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Former Tamaqua writer recalled Hayes' brief stop

Published May 19. 2012 09:01AM

As the 19th president from 1877-1881, Rutherford B. Hayes is known for overseeing the end of Reconstruction and guiding the nation into the Second Industrial Revolution. He became the Republican candidate in 1876 and his campaign against Samuel Tilden was a bitter and corrupt one.

No one was even certain who won that hotly disputed election in 1977 until, just days before the inauguration, Hayes and his party won a challenge in the Compromise of 1877 and was awarded the victory.

The Democrats never forgave Hayes and his four years in office were marked by much political division, not unlike the partisan gridlock we are seeing today between the congress and the president.

On May 4, 1878, during the middle of his presidency, Hayes took a special express train to the coal regions. Morgan Gable, destined to become the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch, was working at the time as a young reporter for the Tamaqua Courier.

"I remember the occasion well because up to that time he was the only president I had ever seen," Gable said in a letter to the Courier in 1912 concerning Hayes' presidential visit to the region 34 years earlier.

During that trip to coal country in May of 1878, Gable recalled Hayes travelling to Delano to visit the Lehigh Valley Railroad shops, a visible example of the Second Industrial Revolution. In today's terms, it would be similar to Barack Obama making a campaign stop at a GM or a green energy plant.

On his return to Philadelphia, Hayes made the brief stop in Tamaqua. Gable credited Wallace Guss, a "public spirited man" from the First National Bank, for arranging the town's greeting ceremony to honor the president.

Gable recalled that the old Pennsylvania & Reading station had disappeared some years before to make way for the YMCA and new station but that Hayes' special train stopped at the old depot site, south of broad Street.

As the train entered the station, Tamaqua's P.C. Band heralded the president with "Hail to the Chief." Since the stop was only to be for a few minutes, Gable recalls Robert Patterson, the gruff Civil War general from Philadelphia, who was accompanying Hayes on the trip, stepped forward to silence the music.

"If this damned band will stop its noise I will introduce to you the president of the United States," the 86-year-old Patterson groused to the crowd.

"Gen. Patterson was an old man and a rock-ribbed Democrat, a fact which lent peculiar zest to his presence touring with a Republican president," Gable explained. "As a silencer of brass bands he had no superiors and having fought with distinction in the Civil and Mexican wars, he knew no fear."

Gable recalls that Hayes spoke briefly, shook the hands of some who had gotten within reach, and then "passed out of the life of Tamaqua."

Three years later, when Hayes was departing the White House, Gable had another vivid memory of President Hayes. At the time, Gable was serving with a guard troop from Tamaqua.

Just before boarding the train which would return Hayes to public life, a two-horse carriage dashed up.

"A short, heavily built, soldierly man leaped out of the carriage and up the steps of the Hayes' car," Gable remembered. "He had an immense bouquet of flowers which he presented with due gallantry to Mrs. Hayes. The soldier was Gen. Phil Sheridan."

Gable was then surprised when Webb Hayes, the president's son, plucked a flower or two and handed them to him. For the first time in his life, he felt he was "at the seats of the mighty."

He carefully preserved the flower, which he said currently serves as a reminder of what, to him, "was a great event" in his lifetime.

During the course of his extensive newspaper career, Gable would have other opportunities to see, shake hands with, and vote for the succession of presidents that followed Hayes.

Hayes, meanwhile, vowed not to run for re-election and left office in 1888. In his latter years, he grew concerned about the course of the nation, arguing that the power and influence were in the hands of a few, not unlike the constant castigation by Democrats of the upper "one-percent" class of wage earners in society.

One group which Hayes was able to appeal to were the prohibitionists. Hayes and his wife, Lucy, were known for their policy of keeping an alcohol-free White House, which led to her gaining the nickname "Lemonade Lucy."

The first reception at the Hayes' White House did include alcohol but Hayes became frustrated with the drunken behavior at receptions hosted by ambassadors around Washington, and he soon adopted his wife's temperance stance.

Alcohol was not served again in the Hayes White House. His temperance policy did have some political benefits since it strengthened support among Protestant ministers and convinced prohibitionists to vote Republican.

Secretary of State William Evarts once quipped that at the White House dinners, "water flowed like wine."

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