Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents Day edition

There has never been a U.S. president from Rhode Island and, while you should never say never, let’s face it, the chances of it happening are slimmer than the odds that people will get tired of these computer thingamabobs and go back to newspapers.

Rhode Island’s irrelevance is such that many presidents don’t even bother to stop by for a wiener and a coffee milk while they’re campaigning. George W. Bush only managed one trip, late in his term, when he flew to the Naval War College in Newport and spoke for 45 minutes. Of course, W had an aversion to Blue States, but Rhode Island’s odd history with presidents goes all the way back to the beginning. In 1789, George Washington, upset that the colony still hadn’t agreed to statehood, made a horseback journey through all of the territories comprising the new union while pointedly omitting Rhode Island from the tour. One year later, he came back for the chowder after Rhode Island became the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution.

Abe Lincoln, who is trendier than Brangelina all of a sudden after President Barack Obama was sworn in with his Bible and created a Cabinet (not the Rhode Island ice-cream shake kind) based on his “Team of Rivals” concept, visited Little Rhody thrice. The first time, in 1848, he did nothing more than change trains in Providence. But in 1860 Lincoln made two visits, speaking about slavery in February at the old train station in what is now Kennedy Plaza and again in March in Woonsocket. This year, in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth, R.I. Lincoln scholar Frank J. Williams created the Web site “Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial 2009-RI,” which, among other details, chronicles Honest Abe’s Rhody adventures.

George H. W. Bush famously held his R.I. fund-raising dinner at The Rhode Island Shore Dining Hall at Rocky Point Park. The late, lamented amusement park was also the site of the first presidential phone call. Rutherford B. Hayes, enjoying a summer clambake at Rocky Point, got up from a plate of steamers to take the call from Alexander Graham Bell, who was staying in Providence. His famous first words? “Please speak a little more slowly.”

What is your favorite story involving Rhode Island and a U.S. president?


Julie K. said...

I was on my way home from work in Foxboro several years ago, when all of a sudden, a bunch of police cruisers appeared in front of me and brought all lanes of southbound traffic to a half. Why? Clinton's motorcade was on its way back to the airport. At least I didn't actually have a plane to catch!

Doug Norris said...

The Clinton footprint was large. He and I share the same birthday. In the mid-90s, we also shared the same birthday/vacation week on Martha's Vineyard. If you think the Vineyard is crowded during a typical August, picture the Tisbury Fair, Katama or Menemsha with an onslaught of Clintonian entourage, Secret Service and presidential paparazzi on top of the normal crush of tourists...