2012-01-13 / Opinions & Editorial

When a President came calling

BY MARK C. BODANZA


President Theodore Roosevelt addresses a crowd at Carter Park in Leominster on September 2, 1902. PHOTO LEOMINSTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY President Theodore Roosevelt addresses a crowd at Carter Park in Leominster on September 2, 1902. PHOTO LEOMINSTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY The roar of the cannon pierced the air just twenty minutes before noon on Tuesday, September 2, 1902. The field piece, located in Carter Park just south of the old burial ground, let loose another twenty volleys.

The twenty-one gun salute signaled Leominster Townspeople that President Theodore Roosevelt was due shortly. The President was expected to make a brief stop at the Summer Street rail crossing at the south end of Carter Park as a part of his New England tour conducted between August 22nd and September 3rd.

Despite the brevity of the Leominster visit, great preparations were made for Roosevelt. A reviewing stand twenty feet square was constructed and festooned with banners and flowers. Leominster’s factories and businesses gave their employees leave and the workers responded, their numbers adding to a crowd estimated between six and ten thousand by contemporary newspaper accounts.

The President arrived at 12:06, “just 16 minutes behind schedule.” The Chief Executive’s escort was provided by 64 members of Leominster’s Charles H. Stevens’ post of the Grand Army of the Republic. The President’s remarks were in large part directed to the Civil War veterans in attendance who he recognized as heroes and shining examples of good citizenship. The President was introduced by Senator Edward F. Blodgett who, once Roosevelt’s formal speech ended, also introduced the President to the town selectmen, as well as the Leominster’s oldest residents, Porter Piper, Deacon S. S. Crocker and Whiting Gates aged 92, 89 and 87 respectively.

When the President concluded his Leominster stop, his entourage boarded the train bound for western Massachusetts and the final day of his tour. The President, hopeful to end a nation-wide coal strike that was creating economic havoc, may have been eager to return his duties in Washington, but lost to history is a grave accident that marred the end of his tour.

The very next day after his Leominster visit, the President, Governor W. Murray Crane and their party were traveling from Dalton to Lenox by “Tally-ho” (a carriage drawn by four horses.) Before reaching their destination, the Tally-ho was run into diagonally by a speeding trolley car that disregarded secret service officer Craig’s warning to slow. The collision killed Craig, fractured the skull of the Tally-ho’s driver D.J. Pratt and injured the President. The President himself attended to the badly mutilated body of his guard. A short time later Roosevelt made his way to his destination – the Curtis Hotel in Lenox. Word of the accident had reached the crowd just before the President’s arrival, casting a pall over the assembled. The President gave some details of the accident and with great emotion informed the crowd of Agent Craig’s death. He described Craig as, “the man I loved because of his faithfulness and his kindness to my children.” His voice breaking – the President was unable to continue.

The presidential party departed Lenox for Stockbridge where a special train awaited to transport a saddened Roosevelt back to Washington. Whatever memories lingered after the President’s tour of New England during the late summer of 1902 concluded, contemporaries must have long lamented how the last day unfolded. Despite the passage of more than a century, it is worthwhile for us to remember not only the many sacrifices of the veterans Theodore Roosevelt honored during his tour, but the loss of the President’s guard who gave his life protecting the nation’s Chief Executive.

Mark Bodanza is a local historian and writes the monthly “Memory Lane” column for the Champion. He is also the author of “A Game That Forged Rivals” and “1933, Football at the Depth of the Great Depression”. If you have a story idea, or a historical question for Bodanza, please send it to editor@leominsterchamp.com.

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