Hail to the Chief
Washington, D.C., January 2009 – For more than two centuries, members of Historic Hotels of America have been witness to democracy in action, from hosting political conventions and campaigning candidates to sitting presidents. As we gear up for the 2008 election, Historic Hotels of America shares some memorable presidential anecdotes.
For more than 20 additional presidential tales from our archives, visit: http://www.historichotels.org/presidential_tales
First in the Nation
Every four years, the tiny town of Dixville Notch, N.H., takes center stage. The town’s entire contingent of registered voters (17 for 2008) gathers at midnight in the Ballot Room of The Balsams Grand Hotel to cast the first ballots in the presidential primary and general election. Since 1960, the residents of Dixville Notch have been distinguished as the “first in the nation.” The top vote getters for the 2008 primary were John McCain with four votes on the Republican side and Barack Obama winning with seven votes for the Democrats.
Too Much Taft?
President William Howard Taft stopped at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, Colo., in September 1909 while on his way to officiate the opening of the Gunnison-Uncompahgre Tunnel. The president had a breakfast of mountain trout and wild raspberries, and then made an informal speech from the Roosevelt Balcony to a crowd of seven hundred people who enjoyed “the famous Taft smile.” After breakfast, Taft was offered exclusive use of the hotel’s pool, but declined the opportunity to take a dip. “But that’s probably just as well,” he added regretfully. “I’ve found it’s much better for a fat man like myself not to bathe in public.”
Although a man of immense proportions, Taft was well-traveled. He visited the Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif., in 1909 and attended a special banquet. Owner Frank Miller commissioned a special chair to accommodate the president’s considerable girth – a whopping 335 pounds. The chair remains on display today at the Mission Inn.
Service to Country
While on the campaign trail in 1992, George H.W. Bush made a stop at The Nittany Lion Inn in State College, Pa. During a question and answer session, one of the invited guests praised Bush’s bravery and valor in combat, mentioning that he too had been a fighter pilot and had also been shot down during WWII. After acknowledging the gentleman’s service to his country, the future president quickly deadpanned that what they really had in common was ‘not being very good pilots.’
In 1908, the Democratic National Convention was held in Denver and The Brown Palace Hotel served as convention headquarters. William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic nominee. Signatures from many of the delegates can be found in the hotel\'s guest registers. Hotels were crowded and desk clerks were working 18 hours a day to accommodate the crowds which nearly doubled the population of the city at the time. Newspapers reported that trains were arriving "at any old time without regard to the schedule." When the Democratic National Convention returns to Denver in 2008, delegates will be treated to modern accommodations but will still get a taste of how things were 100 years ago at The Brown Palace.
Tom Taggart, longtime owner of the French Lick Springs Resort Casino in French Lick, Ind., was a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1900-1916 and served briefly as a U.S. Senator. In 1925, Taggart added the final wing to the hotel. Called the Convention Hall, it became an unofficial Democratic Party headquarters. It was here in 1931 that Franklin Roosevelt attended a Democratic governor’s conference and rounded up support for his party’s presidential nomination. FDR’s official nomination as the Democratic candidate for president came one year later at the National Convention which was held in Chicago.
Chicago was the site of the Republican National Convention in 1952. Among the delegates staying at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel was Richard M. Nixon. When Nixon unexpectedly received his party’s nomination for vice president, he was immediately upgraded from his room to more luxurious suite accommodations. During the same presidential campaign, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts also stayed at The Knickerbocker under the assumed name of Dave Powers. Powers was actually John F. Kennedy who later became the 35th President of the United States.
President and native Pennsylvanian James Buchanan made the Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford Springs, Pa., the “summer White House” during his tenure in office. In 1858, Buchanan received the first trans-Atlantic cable from Great Britain’s Queen Victoria in the hotel lobby. Recently refurbished, the resort plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this historic event in August 2008.
The Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue in Philadelphia has graced the corner of Broad and Walnut Streets for 100 years. Formerly known as the Bellevue-Stratford, the hotel hosted three national political conventions in June and July 1948 – for the Republican, Democratic and short-lived Progressive party. To salute the GOP, the hotel placed a large, inflated rubber elephant atop the Broad Street entrance. When the Democrats arrived, a papier-mâché donkey was placed over the elephant. When the Progressive Party convened a short time later, two New York radio correspondents tried to install a large, blown up figure of a squirrel, the message being that the party’s members were obviously nuts. A Bellevue security guard is said to have caught them in the act and the squirrel never made a public appearance.
Some Like it Hot
During the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe made several visits to the Hotel San Carlos in Phoenix. She always requested the room nearest the pool which offered direct access to the sundeck. When he visited Phoenix, President Kennedy stayed at a nearby hotel but made regular visits to Monroe at the San Carlos. Her preferred accommodations are now known as the Marilyn Monroe Suite.
Remember the Maine
President William McKinley was invited to visit the exclusive Jekyll Island Club in Jekyll Island, Ga., by his Secretary of the Interior Cornelius Bliss, who was a member of the club. McKinley intended to visit in late February 1898 but his plans were altered when news came on February 15 that the battleship Maine had been sunk. The U.S. declared war on Spain and McKinley was forced to delay his visit until March of 1899.
Reagan’s Romantic Inspiration
Throughout Ronald Reagan’s adult life (as an actor, governor and president), he was a frequent visitor to the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif., According to Reagan, it was during a visit to The Del that the future president decided to make Nancy Davis his wife. At that time, Reagan was not only an actor, he was a frequent guest speaker, and the future Mrs. Reagan was on hand during a speech Reagan gave at The Del for the Junior League Convention. Reagan later said that it was that trip to The Del that inspired him to eventually ask Nancy to marry him.
Carter and Katrina
Former President Carter and his wife Rosalynn were recent guests at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. While in the city, they marked an important milestone, the completion of the 1000th house built by the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. During this visit, Carter committed to the building of an additional 1000 houses as part of the Jimmy Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity.
Historic Hotels of America is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and licensed by the Preferred Hotel Group. It has identified more than 200 hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance. To be selected for this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized as having historic significance. Rooms at any of the member hotels can be reserved by calling 800-678-8946 or at www.historichotels.org. Reservations made through Historic Hotels of America support the National Trust, which provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to help people save the places that matter to them. Historic Hotels of America is aligned with Historic Hotels of Europe, a federation of 16 European hotel associations in 16 countries, and with Historic Hotels of Mexico, an association of hotels and restaurants located in buildings of historical significance including haciendas, palaces, monasteries, convents, fortresses, country estates and more.