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History

September 7, 2013

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: President McKinley’s 1898 visit to Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — When downtown merchants elected to initiate the Terre Haute Street Fair in 1898 — 115 years ago — inviting the President of the U.S. to attend never entered their minds.

Three-term Republican Congressman George W. Faris explained what happened:

“Some weeks ago when the Street Fair promoters noticed that the President was going to Omaha on October 13,  they suggested to me that he should be invited to stop here en route. I therefore called to see him and result of it has been that he has been kind enough to take us in his itinerary.

“He will reach here at about 8 a.m. and remain for one half hour to an hour. I take it that we are therefore justified in arranging a program that will occupy one hour and we may govern ourselves accordingly.”

Faris and Albert Z. Foster, chairman of the Terre Haute Street Fair Association and a prominent Democrat, jointly urged that the reception be a non-partisan affair.

Proprietor of Foster’s Furnituare & Carpet Store, 600-618 Wabash Ave., Foster was appointed chairman of the organizing committee, which included postmaster Frank E. Benjamin; George I. Reed, editor of the Terre Haute Express; Alonzo C. Duddleston of the Saturday Evening Mail; and Spencer F. Ball, co-editor of the Terre Haute Gazette.

A reception committee consisting of Adolph Herz, chairman; Judge James E. Piety, attorney Elmer F. Williams, Ball, Benjamin and Duddleston was established.

The Committee on Arrangements, chaired by Herz, was comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats, including Foster, Benjamin, Williams, attorney Allen H. Donham and attorney David W. Henry, District Collector of the Internal Revenue Service and son-in-law of Richard W. Thompson.

Lucius Lybrand, vice president of I.H.C. Royse Co.,was appointed chairman of the Committee on Finance. Florist John G. Heinl, Michael W. Stack of Spang & Stack, realtors and insurance, and confection manufacturer Albert B. Mewhinney of A.B. Mewhinney Co. also served on the committee.

Henry C. Hanna of H.C. Hanna & Co., proprietor of the Terre Haute Transfer Co., headed the Committee on Carriages. Isaac Ball, William F. Beauchamp, Samuel J. Fleming, Jehu Lewis, William Hunter, Homer L. Stees and Peter J. Ryan, all undertakers or livery men, served under Hanna’s direction.

Conractor Jesse Robertson was Grand Marshal and John F. O’Reilly was flag bearer. George Farrington was among those assigned to arrange special trains to bring people of neighboring towns to Terre Haute for “McKinley Day.” By Oct. 12, The Big Four and the Vandalia already had booked several trains from St. Louis and points west. Reception Committee members were provided white silk badges which read: “McKinley Reception, Oct. 15, 1898.”

Those appointed to escort the President were given white silk badges reading: “McKinley Escort, Oct. 15, 1898.”

George W. Biegler, publisher of the Terre Haute Journal, a German-language newspaper, and captain of Company B of the 159th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, directed the military operations associated with the parade which had been scheduled.

The special six-car Vandalia train bringing the President to Terre Haute from St. Louis, with engineer William Idler at the throttle and conductor Ben Dunn in charge, was scheduled to arrive at N. Fifth St. at 8:30 a.m.

The parade route went south on Fifth St. to Cherry St., west on Cherry to Third St., south one block to Wabash Ave. (or Main St.), east on Wabash to Ninth St. and north on Ninth to Union depot.

Before arrival time thousands of spectators braved brisk weather to surround the intersection. At exactly 8:30 a.m., the presidential train was observed coming around the curve to cross the Vandalia Railroad bridge. Cheers could be heard many blocks away and the Terre Haute’s colorful Ringgol d Band wasted no time joining in.

Capt. Biegler’s Company B and the Terre Haute police had their hands full keeping the crowd away from the president’s path. Secretary of Interior Cornelius Newton Bliss and Secretary of the Treasury Lyman J. Gage were the first to alight.

Col. Thompson was the first to greet McKinley. They had been friends for many years. John E. Lamb and Faris were placed in the first carriage with the president. Herz, A.Z. Foster and J. Addison Porter, secretary to the President, filled the second carriage.

William Riley McKeen and Deloss W. Minshall rode in the third carriage with Secretary Gage and his wife. The fourth carriage contained William Ward Parsons, president of Indiana State Normal, and Terre Haute attorney Joshua Jump, a member of the Indiana State Normal board of trustees. There were many more carriages.

Through much of the parade the president stood and bowed to the applause of the crowd. He also expressed interest in the Street Fair on Wabash. On Fifth St., 8-year old Idelle Bonnard, daughter of city councilman Eugene Bonnard,threw a handsome bouquet into the President’s carriage. At Union Station, the presidential party entourage was greeted by a group of old soldiers and Jackson Club members with their patriotic umbrellas. A crowd estimated at 10,000 surrounded the platform from which the President was scheduled to speak.

While he was being introduced by Col. Thompson (in one of the shortest speeches ever given by the eloquent statesman), McKinley sat in John Born’s rocking chair, made of 130 horns. The chair had been exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Arising to speak at 9:20 a.m., the president made reference to past visits to Terre Haute and thanked the large throng for greeting him at an early hour. He made it clear that he understood the non-partisan nature of the reception by lauding “his old friend, Col. Richard W. Thomson” and “that distinguished Hoosier whose eloquence moved senates and swayed great audiences, Daniel W. Voorheees, my (Democrat) friend.”

Former Democratic congressman Lamb stepped forward and called for “three cheers for the President of the U.S., the Honorable William McKinley.” Judge Piety then called for three cheers for Col. Thompson. Both were hearilty given. The locomotive began moving slowly toward Decatur, Ill., its next stop, at 9:30 a.m. sharp. For several minutes, as the train moved, President McKinley stood on the back platform and shook hands with everybody who could reach him.

He was still waving a handkerchief when he disappeared around a bend.

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