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How long since a sitting U.S. president visited KU? Possibly 101 years (and counting)
President Obama is not coming to KU this week, we now know. That means the span of time since the university was last visited by a sitting U.S. president will continue to expand. And, based on research I've been rounding up this week, that stretch may be more than a century long.
Earlier this week, when we thought Obama would be on his way, I asked for the help of some helpful folks at KU to try to determine when was the last time a sitting U.S. president came to campus. And even though the visit's not happening now, I thought their work would be worth sharing.
Two people at KU were kind enough to share some digging they'd done into this topic: Mike Reid, director of public affairs for the KU Memorial Unions and the person who runs the KUHistory.com project; and Becky Schulte, the university archivist. And based on their work, it looks like the last time a sitting U.S. president was on campus was Sept. 24, 1911, when William Howard Taft stopped by.
(As you may have noted in this story, as of earlier this week, the most recent mention of such a visit that Reid had found was from 1879, when Rutherford B. Hayes apparently visited a relatively new building called University Hall. That building was later named Fraser Hall, and was razed in 1965 to make way for the "new" Fraser Hall that stands in about the same spot today.)
Anyway, Reid credits Watkins Community Museum Curator Brittany Keegan with digging up evidence of Taft's 1911 visit this week. He also shared the image below from the Sept. 25, 1911, Lawrence Daily Journal reporting on his stop in Lawrence. It was, the headline reported, "ONE GRAND SUCCESS." Taft stopped in Lawrence for an hour during a long train journey across the country and addressed a crowd of students and others at KU.
Reid also found evidence of one other presidential visit at KU. In the KU history book "Across the Years on Mount Oread," he found mention of a stop by Ulysses S. Grant in April 1873. He also appeared at Old Fraser Hall, which at that time was known as just "the New Building."
Schulte also passed along a clipping that said Woodrow Wilson visited campus on a campaign trip in 1912, just before he became president. A few other future presidents also visited, including John F. Kennedy in 1957. And several former presidents — Ford, Carter, Clinton and George H.W. Bush among them — have appeared.
Reid summed up his findings on presidential visits at KUHistory.com here.
He also passed on one piece of inconclusive evidence to me. It's from the 1955 edition of the Jayhawker Yearbook, and it shows a KU band director placing a marching band hat on the head of President Dwight Eisenhower. The caption doesn't say where this happened, so it may or may not mean Eisenhower actually came to campus. But I still had to share the photo with you because, well, just look at it.
So there's your history lesson for today. We'll see how long KU's president-less streak stretches on.
Every time I get a KU news tip from one of you, my smile is as wide as Eisenhower's is in that photo. So go ahead and send one to firstname.lastname@example.org.
KU provost's office spokesman Gavin Young has chimed in with an answer to the Eisenhower mystery, which he found through a bit of Googling. The photo is from the 1954 dedication of the Eisenhower Memorial Museum in Abilene, according to this clip from a fine local newspaper.