Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The day President Truman stopped in Chariton

Lucas County Historical Society collection

Presidential candidates are a dime a dozen these days in Iowa, thanks to the caucuses, but a visit by the incumbent remains a rare thing indeed. So a crowd estimated at between 7,000 and 8,000 people jammed the Rock Island Depot grounds in east Chariton on the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 18, 1948, to await the campaign train carrying Harry Truman home to Independence after a long, slow rhetoric-filled trek from Washington, D.C.

Both Bess and Margaret were aboard, too --- Margaret having accompanied her father west; Bess, having taken an early-morning train up to Des Moines from Independence to join her family for the final leg of the journey home. Various Democratic candidates for state and congressional office were aboard, too.

This was the first time a sitting president had passed through Chariton since 1898, when William McKinley spoke briefly from the rear platform of a train stopped at the C.B.&Q. depot in northwest Chariton.

The Iowa leg of the campaign trail had commenced early Saturday morning in Davenport and the campaign train had headed west into Des Moines, then switched to south-bound tracks there. Truman's remarks in Chariton were his 12th of the day --- and his last before entering Missouri where he would address crowds three more times before settling down for the night in that big white frame house in Independence. Before arriving in Chariton, a similar crowd had gathered in Melcher to hear the president.

The train, which arrived at 5:36 p.m., was 20 minutes late and the temperature was sweltering. The Rock Island Depot is in a valley --- and there wasn't much of a breeze either. But the American Legion Junior Band was on hand to provide entertainment and regular updates on the train's progress were announced over the loud-speaker system, installed by Moore's Radio Shop.

Security, of course, was a concern even in 1948, so the train was supposed to stop some distance from the crowd, but it didn't. It pulled right up to the depot and the crowd surged forward, knocking down rope barriers and getting as close as possible. Several little boys, including Jimmy Merrill, managed to scramble aboard. A bemused security officer took the little boy's picture with the president, but sadly we don't know where that snapshot went to.

This photo is the only one from the visit in the Lucas County Historical Society collection. The two ears of corn had been presented to the president by Charles and Stephen Jr. Carter, ages 6 and 8 respectively and the sons of Stephen Carter, Fourth District congressional candidate, who introduced the president. The woman visiting with President Truman is Eleanor Ann Baldridge whose husband and daughter, John and Nancy --- solid Democrats one and all --- were nearby.

Thanks to the Truman Presidential Library, we even know what the president said in Chariton that day. Here is the text of his remarks:

I appreciate that introduction very much, and I think he is a good prophet (Stephen Charter had introduced the president, predicting a win of course).

I have had a wonderful tour today beginning at Rock Island, Ill., and they tell me this is the last town in Iowa I'll stop at, and I'll regret that because at every place I have been the crowds have been just like this, and they've been exceedingly cordial. I feel that Iowa is beginning to wake up to the situation, and on November 2 I won't have to say much more about them voting Democratic.

You know, the reason for that is that the Democratic Party gave the farmers the price support program, soil conservation, rural electrification, crop insurance, and other progressive measures of this kind. They have led to the greatest prosperity for the farmer that the farmer has ever had in the history of the world.

In 1932, 123,000 farmers in the United States had lost their farms. In 1947, less than 800 farms were foreclosed. That's the greatest record in history.

In 1932, the farmers were hopelessly in debt. Their indebtedness has been reduced by more than 50 percent and they have $18 billion in assets. Think of that! Just think of that!

Now, there are people in this United States that would like to go back to that condition, when labor was receiving an average of 45 cents an hour and when the farmer was getting 3 cents for hogs and 15 cents for corn and burning the corn because it wasn't worth the price. Those same people now have made an attempt to do away with the price support program which is responsible for this immense production which we have had in the last 7 years and which has kept millions of people in this world alive.

I'm asking you just to read history, to use your own judgment, and to decide whether you want to go forward with the Democratic Party or whether you want to turn the clock back to the horse and buggy days with such people that made up that "do-nothing" 80th Congress.

That Congress tried its level best to take all the rights away from labor. That Congress tried its level best to put the farmer back to 1932. That Congress tried its level best to put small business out of business. For what purpose? To help the big interests which they represented.

Do you know that there were more and bigger lobbies in Washington than at any time in the history of the Congress of the United States ? Some time a little later on I'm going to tell you about those terrible lobbies: The Association of Manufacturers' and the speculators' lobbies and several others that I could name right now; and I've got the facts and figures on them. They spent more money lobbying for special privilege in this "do-nothing" 80th Congress than has been spent in Washington in the whole history of the country.

Now, why did they do that? Because they wanted to take you to town. I'll tell you -- you're going to get taken to town if you don't use your privilege on election day.

You stayed at home in 1946 and you got the 80th Congress, and you got just exactly what you deserved. You didn't exercise your God-given right to control this country. Now you're going to have another chance. If you let that chance slip, you won't have my sympathy.

If you don't let that chance slip, you'll do me a very great favor, for I'll live in the White House another 4 years.

It's been a very great pleasure to be in Iowa, and I appreciate it. I have had the privilege of riding with all your public officials today. It's been a very great pleasure to ride with your candidate for Governor, who is a wonderful man, the Democratic candidate for Governor. And I was with Guy Gillette, with whom I served in the Senate, and there never was a better Senator in the Senate than Guy Gillette. I'm extremely fond of him, and I hope, for your own welfare and for the welfare of this great State, that you'll send Guy Gillette back to the Senate, and that you'll elect the Democratic candidate for Governor and all the Democratic Congressmen and public officials you possibly can. I like Democrats no matter what office they're running for.

I hope that everything will go well with you. I can't tell you how I appreciate this wonderful turnout, this wonderful reception. It's been just like this all day long. I have come to the conclusion that the people in Iowa like their President and appreciate what he's trying to do for the common people.


Laudata VT said...

I was in the crowd that day in 1948, as a 5-year-old! Remember well Truman's stop and how excited everyone was! I was even more excited to see a man who had come to see the President on horse-back, undoubtedly because he could see better. He let me pet the horse and offered to bring me up with him but parents declined the offer. Judith Fisher McManis

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Have Truman's in my family and upon retirement am going to look more deeply into whether Harry and I are related. I have some inkling we are based upon an ancestor that moved to Kansas City area late 1800's.

Charles Wright said...

I, too, was at the depot in Chariton to see President Truman that September day in 1948. I had just turned eight years old a month earlier and remember desperately wanting to go to Chariton to see the President of the United States. John Ryan, whose wife Mabel worked in my father's grocery store in Russell, asked dad if I could go with him to Chariton. I was happy when he consented for I knew he was a Republican and no admirer of Truman. I couldn't see over the heads of the crowd at the depot so Mr. Ryan who was a big, strong man, lifted me up to his shoulders so I could see the President speak and, for a time, see his wife Bess and daughter Margaret. My older brother David "Dee" had gone to Chariton with some of his friends, I believe on a train from Russell, earlier that day to be at the depot when Truman arrived. He had taken with him a small, cheap camera with which he took a few photos of the President speaking and one or two that included Bess and Margaret. A few years ago I sent those snapshots along with my copy of David McCullough's 1992 "Truman" -- a prize-winning biography of the president -- to my brother Dee's son, Dr. David J. Wright III, who is now a physician in Denison.