U.S. Presidents in Mansfield

For over two hundred years, our city has always been passionate about its patriotism, and eager to cast its votes.  So it is no surprise that Mansfield soil has collected the footprints of many U.S. Presidents, who love both patriots and votes.

Eighteen of these Commanders in Chief have set foot in our city.  Though, technically, three of them didn’t actually get off the train; and it’s not certain that one of those three would have left a footprint because he moved in a wheelchair.  But 40 % of our nation’s Presidents have breathed Mansfield air.

As decades pass, these footprints fade; and the enthusiasm generated by our grandparents settles into the dust of time.  The immediacy of the thrill is pressed like leaves in a binder and filed away in quiet books about the past.

Yet the aura of the White House shines now as it did then, and the honor of our brief brush with history is timeless.

Willian Henry Harrison 1812 & 1840

The two sides of this campaign token seem to commemorate Harrison’s two stops on Mansfield’s Square.

The first time Harrison rode onto the Square was in October of the War of 1812 when he was Commander of the Army of the Northwest.  He was on horseback looking for his troops camped in the forest north of town, when he stopped for a short break and maybe some directions.

The General came back to town in 1840 on the 5thof October, hoping to drum up some votes for the pending election.  A crowd gathered to hear him talk from an improvised platform set up almost exactly where you will find the flag flying in the Square today.

Harrison’s story in Richland County:

Ulysses S. Grant 1868

President-elect Grant rolled into Mansfield late one night on his way to Washington DC, just after he won the election:

Grant’s story in Richland County:

Rutherford B. Hayes 1886

Hayes was a friend and confidant of Mansfield’s Senator John Sherman, who can be seen in this image immediately to the right of the President. Hayes gave a political speech in Mansfield in 1868, and spoke at the official Laying of the Cornerstone for the Ohio State Reformatory in 1886.

Benjamin Harrison 1890

Harrison made a whirlwind tour of Midwestern cities in 1890 that included a quick cigar at the Mansfield home of his friend Senator John Sherman, and a short speech from the Senator’s front porch on October 13.

William McKinley 1900

All of those famous ‘Ohio Presidents’ of the 19thcentury were well acquainted with Mansfield’s Senator Sherman, who tried several times to become one of that exclusive club.  It was Sherman who brought President McKinley to Mansfield:

William Howard Taft 1912

During the Presidential election year of 1912, both the sitting President and the former President spent time on the Square in Mansfield:

Taft’s & Roosevelt’s story in Mansfield:

Theodore Roosevelt 1912

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson had a special car attached to the end of a Pennsylvania RR train that came through Mansfield on October 4, 1916, and a crowd of 4,000 “non-partisan” fans gathered at Union Station to see him.  Unfortunately, the train was so long that when the President stepped out onto the platform to wave at the people, he was clear back at the Orange Street crossing.  Never deterred, the crowd dashed down the tracks to cheer for their President.

Warren G. Harding 1913

Mr. Harding was not President when he came to Mansfield, nor was he yet even a Senator, but he didn’t come here to campaign.  He was in town to golf:

Harding’s story in Mansfield:

Franklin D. Roosevelt 1934

Placed in front of FDR in this photo is a microphone from WJW, the first radio station in Mansfield. This photo was taken, however, in Akron after WJW moved to that city, where those call letters are still in use today.

This is a story you won’t find in the papers. I know it only because of my mother, and she knew it only because of her father. He was a radio enthusiast and the city’s best-known radio repairman in the 1930s; and because he was always tuning into private and public frequencies he happened to hear that the President’s train was headed toward Mansfield. He got word from a Willard broadcaster, and then from Plymouth, and then he rushed downstairs to grab his coat and his five-year-old daughter.

By 1934 it was already clear to anyone paying attention that this was the President who was going to save the country and it was a moment in history never to be forgotten. Denny Skelton wanted his little daughter to be able to say she saw the greatest man in America, so they rushed to the B&O station to catch a glimpse of FDR. 

It was a very small crowd—only avid radio followers—because many of FDR’s travels were cloaked in news blackouts, due to the fact that there were people trying to kill him.

None of this meant anything to my mother of course, she only knew that her dad said she was going to see history, and history was a man.

She sat on her dad’s shoulders and waved at the train as history paused for a moment on Springmill Street, and then passed on his way.

John F. Kennedy 1960

Ten thousand folks filled Diamond Street to see John F. Kennedy on September 27, and they baked an hour and a half in the sun waiting for the Senator’s car to come up Park Avenue East. The speech was filmed by his press corps, and footage documents that between the spates of wild cheering you could hear a pin drop.

Richard M. Nixon 1960

Four days after JFK came to town, his political opponent came to balance the scales of enthusiasm.  Vice President Richard Nixon staged what was called “the largest political rally ever held in north central Ohio,” at Arlin Field to a crowd of 18,000 sunburned voters and kids.

Ronald Reagan 1983

Reagan was on his way to a speaking engagement in Ashland, but Air Force One had to land at Mansfield Lahm Airport, so thousands of folks showed up to make the Secret Service earn their pay.  The President was on the ground only long enough to pick up a Key to the City, and then rolled away without even checking to see if it fit the lock.

George H. W. Bush 1984

The Vice President didn’t breathe very much Mansfield air—he touched town and took off for Ashland with barely a wave and a smile.

Gerald Ford 1984

Former President Gerald Ford sat on the board of Peabody International, and after Peabody Barnes of Mansfield had a record year, the annual board meeting was held at the plant on North Main Street. On November 28, 1984 Ford toured the plant and gave an impromptu speech to 300 employees on the shipping dock. He did dinner at Westbrook Country Club, and then flew out of Mansfield Lahm. What did Mansfield have to say about it? That’s an awful lot of secret service personnel for someone out of a job.

George W. Bush 2004

A throng of photographers, reporters and protesters gathered on the Square to greet the President because word had it he was coming in to the Renaissance Theatre from the east, and it seemed he would have to pass that way.  But the wily President motorcaded up Third Street and missed his welcome. So, no pictures of him waving from his limo.

Barak Obama 2012

The President got Mansfield onto television screens all across the nation on August 1, 2012; and made local history by becoming the 6th U.S. President to leave his footprints on the Square.

Joe Biden 2008

He was running for Vice President when he walked up North Main Street on September 17, 2008, and spoke into the microphone in front of the Carrousel. Sorry, not a microphone.

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