Opinion

OPINION | Curtis Varnell: Presidents who have stopped in Arkansas mostly come to garner votes, political favor and funding

In October 1961, John F. Kennedy dedicated the Old Fort National Historic Site. He returned later and spoke at the dedication of Greer Ferry Dam and at the Arkansas State Fair shortly before his assassination in 1963.

(Courtesy photo/Logan County Historical Society)
In October 1961, John F. Kennedy dedicated the Old Fort National Historic Site. He returned later and spoke at the dedication of Greer Ferry Dam and at the Arkansas State Fair shortly before his assassination in 1963. (Courtesy photo/Logan County Historical Society)

Sirens screamed and lights flashed as the cavalcade of huge cars rushed past the intersection where we were standing. The crowd waved, blew kisses and clapped as the President of the United States flew by at an extreme rate of speed.

The date was May 6, 2000, and President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary were in rapid transit to St. Benedict Church in Subiaco for the wedding of a close friend. Recalling those events to my inquisitive sons, they wanted to know if other presidents had ever visited the state. The answer was yes, several of them had and some more than once.

The first President to visit the state was Martin Van Buren, who made an unmemorable stop in Chicot County as he briefly stepped off a steamboat for a few minutes. More significant visits occurred as railroads developed and various presidents conducted "whistle stop" campaigns around the depots where they stopped.

One of the first to campaign in this manner was Benjamin Harrison in 1891 and his footsteps were followed by President Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

FDR made several stops in Arkansas during the 1936 State Centennial and followed that up in 1938 with a stop in Booneville where, accompanied by Hattie Caraway and Joe T. Robinson, he pledged support for the development of Mount Magazine.

Teddy Roosevelt spoke at the opening of the 5th Annual Arkansas State Fair in 1910, which was held at that time at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. He delivered one of the most colorful speeches on the track in front of hundreds of people dressed in colorful clothing patterned to form a human American Flag.

Roosevelt seemed to enjoy Arkansas and made several trips to the state with stops in Ozark, Clarksville, Russellville, Carlisle, Conway, Hot Springs and other small towns not normally visited by presidents.

John F. Kennedy visited Arkansas several times.

On Oct. 29, 1961, a crowd of 15,000 gathered with Governor Faubus, J. W. Fulbright and John McClellan as Kennedy dedicated the Old Fort National Historic Site and stressed the importance of Fort Chaffee to our nation's defense. He returned to the state shortly before his assassination in 1963 and spoke at the dedication of Greer Ferry Dam and at the Arkansas State Fair.

In 1835 Jefferson Davis, a less celebrated president and one that represented the Confederate States, spent an extensive time in Arkansas as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army constructing the old military road from Fort Gipson to Little Rock. Part of that road is still named the Jefferson Davis Memorial highway.

President Richard Nixon visit was one of the most memorable presidents to visit when he attended the "Game of the Century" between unbeaten Arkansas and Texas on Dec. 6, 1969. He sat in the stands and watched as Texas defeated Arkansas 15-14 in a heart-breaker for Razorback fans. Afterward, Nixon presented Texas with a plaque that named them, without authority other than presidential decree, the number one team in the 100th year of college football.

Ronald Reagan held political rallies in the state during each of his campaigns.

George Bush, George W., Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton were all on stage at one time on Nov. 18, 2014 during the dedication of the Clinton Presidential center in Little Rock. It was Jimmy Carters second visit -- in 1983 he visited Newport and Weiner to duck hunt.

Presidents have come and gone, most stopping for only a few moments to garner votes, political favor and funding.

After the elections, we return to our status as fly-over states as Air Force one whizzes past on trips to or from New York, Washington, and California. With elections coming up next year, expect a flood of candidates from either party passing through for the same reasons.

  photo  Teddy Roosevelt spoke at the opening of the 5th Annual Arkansas State Fair in 1910, which was held at that time at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. He delivered one of the most colorful speeches on the track in front of hundreds of people dressed in colorful clothing patterned to form a human American Flag. (Courtesy photo/Logan County Historical Society)
 
 
  photo  Roosevelt seemed to enjoy Arkansas and made several trips to the state with stops in Ozark, Clarksville, Russellville, Carlisle, Conway, Hot Springs and other small towns not normally visited by presidents. Above is his visit to Fort Smith. (Courtesy photo/Logan County Historical Society)
 
 
  photo  President Richard Nixon visit was one of the most memorable presidents to visit when he attended the "Game of the Century" between unbeaten Arkansas and Texas on Dec. 6, 1969, a heart-breaking game for Razorback fans. (Courtesy photo/Logan County Historical Society)
 
 

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