Welcome Mr. President
As difficult as it seems for our presidents to visit us in the Rogue Valley, there have been a few who actually made it.
They came by stagecoach, train or airplane; however, only a few managed to even touch the ground. Some were dying, or at least very sick, and if rumors were true, one was poisoned. Some even slept through their visit.
Rutherford Hayes, our 19th president, in 1884 was the first sitting president to visit Southern Oregon. He stayed overnight and was the only one who came in a stagecoach. Hayes, a Republican, was elected with fewer votes than his Democrat opponent, so his Jacksonville reception in a stronghold of angry Southern Oregon Democrats was courteous, but not overly enthusiastic.
Our 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, passed through the valley by train in 1891, the first “whistle-stop tour” of the nation by a U.S. president. He too had won the presidency with fewer votes than his opponent.
President William McKinley broke everyone’s heart in May 1901, canceling his Medford visit because his wife was ill. He promised to return sometime in the future but was assassinated four months later. It was his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, who kept the promise.
“Teddy’s” first arrival in Oregon came on the “Presidential Special,” chugging into Ashland May 20, 1903. Only seconds before its arrival, gusty winds blew away a 34-foot welcoming arch of Oregon Grape that spanned the tracks near the depot. Within 15 minutes, the train vanished, bound for an early morning stop in Salem.
William Howard Taft had two problems during his rail trips through the valley. He was ballooning to 340 pounds and he suffered from sleep apnea.
In 1909, his train stopped, but Taft stayed in bed. Returning in 1911, he disappointed the crowd again, saying his voice was too hoarse to say anything more than “thank you.”
When Woodrow Wilson came through in 1919, he was on a grueling railroad trip of 8,000 miles that would devastate his health. Facing the Medford crowd, he clutched his wife’s arm, smiled, waved, and said nothing. Nine days later he suffered the first of many strokes that would eventually kill him.
His successor, Warren Harding, was also heading for a date with death in July 1923 when he passed through the valley. “The president is unable to appear,” said the newspaper, “due to a slight case of ptomaine poisoning.”
He died of a heart attack in San Francisco 5 days later. Rumor said Mrs. Harding had poisoned her husband because of infidelities.
Gerald Ford took a tour of the MEDCO plant in May 1976.
Ronald Reagan landed at the airport in Air Force One in October 1984. He gave a rousing speech and left for Portland.
George Bush Sr. stayed a bit longer, campaigning in September 1992 at Burrill Lumber in White City.
His son, George W. Bush, came in 2002, to see the damage caused by our summer of smoke and fires. He returned for the 2004 campaign and became the second president to stay overnight in the valley, sleeping only blocks away from the hotel where Rutherford Hayes had stayed in 1884.
So, as we mark another President’s Day in the midst of the political season, we start to wonder. Who will it be? Who will be the next sitting president to come to the Rogue River Valley?
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.