin, Lawson, Orrick and Camden were given 15 seats for each group. The other 40 seats were reserved through Mr. Cates. I assume the Young Democrats of Richmond got some of the 40 seats.
Now we know that some Ray Countians got to see a real live president in Carrollton. To get from Kansas City to Carrollton, FDR’s train passed through Ray County, so I think that counts. I will continue my search for any other presidential visits, but I think this might be the only one unless you count Eisenhower passing through on his way to his final resting place in Kansas.
Know of a president who’s been in Ray County or seen one yourself somewhere close? Let Linda know at firstname.lastname@example.org.