If Postcards Could Talk: Tragedy cut Smith rally short

By Linda Emley

As promised, I’m going to tell you the story about the 48-star flag that is now on display in the showcase at the Ray County Courthouse.
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, 1948, Harry Truman slept at the Elms Hotel. He ate a ham and cheese sandwich and went to bed at 9 o’clock.
When he woke up the next morning, he had officially been elected to serve four more years as our commander and chief.
The flag I’m referring to was flying over the Elms as Harry S. Truman slept in room 300. It hung for many years in a closet under a staircase at the Elms. In the 1970s, a local guy who worked at the hotel was asked to clean out the closet and found it. Several flags were hanging on coat hangers and this one had a note attached that told its story.
Harry Truman was in Excelsior Springs, but Forrest Smith was the star attraction in Richmond on Election day in 1948. The Richmond News on Friday, Oct. 29, 1948, had a half- page ad announcing “Forrest Smith Day” in Richmond.
“Welcome to Everyone to Attend Forrest Smith Day Monday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m. – West Side Square – Richmond. Band Concert – “Hillbilly” Musicians. Prominent Political Speakers. Come Shake Hands With Our Next GOVERNOR. Sponsored by the Ray County Democratic Central Committee.”
The ad had a picture of Forrest Smith, a Harry S. Truman campaign button, an American Flag and galloping donkeys all around the border.
The following Monday, on Nov 1, 1948, The Richmond News gave a few more details. “WELCOME HOME GOVERNOR FORREST SMITH. Tonight’s homecoming for Forrest Smith, Democratic candidate for governor, will start at 7 o’clock in the circuit courtroom. The program will include. 7 p.m. concerts by the Richmond High School and Lee Hill Billy Bands. 7:45 p.m. Judge H.E. Spencer will present Howard Keel, chairman of the Democratic County Committee. Mr. Keel will introduce the Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Eugene P. Hamilton, who in turn will introduce the visiting celebrates and the honor guest, Forrest Smith.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 3, The Richmond News headlines said, “TRUMAN IN AS PRESIDENT – SMITH VICTOR”. The victory was bittersweet for Forrest Smith because his “Welcome Home” rally took a rather sad turn.
“DR. HAMILTON DIED AT RALLY. Dr. Eugene P. Hamilton, member of a widely known family of Missouri physicians, died here on a speakers’ stand as he prepared to introduce Forrest Smith, Democratic candidate for governor. Dr. Hamilton, a boyhood friend of the candidate’s, had just began the speech when he collapsed. His nephew, Dr. Buford G. Hamilton, said death was caused by coronary occlusion. A large landowner near here, Dr. Hamilton was 68 years old and had been retired from his practice in Kansas City since 1938.
“LARGE CROWD AT RALLY. The rally that had attracted several hundred persons to the courthouse was canceled after the unexpected tragedy. The Rev. Perry Taylor, pastor of the Methodist Church here, dismissed the audience, plainly shocked by the turn of events. Smith planned to close his campaign with a hometown rally here among his old friends and acquaintances. He and Dr. Hamilton had been classmates at Woodson Institute, an academy that was once in Richmond.”
Due to rain, the rally had been moved inside to the circuit courtroom. The large crowd was packed in the courtroom but everyone left after the pastor offered a prayer. Dr. Hamilton’s death certificate shows his official time of death at 8:30 p.m.
The newspaper didn’t go into many details, but I did get to hear this story from someone that was present. Like many other events at the Ray County Museum, fate stepped in once again and brought me the rest of the story.
One day last fall I was sitting in the library at the museum reading this newspaper account about Eugene Hamilton and in walked Bill Chenault, who always stops by the museum when he is in town.
I started telling him this story and soon found out he knew all the details because he had attended the rally with his parents as a young boy. Bill said Dr. Hamilton had his arm up in the air and was explaining a story when he collapsed. It took a few minutes for everyone to figure out it was not part of his speech.
Dr. Eugene Hamilton was survived by his wife, Emily Rodelle, and two sons, Simpson and Fowler Hamilton. He also had two sisters, a brother and five grandchildren. He was a mason, a veteran of W.W. I and a member of the Christian Church.
He had been a doctor all his life, but he was also a man who loved farming due to his many farming ancestors. Dr. Hamilton is buried at the Sunny Slope Cemetery next to his wife, who lived another 18 years after his death.

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