Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Barack Obama joins long list of presidential candidates to campaign in Grand Rapids

Barack Obama joins long list of presidential candidates to campaign in Grand Rapids

by Pat Shellenbarger | The Grand Rapids Press
Wednesday May 14, 2008, 6:05 AM

James GarfieldGRAND RAPIDS -- Barack Obama today is set to join a long list of presidential candidates and presidents who have wooed Grand Rapids voters.

His likely opponent, John McCain, has made at least two public appearances here in the past couple of years.

The first presidential contender to visit Grand Rapids was James Garfield in 1878.

William McKinley paid a visit in 1894 and, in 1896, William Jennings Bryan spoke to a crowd in Campau Square, now known as Rosa Parks Circle, which would become the rallying point for many future presidential candidates.

If you can't get into Barack Obama's speech Wednesday night, we'll give you an inside view:

• Press reporters will be on the scene chatting live about Barack Obama's speech

• Check back at for more photos and video

Theodore Roosevelt first spoke here as a presidential candidate in 1900.

In 1911, two years after he was elected, President William Howard Taft arrived by train from Marquette, with a railroad official sending ahead a letter, warning that the president's private car was not to be tampered with. Taft delivered a series of speeches: first over breakfast at the Kent Country Club, then at the Soldiers Home (now the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans), then at a rally in Campau Square followed by an address to Central High School students and another at the Ladies' Literary Club.

His successor, Woodrow Wilson, came in 1912, three months before winning the Democratic nomination. Warren G. Harding spoke to a Lincoln Club dinner some years before he became president in 1921. Herbert Hoover spoke in Grand Rapids at least twice, the first time in 1920.

Harry Truman campaigned here in 1948. Dwight Eisenhower, two years after leaving office, made a campaign appearance for then-U.S. Rep. Gerald R. Ford in 1962.

Press File Photo
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy visits Grand Rapids in 1960.Among the largest draws in recent history were the Kennedys -- John and Robert -- and Richard Nixon.

An estimated 15,000 jammed Campau Square on Oct. 14, 1960, to hear an address by presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.

"Campau Square was a sea of humanity, crowds hung precariously from windows and parapets of surrounding business buildings," The Press reported at the time. "More Kennedy banners came out as the senator reached the platform."

As he boarded his train to leave town, Kennedy quipped: "Grand Rapids is supposed to be a Republican town. Either the people here are very hospitable or there are a few Democratic votes here."

Press File Photo
Richard Nixon, vice president at the time, speaks to a crowd in Campau Square in 1960.
Not to be outdone, Richard Nixon's Republican supporters claimed 72,000 turned out to greet him two weeks after Kennedy's visit. "That seems a bit high," former city historian Gordon Olson said Tuesday, but added: "It's possible there were that many people in the downtown area. Certainly, this was Republican country."

At least part of the crowd came not to cheer Nixon, but to jeer him. He was met by several hecklers who cursed him and threw eggs and tomatoes.

Robert Kennedy received a warm reception when he spoke in Campau Square on April 11, 1968. He nearly was pulled from his car several times, and a few people were injured by the surging crowd, prompting one party official to remark: "I never saw such hysteria."

Press File Photo
Ronald Reagan addresses the crowd in Grand Rapids in 1980. He returned in 1984 during his campaign for a second term.
Ronald Reagan came at least twice: once to dedicate the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and again on Sept. 20, 1984 while campaigning for a second term.

Every president since then has made a point to visit Grand Rapids, including the current President Bush, who delivered a commencement address at Calvin College in May 2005 and a speech about the Iraq War in East Grand Rapids in April 2007.

But probably no president drew more well-wishers than Gerald Ford, when he came home for his funeral in January 2007. Thousands stood in line all night to file past his coffin in the Ford Museum, and thousands more lined the route when a motorcade carried his body to its final resting place on the museum lawn.


I was born in Grand Rapids and we use to go there to see my Doctor a pediatrician named DR Mikey, this was in the late 50s and early 60s so I can imagine my parents went to the Kennedy and Nixon events, I find it fascinating to read history that involved my own family. My grandfather moved back to Michigan after spending his working years in California and Arizona, he went west in 1850 for the California Gold Rush, and moved to Arizona after the Civil War and started a twon called Safford and a stage coach stop named Baileys Wells, it remained on the map of Arizona until 1927. So you all will have to just deal with my history trips thanks

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