The Eagle’s archives are full of presidential visits. Here are some of our favorites.
Brooklyn may be the king’s county, but it has been the stomping grounds of many a president, too.
From Chester A. Arthur to both Roosevelts, to Hoover and Truman and Eisenhower and Obama, the city-cum-borough played host to numerous commanders-in-chief before, during and after their tenure.
The Brooklyn Eagle and its sister publication the Brooklyn Spectator have dutifully chronicled the borough’s role in presidential history. For Presidents’ Day, we’ve scoured our archives to surface these visits – some of which were historic, and others amusing, mysterious or surprisingly prescient.
“Well-nourished” Chester A. Arthur attends the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge
On May 25, 1883, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published extensive coverage of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, which included the attendance of President Chester A. Arthur. The report included the public’s concerns over his digestive health.
“The people of Brooklyn gave President Arthur a hearty welcome yesterday, and were glad to see him looking so well after his recent attack of ‘shrimp salad.’ They rejoiced to behold the well-nourished figure and open, benevolent face of [Governor] Grover Cleveland, whose honest and straightforward administration has so amply justified the great majority Kings County gave him last fall.”
One future president bashes another
The Eagle wrote on Oct. 20, 1884 about a visit to Brooklyn by Theodore Roosevelt, the future 26th president, who was then a state assemblyman in his 20s. The Republican Roosevelt spoke against the Democratic governor and future president, Grover Cleveland – earning him a rebuke from the editors of the Eagle, then a staunchly Democratic publication.
“Young Mr. Roosevelt,” the Eagle reported, “who recently quitted his cattle ranch in Dakota, alighted last Saturday night in the Brooklyn Rink, where he made a speech an hour and a half long in opposition to Governor [Grover] Cleveland. Mr. Horace White, in a neatly turned letter published by the New York Times today, says that after the nomination of Mr. [James] Blaine on the 6th of June he was writing a telegram from Chicago to Mr. Godkin as to ‘the proper policy to be pursued by the Evening Post,’ when young Mr. Roosevelt entered the room. The legislative reformer was asked whether the writer of the telegram had made it strong enough, and answered, ‘No, I think you have not. If I were writing it, I would say, ‘Any proper Democratic nomination will have our hearty support.’ Mr. White adds that, ‘Mr. Roosevelt at that time considered Governor Cleveland’s nomination not only a proper ‘Democratic nomination,’ but the most proper one then talked of.’ It would be interesting to know by what line of meditation on the Western plains the young reformer arrived at a different conclusion.”
The Eagle’s editors weigh in, casting Roosevelt as a faux reformer concerned only with preserving “satisfactory relations with the professional politicians.” Were it not for the kindness of Governor Cleveland, the Eagle’s editors wrote, Roosevelt “would have been permanently transferred from the State Capitol to the grazing regions of the cowboys whose ‘home is in the settin’ sun.'”
Woodrow Wilson visits the Brooklyn Navy Yard to defend a war
Less than two weeks after American military forces seized Veracruz from Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson visited Brooklyn to receive the bodies of 22 soldiers killed in battle. He used the opportunity to defend an unpopular war.
On May 11, 1914, the Eagle reported, “President [Woodrow] Wilson, in his address at the Navy Yard in honor of the Vera Cruz dead, said that the duty of the American forces in Mexico was a duty of service, and not one of aggression. To die in a war of aggression was not a noble thing, he said, but to die in a war of service was of the highest nobility. Toward the close of his address, the president made it plain that he is sorely tried by the wave of hostile criticism which has been leveled at the administration. ‘When men shoot at you,’ he said, ‘they can only take your natural life. When men sneer at you, they wound your heart.’”
Herbert Hoover raises funds for Europe’s starving children
Nine years before becoming president, businessman and philanthropist Herbert Hoover visited with an appeal to the generosity of Brooklynites: help the European children suffering in the wake of the first World War.
On Dec. 17, 1920, the Eagle reported, “Herbert Hoover, speaking at a dinner at the Hamilton Club, Remsen and Clinton Sts., last night said, ‘We are not asking for much. We are asking for $10 per child to carry three and a half million children of Europe through to the next harvest. Surely, the price of a child is more than $10.’ Although the dinner was in honor of Mr. Hoover personally, he took the opportunity it gave him to launch an appeal to Brooklyn men and women to aid in raising the $33,000,000 fund of the European Relief Committee, of which he is head, for the salvation of the starving children of Eastern and Central Europe.”
Ironically, Hoover’s presidency was to be defined by the Great Depression, and the many American children who faced starvation during his tenure.
Sabotage and mystery following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit to Brooklyn College
On Oct. 28, 1936, the Eagle reported, “The failure of the public address system, which had been working perfectly up to the time of the arrival of President [Franklin] Roosevelt at Brooklyn College today, was attributed by James A. Bergner, engineer in charge, to a sabotage. The cable line, showing a clean knife cut, was found by the engineer under the speakers’ stand soon after the system went dead, Mr. Bergner told the Eagle. It had worked without interruption throughout more than an hour’s speaking before the president was introduced, he said, and could not have failed unless someone had deliberately tampered with it.”
Harry Truman demands vengeance upon barbarians at Navy Yard ceremony
On Jan. 29, 1944, Sen. Harry Truman of Missouri, who would become president in April 1945, came to Brooklyn with his daughter Margaret for the launching of the U.S.S. Missouri at the Navy Yard. The ship was one of the most powerful in the fleet.
The Eagle reported that Margaret Truman “smashed a metal-encased bottle of champagne on [the ship’s] broad, duckbill prow and the huge vessel moved with smoothly accelerating speed stern-first into the water.” Sen. Truman spoke briefly at the ceremony and said, “May this great ‘Show Me’ ship, named after the ‘Show Me’ State, be an avenger to the barbarians who wantonly slaughtered the heroes of Bataan, and may the U.S.S. Missouri and the other ships of our navy do their full share on behalf of the people of the United States to maintain the peace which will follow our total victory.”
Truman’s wishes were fulfilled; it was within the hull of the U.S.S. Missouri‘s “grim gracefulness” that the Japanese surrendered. Today it serves in Pearl Harbor as a museum ship.
A single Bay Ridge “boo” for Lyndon B. Johnson
Strutting into the era of modern journalism, the accounts of presidential visits became a little more dull in their telling. But the Brooklyn Spectator captured this nugget on Oct. 14, 1966.
President Lyndon B. Johnson drove through Bay Ridge twice on Wednesday afternoon, on his way to and from a Columbus Day speech at the Staten Island end of the Verrazano Bridge.
A crowd estimated at more than 5,000 persons waited for the president at 86th St. and Fifth Ave. after local Democrats sent sound trucks through the neighborhood, announcing Mr. Johnson’s impending appearance.
The president rode in a glassed-in limousine accompanied by Democratic legislators, including Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Cong. Hugh Carey.
Inspector William M. McKeon, commander of the 10th Division of the Police Dept., had charge of protective measures for the president in the Bay Ridge area. He reported that there were no untoward incidents. One youngster at the corner of Fifth Ave. carried a homemade sign bearing the single word “Boo,” and appeared to be the only heckler on the scene.
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