Marquette’s First Presidential Visit – 100 Years Ago
Tomorrow, Marquette will be honored by the visit of President Barack Obama to Northern Michigan University. In my opinion, this presidential visit is the most significant of the three visits received by Marquette of sitting presidents. Both Taft and George W. Bush came to Marquette to campaign, but President Obama is coming because he believes the Marquette community and NMU particularly have something special to offer.
Modern transportation allowed both President Bush and tomorrow President Obama to fly into Marquette County and leave in a matter of hours, but President Taft’s visit in 1911 was a bit longer since he at least stayed overnight.
President William Howard Taft arrived in Marquette on September 20, 1911. A gigantic parade was arranged in his honor and the parade watchers numbered approximately ten thousand people (the equivalent of the whole city’s population although doubtless many people came from Negaunee, Ishpeming, and surrounding areas to see Taft.) Several photos were taken of the event that are available at Superior View and the Marquette County Regional Center.
President Taft was accompanied by his secretary, his personal physician, a valet, two stenogrpahers, three newsmen, a group of Secret Service men, and his military aide, Major Archie W. Butt. The party arrived on a private train. The President would be the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Alton T. Roberts while in Marquette. Mrs. Roberts was Abbie Longyear, the daughter of John and Mary Longyear.
Despite the pomp and circumstance the event created in Marquette, it also had a sad side. Major Butt, the second day of the visit, decided to bathe in Lake Superior. He only remained in the water a second once he realized how cold it was. However, the experience was enough for him to come down with a severe cold that he could not shake even after he returned to Washington D.C. His doctor suggested he go abroad for his health, so he traveled to Europe for a few months. On the way home, he booked passage on the ill-fated Titanic which hit an iceberg and sunk on April 14, 1912.
While Taft was the first president in office to visit Marquette, Marquette has also been visited by presidents after they were in office including Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford, and Al Gore visited Marquette both when he was running for and when he was vice-president in 1992 and 1994.
Finally, let me wish President Obama and all his staff a wonderful and productive visit to the Queen City of the North. We are honored by the visit which doubtless will be written about a century from now.