This being the political season, I know many readers of Zenith City have been wondering: Have any presidents ever visited the West End? Or maybe not too many readers have wondered that.
Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that I know of two greatly admired presidents who found themselves in the West End of Duluth in my lifetime (I can’t speak for earlier lifetimes): Democrat Harry S. Truman and Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Yes, HST and Ike…in Duluth’s West End neighborhood.
Taking them chronologically, we’ll start with Truman. When he ran for election in 1948 (recall that as vice president he had assumed the presidency in 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office), he toured the country by train, making what were called “whistle stops” in places where he hoped to pick up votes.
Often he’d speak on the back of the train, but when he came here he got off the train and was driven down Superior Street in an open convertible, waving at the multitudes lining Duluth’s main street to catch a glimpse of the president.
Not exactly the West End, right?
Well, stay tuned. Truman’s train had pulled into one of the Superior depots, where he got off and was transported to Duluth by car. I was only nine years old so I don’t recall if he spoke in Superior before crossing the Arrowhead Bridge to Duluth.
In traveling between Superior and Duluth the president and his entourage went along Garfield Avenue to where it meets the base of Piedmont Avenue before turning eastward on Superior Street and heading downtown. That intersection is the eastern edge of the West End. So, technically, the president was in the West End, if only for a moment.
I didn’t see the motorcade there, but a neighbor friend walked down to the intersection to catch a glimpse of Truman. When the president’s car turned onto Superior Street, my friend’s dog, an inveterate car chaser in those pre-leash law days, chased Truman’s car, nipping at the wheels. (The dog was Republican. Trust me on that.)
The city was in such a frenzy over the presidential visit that public school pupils were dismissed early—the visit occurred mid-afternoon—so they could see the president.
I was standing in front of the Hayes Block on First Avenue East and Superior Street with my mother when Truman was slowly driven eastward along the thoroughfare. My memory has him seated atop the back seat where the convertible top folds down, waving and smiling.
Across the street a group of teenage boys, gathered on the roof of a one-story building, where shouting “phooey on Dewey, phooey on Dewey.” It was a reference to Truman’s Republican opponent, Thomas E. Dewey, whom everyone thought would defeat Truman, but didn’t.
What about Ike? What was the 1952 Republican presidential candidate and retired World War II supreme commander of allied forces in Europe doing in the humble West End of Duluth? Well, just passing through it.
Eisenhower’s campaign visit to Duluth was on a chilly, cloudy fall Saturday. I learned later that he made a big splash downtown, giving an outdoor speech in Duluth’s Civic Center where a stage had been set up for him in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse. (Click here to see a photo of Eisenhower in Duluth.)
Somehow I’d found out (probably in the newspaper) that his motorcade, after the downtown event, would take him just a block west of my home—routed north on 24th Avenue West en route to the airport. By 1952 trains had given way to planes.
Sleeping in on that non-school weekend day, I realized after getting up that Eisenhower would be going up 24th in just a few minutes. I jumped on my bicycle and pedaled a block across the Fifth Street alley to the avenue, where a small group of neighbors had gathered waiting for the famed candidate. Eisenhower was seeking his first term and facing Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson.
It wasn’t long before they showed up, Eisenhower seated in the back seat of a black luxury sedan, probably a Cadillac, headed up the avenue. A neighbor woman, not shy, shouted, “Hi-ya, Ike” just as Eisenhower passed us, and he quickly glanced our way and waved. It was a five-second brush with history.
I’ve seen other presidents pass through Duluth—John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush—but I don’t think they made it to the West End. That’s their misfortune.
Former Duluth News Tribune columnist and journalist Jim Heffernan continues his musings while in retirement on his blog (www.jimheffernan.org) and as a monthly columnist with Duluth~Superior Magazine. A collection of Heffernan’s classic newspaper columns in his book, Cooler Near the Lake, depicts his wry humor, interesting life perspectives and as a chronicler of Duluth history. Click here to access Jim’s archived stories.