Back in the day when railroads ruled, Lucas Countyans rarely were surprised when luminaries passed through and good crowds at one or another of the depots were assured when called for.
That certainly was the case on Monday, Nov. 3, 1879, when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia, paid a call, albeit a brief one.
If you paid attention in history class, you'll know that Grant served two terms as U.S. president after the Civil War, leaving office during March of 1877. Two months later --- on the 16th of May 1877 --- the Grants set out from Philadelphia on a round-the-world marathon and extended diplomatic mission that lasted two and a half years.
Finally --- on Sept. 20, 1879 --- the Grants returned to U.S. soil in San Francisco and after a month of perambulating the West were ready to head home, first to Galena, Illinois, for a brief visit, and then to Philadelphia, which they reached on Dec. 16.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, recognizing a public relations coup when it saw one, offered a special train --- bedecked with flags, flowers and evergreen boughs --- to transport the Grants and their entourage across southern Iowa from Omaha to Burlington.
That train left Omaha at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 3, was greeted by Iowa Gov. John H. Gear at Union Depot in Council Bluffs, then made its way whistlestop to whistlestop through Glenwood, Red Oak, Villisca, Creston, Murray, Osceola, Chariton, Albia, Ottumwa and Fairfield before arriving in Burlington at 10 p.m., where a major reception was held before the exhausted Grants headed on to Galena.
Chariton's two newspaper editors found themselves at disadvantage when planning coverage of the Grants' stop in Chariton. Patriot editor George H. Ragsdale was a good Republican and an honored Civil War veteran. He was invited --- along with Capt. A.U. McCormick --- to join the presidential train in Council Bluffs and accompany the party to Burlington. George didn't even try to report on the trip, leaving his staff in Chariton to pick up reports filed by others for republication in The Patriot of Nov. 5.
Chariton Leader editor Dan Baker was neither a Republican nor a veteran. None of those in charge of arranging the Grants' reception had any incentive to move him close to the action and he ended up standing so far away that he could neither see nor hear what was going on.
"The Patriot says that Col. Dungan made a reception speech when General Grant stopped here the other day," Dan wrote in his edition of Nov. 8. "Well it is the first we have heard of it, but don't doubt it, and know that it was a good one. We were so far back in the crowd that we could not hear anything, and we're now convinced that we didn't see General Grant, for we had our eagle eye affixed on a fellow all the time as the General, and since then we've convinced ourself that it was the porter of the sleeping car."
The special train arrived in Chariton at about 4 p.m. and was greeted by what was a described by a huge crowd with Col. Warren S. Dungan heading up the welcoming delegation. Here's how a reporter for The Burlington Hawk-Eye described the festivities:
"Chariton was more pretentious in its decorations and reception. The train there was welcomed by a band and by one of the largest crowds that we had yet seen. In an enclosure near the station the public school children were assembled. As soon as the train stopped, General Grant was almost bodily seized and conducted to the enclosure, where he was received with unbounded enthusiasm by the children. He was introduced to them by the superintendent of the public schools, who bore in her arms a pretty little girl of four or five years, who in a very pretty little speech, which she delivered in a very fascinating and embarrassed manner, welcomed the general to Chariton, and in the name of the school children presented him with a bouquet of choice flowers. The general seemed more pleased with the little girl's words than with any of the lengthy addresses with which he had been received at any of the other places, and after bestowing a fatherly kiss upon his little admirer, he began his return to his car, a ceremony which, owing to the dense crowds and the numerous people who wish to shake hands with him, was quite and undertaking."
Another report identified the little girl as Mary Cushman, 6, and quoted her speech as follows: "General Grant, will you please accept these flowers from the schools of Chariton to show you that we will always love and remember you and our country."
And finally, here's Dan Baker's Nov. 8 report from the fringe, published under the headline, "General Grant at Chariton."
"On Monday this celebrated old hero of a hundred battles passed through our city on a special train. A large crowd of people had gathered at the depot to give him a greeting. About 4 o'clock he arrived, and was immediately seized by the enthusiastic mob of men, women and children and towed around promiscuously among them until the good natured old fellow began to think that Chariton was the most dangerous place for enthusiastic friends he had ever struck. After the women had all hugged him, and the children kissed him, and the men had touched the hem of his garments he was reluctantly permitted to proceed on his journey eastward.
"The old general was looking very well, in fact was as hale and hearty as though he had been well fed through all of his travels. Of course we Democrats were all as enthusiastic for Grant, as any one.
"The General met some of his old army companions at this place, and doubtless was glad to see them. No doubt he will forever appreciate his visit here because he was not bored with a speech nor asked to make one. We wish General Grant a happy trip homeward, and a long peaceful life, such as his honored predecessors had before him. Grant was elected president, hence we honor him for his well earned laurels."