August 18, 2019

1932: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Visits Prescott

It was late September, 1932 and in a little more than a month, the United States would be choosing a new President. That man would be Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

At this time he was traveling to Arizona to get a little rest and relaxation at the Greenway Ranch in Williams. Yet his popularity and his position would mix some work with his pleasure. The Arizona Democrats were meeting in Phoenix and FDR was compelled to attend.

From there, on his way to Williams, Roosevelt’s train would stop in Prescott to meet an exceptionally large, well-wishing crowd.

Roosevelt was well familiar with Mrs. Isabella Greenway and her ranch; she had been friends with FDR’s wife Eleanor from childhood and she was a bridesmaid at the future first couple’s wedding.

The paper described Isabella as “a dynamic, fascinating,” 42 year-old, who delivered the seconding speech for Roosevelt’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that year. “Other delegates gallantly mentioned her as a possibility for the vice-presidential nomination,” the paper reported.

Greenway’s second husband, John C. Greenway, was with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders where he was promoted to Captain for his gallantry. He also fought during World War I, was highly decorated, and was promoted to General. A mining millionaire turned rancher, he died 7 years after his return from France and now his widow was considered “Arizona’s Cattle Queen.”

While at the 160,000 acre Greenway Ranch, a special rodeo was planned for FDR in which “all of Arizona (was) invited,” the paper said.

But first, Roosevelt would stop at the Prescott Depot on the way. At 8:30 pm, a crowd of 3000 gathered and strained to see the presumed next President of the United States. “The crowd was in excellent spirits,” the paper related. “As the train was coming to a halt, some fellow bawled out in a fog horn voice, just as a joke, ‘Hooray for Hoover.’ Everybody giggled, it sounded so obviously misplaced." 

"Right after Gov. Roosevelt came out on the back platform, another fellow yelled at the others congregated on the platform: ‘Sit down so we can see the governor!’”

Roosevelt’s rail entourage was traveling in 8 special coach cars which included dozens of newspaper men. When the train arrived, these members of the press handed Prescott’s telegraph operator over 2000 words to transmit. This did not include newspapers in New York and Chicago which employed their own direct telegraph lines. It took the Prescott operator “45 minutes to clear the entire file.”

“About 50 persons had climbed up on the balcony of the station, thinking they would get an excellent view, but they were absolutely out of luck,” the paper reported. One person making up the crowd was Mrs. Greenway herself. She had extended business in Phoenix and later flew into the “Earnest A. Love Municipal Landing Field.” While in town she was hosted by Mr. & Mrs. Lester Ruffner. She would board FDR’s train and make the remainder of the journey with him.

The early life of child actress Virginia Lee Corbin (1910-1941) who was born in Prescott, AZ.

When FDR appeared at the back of the train, he stated that he would not make a political speech since it was Sunday. However, he did take the opportunity to say: “The object of this trip is not so much to make speeches, but to observe conditions in every section of the country. With the restoration of prosperity, I do not want to see it confined to just one section, but extended to all the United States, not only to industry, but to all classes to cattle raising, agriculture and mining. On this trip I am doing a good deal more listening than I am making speeches. It is fine to see you all here. I have had a wonderful reception in this state.”

He then went on to tell a couple of stories about his trip out west. He recalled an incident “in a little town near the Colorado-Wyoming border. It was 3 o'clock in the morning and quite a crowd had been gathered and was waiting for our train,” he said. “They set up a (coordinated) shout: ‘Come on out, Governor!’ Jimmy, that's my boy…told them I was asleep. But that didn't satisfy them. Because they yelled out again: ‘Come on out, Governor, or we’ll vote for Hoover.’ And of course I couldn't let them do that.

“At another place,” the Governor continued, “Jimmy went out on the back platform and told them I was asleep, but among the crowd there was an old woman who insisted on seeing me because she had come 200 miles just for that purpose. But Jimmy wouldn't wake up his old man even for her; so she said, ‘Well, if you won’t, I'll go right in myself and pull him out of bed.’” Both stories brought laughter from the crowd.

One “young buck hollered, ‘Turn around this way, Jimmy, so the ladies can see you.’ Somebody else (asked) Jimmy, ‘Is it dry in New York?’ (referring to prohibition.) To which he responded: ‘About as dry is the Columbia River!’ and there was a big laugh.”

Then “as an afterthought,” Roosevelt retold a story he delivered in Phoenix: “He remembered United States Sen. Carl Hayden of the party who introduced the Governor. ‘You know several years ago when I was in the Navy department, Carl Hayden came out there and insisted on getting a Navy Yard for the Gila River!’” It received as big a laugh in Prescott as it did in Phoenix.

This was his first visit to Prescott and “he regretted the fact that darkness had settled before he had arrived.”

“Hundreds of those gathered did not get to see Gov. Roosevelt very well until the train pulled out,” the paper said, “because they were in an unfavorable position and the crowd was too dense to do anything about it.” Despite this, everyone seemed happy to have seen the next President of the United States.

The paper stated that it was rare for a presidential candidate to visit Prescott, but since then two candidates actually chose Prescott to make their formal announcement of running for the highest office: Barry Goldwater, and the late John McCain. 

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Arizona Daily Star, 9/17/1932; Pg. 7, Cols. 1-5.

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