In honor of President’s Day this week, I searched out information on presidential visits to Cape Girardeau throughout the years, and was surprised to see how many sitting Presidents (3!) have made stops in our river city.
President William Howard Taft was the first sitting President to visit Cape Girardeau, and he arrived via steamboat on the riverfront on October 26, 1909. The President visited along with Vice President James S. Sherman, 177 members of Congress, governors and many other dignitaries who were traveling down the Mississippi to publicize the effort to develop the river’s shipping channel. Over 25,000 people gathered to hear President Taft speak on the steps of the then-new Academic Hall. President Taft’s visit is memorialized on our floodwall in a panel of the Mississippi River Tales Mural.
(Even though he didn’t make an official visit, I discovered that President Theodore Roosevelt passed Cape Girardeau at 3 in the morning on a river trip to Cairo, Illinois, a few years before Taft made his grand entrance. Apparently a number of Cape Girardeau locals weren’t happy that he floated right by, which in part spurred Taft’s visit in 1909 to be such an elaborate affair.)
President Ronald Reagan flew into Cape Girardeau on Air Force One on September 14th, 1988. He spoke at a Republican Rally held at the Show Me Center, and remarked that: “What more can we say than that the parents of a child born today can look forward to the 21st century with hope and optimism that their child will know the brightest future the world has ever seen.”
Cape Girardeau’s next Presidential visit came when President Bill Clinton made a stop during a two-day bus tour of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee during his campaign run on August 31st, 1996. President Clinton spoke to a crowd of thousands at Capaha Park about what his second term agenda would comprise.
Though not sitting presidents at the time of their stay, Cape Girardeau has been visited by many who have played a part in the presidency down the line. Richard Nixon visited Cape Girardeau prior to his presidency in 1952, and Senator Robert Kennedy also made a stop here during his presidential campaign in 1968. George H. W. Bush was here while he served as Vice President and Sarah Palin spoke at the Show Me Center in 2008 while campaigning. President Obama added Cape Girardeau to his campaign travels in 2008 with a stop at a local factory for a town hall meeting.
Who knew….you can walk in the footsteps of three sitting presidents and several presidential hopefuls in Cape Girardeau, Missouri!
I used a variety of sources for this blog post, including online resources from the Southeast Missourian, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.