President Harry Truman stood on the platform at the rear of the train and looked out at 10,000 people in the Union Station yards.
“I’m always glad to come here to St. Joseph,” he told the crowd. “It seems like old times. It feels like I’m running for something in Missouri.”
On that day, Oct. 8, 1952, his time “running” was in the past. He had served seven years and nine months in the White House, and the days of his presidency waned. Perhaps that explained his good spirits as the Missourian campaigned for other Democrats.
One of those Democrats, presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, came to St. Joseph in succeeding days. However, the Republican nominee, Dwight Eisenhower, had made his own whistle-stop appearance at Union Station in September. Those who would “like Ike” won in the November election.
The Truman stop marked that rare occasion when a sitting American president came to St. Joseph. Though the city has hosted others who eventually served in that high office, Presidents’ Day in St. Joseph represents a time of mostly being bypassed by the nation’s chief executives.
True, Abraham Lincoln came to St. Joseph, at least a couple of times. In those cases, in 1859, he merely passed through the city, alighting at the train station, getting a shave at a barbershop in the Edgar House (corner of Main and Francis streets) and moving on to his next stop.
He did not speak publicly while here.
St. Joseph had mixed feelings about his politics leading up to the Civil War. The next year, though, Americans would elect him president.
Another future president came to St. Joseph in May 1868. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant arrived by train and went to the Pacific House, at the corner of Third and Francis streets. He appeared on a balcony above a gathering crowd, not all of whom supported him.
“(I) am tired, dusty and can not address you. I am glad to see you all, however,” the Civil War hero said.
According to the St. Joseph Daily Gazette, the rowdy group below drowned out anything he said after that. Americans elected Grant to the presidency later that year.
Richard Nixon, then vice president, campaigned in St. Joseph in September 1960. He spoke at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, greeted students in Elwood and addressed thousands of people at Civic Center Park.
The next day, the Gazette urged local Democrats to bring pressure on Democrat John F. Kennedy to visit the city: “St. Joseph ... is entitled to a firsthand look at both presidential candidates.”
No such luck, though. Kennedy got elected two months later. Nixon would have to wait until 1968 before Americans chose him for the White House.
Over the years, other vice presidents made their way to St. Joseph. Charles Curtis, the vice president under Herbert Hoover, visited in 1932, just ahead of an electoral defeat that November.
Dick Cheney, second in command under President George W. Bush, spoke to a big crowd at the Civic Arena in September 2004.
“This is a strong, growing economy,” Cheney told the packed building. “The Bush tax cuts are working.”
Several weeks later, his predecessor as vice president, Al Gore, came to St. Joseph to campaign for the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards. Gore’s wife, Tipper, had campaigned here in 1992.
That year, St. Joseph got an endorsement, of sorts, from the Missouri attorney general, Jay Nixon. “I told Kerry he ought to consider a stop in St. Joe,” he advised a newspaper. “There’s an airport there.”
Kerry did not visit, airport or not, and lost Buchanan County by about 2,000 votes.
Joe Biden, vice president under Barack Obama and weighing a presidential candidacy in 2020, campaigned at Missouri Western State University in October 2008. A couple of weeks later, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visited St. Joseph.