This article about President Taft’s visit to Salem in 1911 was originally published in the Statesman Journal in August 2016.  It is reproduced here with citations and additional information for reference purposes.

By Kylie Pine

After much research into conflicting accounts it was determined this photo is of President Taft (in top hat) on a presidential visit to Salem on October 12, 1911, being serenaded with America by Salem-area school children on Court Street. WHC 0086.003.0012.013,

After much research into conflicting accounts it was determined this photo is of President Taft (in top hat) on a presidential visit to Salem on October 12, 1911, being serenaded with America by Salem-area school children on Court Street. WHC 0086.003.0012.013,

One of my favorite artifacts from this summer’s special exhibit at the Willamette Heritage Center is a pillowcase. On either side of the worn cotton case, hemmed in with a faded baby blue ruffle are printed the faces of the candidates for the 1908 Presidential Election: Republican William Howard Taft and the perpetual candidate, Democrat William Jennings Bryan. In addition to being an interesting piece of political history (who wouldn’t want to display their political loyalties through interior design?), the research into this artifact took me back in time to President Taft’s multiple visits to Salem.

When dealing with large collections of historical materials it is not unusual to sometimes come across cataloging errors or discrepancies in the stories associated with some artifacts.  This photograph of President Taft’s visit to Salem may just be the most contentiously labelled photograph in our collections.  That the presidential visit was a big deal for turn of the century Salemites is evident, we have at least 6 different copies of this image to prove it.  As I started to look at each of these copies, all showing the exact same moment in time, I was shocked at the variety of descriptions and dates associated with the images.  The year, location, even the name of the woman standing in the carriage with President Taft were all different.  So I set out to find some evidence as to what exactly I was looking at.

The confusion is understandable.  President Taft made no fewer than three visits to Salem during his political career (two while serving as President).  Luckily, press coverage in the early 1900s was very thorough.  With perhaps less concern for security than we experience today, exacting itineraries were published well before the intended visits and exactingly detailed accounts littered the headlines afterwards.  These press accounts provide enough details to date this photograph quite precisely.

President Taft’s first visit to Salem came one year after he defeated William Jennings Bryan.  Luckily for my purposes this first visit was very brief, the President never leaving the comfort of his presidential rail car.   The president, adorned in a golf cap (no detail was too small for some reporters), addressed an estimated crowd of 20,000 people that had gathered at the Salem Railroad Depot from the platform of his car.

[1]  This cleared up one mystery, our photograph showing the President in an automobile definitely could not have come from this trip.

President Taft stayed a little longer in Salem on his second presidential visit.  His special train pulled through the early morning fog up onto the tracks that used to run along Trade Street in downtown Salem a 3:30 am on October 12, 1911.  His first official act was to have breakfast at the Marion Hotel, where, amidst the “snowy linen, the glistening silver, and the cut glass, the great pyramid of Oregon fruits almost hiding Taft’s face and broad smile,” he dined on grapefruit maraschino, Oregon homemade preserves, Salmon Trout Meuniere, scrambled eggs with trufles a la croutons, breaded breast of milk fed capons (read fancy fried chicken), Parker House Rolls, toast, coffee and ice water.

Following breakfast, the President was given an automobile tour of Salem which ended up on Court Street, where he was serenaded by a throng of school children singing the song America, before making his way to the front lawn of the Marion County Courthouse, where he would speak to a crowd of 6,000 people.  The description of the singing school children perfectly matches the scene found in our photograph and its wording is just too delicious to paraphrase:

“The hundreds of children yelled themselves hoarse as the president drew up and thousands of little hands waved the national flags.  Mrs. Grace Wheelock was lifted up into the president’s motor car and she got up on the seat beside the driver, Tom Livesley, and a thousand voices burst out singing America.  And there was no stopping them.  They sang all four verses with a band and when Mrs. Wheelock stepped down, the president soon had them in the best of humor, answering questions about Oregon, the flag and the Panama Canal. He gave them several samples of his hearty laugh, and said he hoped they would remember him for something besides the fact that he had given them a holiday.”


[1] “President Taft Welcomed at Salem.” Daily Capital Journal.  4 Oct 1909, page 1.

Chronology of Taft’s Visits to Salem

The majority of information about Taft’s visits to Salem comes from the newspaper accounts. I was able to find three distinct visits — one in 1909, one in 1911 and one in 1920.  The details are exquisite and we decided to reproduce some excerpts from them for you below in chronological order.

1909 Visit

As mentioned above, in the 1909 visit to Salem, President Taft never left his railcar.  However, it was significant.  It was in Salem that President Taft made some strong platform statements about Immigrants, and in particular, the German Immigrant community in the Willamette Valley, as is referenced in Hans P. Vought’s book The Bully Pulpit and the Melting Pot: American Presidents and the Immigrant 1897-1933 (Mercer University Press).  The comments were hotly debated in the local press at the time.

Taft will Stop at Salem.  Oregonian (Portland).  28 July 1909

In reply to a telegram from Governor Benson inviting him to stop at Salem on his western trip, President Taft has replied, by his secretary, Frederick W. Carpenter, stating that if the trip West is made careful consideration will be given to the invitation to stop at Salem.

“President Taft in Oregon Today.” Daily Gazette-Times (Corvallis).  2 October 1909, page 1.

President Wm. H. Taft is in Oregon today.  At Portland he is being given a royal reception.  He will remain in the rose City until tomorrow afternoon and then proceed southward.  The Shasta limited will carry him and this train will arrive at Salem 7:43.  Mr. Taft will make a short address from the car platform.  This train reaches Albany at 8:30 and it is expected that the President will show himself there.

President Taft welcomed at Salem.” Capital Journal (Salem) 4 Oct 1909, pg 1

All Salem turns out to greet Taft on visit to State.

Depot grounds are crowded with vast throng anxious to see the president and to give him a loyal welcome to the State Capital – Hundreds regret arriving too lat.

With the shouts of the people ringing in his ears, the Big President of the United States, smiling and waving his arms, with his golf cap in his hand, bowing and saying good-bye and good luck to you passed out into the night Sunday evening as his special train pulled out of the capital of Oregon.

It had been a great day for the President from Morning until night….

“He complimented the German-Americans highly, and then included all the foreign-born citizens and their descendants.  He especially praised the Germans who came to America after the German revolution of 1849, saying they were the best foreign blood that had come to our country after the landing of the Pilgrim fathers…

There are estimated to have been 20,000 people out to welcome the President at Salem and his brief stop here will be long remembered.  As the train left he was handed an immense bunch of yellow chrysanthemums as a remembrance of his brief stop at the capital city of Oregon.

“More German Farmers Wanted in Oregon.” Daily Capital Journal (Salem), October 6, 1909. Pg 2

A newspaper says President Taft got off wrong in his remarks about the German-Americans at Salem.  Just the same, he told the truth about that kind of people being a valuable asset in the development of a state.  Where a German family gets hold of an old run-down Oregon ranch they build it up and make it valuable, productive property.

President Taft gave Salem an advertisement that will be worth thousands of dollars every month for years to come.  It will help bring thousands of German families to Oregon and do more to help build up the waste places than anything he could have done.

The prejudice against foreign-born citizens of the right sort is dying out, and Oregon could assimilate fifty thousand a year without detriment to the agricultural interests of the state.

The census will show at least fifty thousand people in Oregon of the German-speaking nations.

They all come from countries where agriculture, dairying and fruit culture are the principal productive industries.  They are people among whom family life is strong, where industry is honorable and bill paying and money saving are practiced.  President Taft honored an element of our citizenship that is worthy of any man’s respect and whose offspring are loyal Americans.  In the time of the civil war hundreds of thousands of German enlisted and fought under the flag against a dismembered union.  The adjutant of the Indian War Veteran’s association for the four northwest Pacific coast states is a German born American citizen who helped make it possible for this country to be occupied by the whites in safety – Otto Kleeman, of Portland, president of the Oregon German societies.  This is said for the information of persons who imagine the Germans are entitled to no credit in the founding of Oregon.

Hofer Informs President.” Oregonian (Portland) 6 Oct 1909 pg 4

Taft’s German Speech at Salem has possible explanation.

President Taft’s mistake in thinking the residents of Salem Germans and his subsequent talk there on the great good being done by the industrious Germans in this country was probably due to the fact that in the Taft party from Portland to Salem was Colonel E. Hofer, president of the German society of Salem.  Colonel Hofer probably said so many things about the society to Mr. Taft that the executive gained an impression there were no other residents in Salem than Germans.

On Saturday, the parade, a special automobile was set aside for the representatives of the Consolidation of the 28 German-speaking societies of Oregon. This arrangement was made at the request of Otto Kleemann, who is president of the organization and who received the desired permission from General Beebe.  In the car were Mr. Kleeman, Gustav Schmoeer, vice president of the consolidation and president of the German Society of Oregon City; Florian Fuchs, secretary of the consolidation, and Colonel Hofer, a trustee of the consolidation.  After the ceremonies in Portland, Colonel Hofer accompanied the presidential train as far south as Salem.

1911 visit

Advertisement for The Toggery that appeared in the Capital Journal newspaper 10 Oct 1911.

Advertisement for The Toggery that appeared in the Capital Journal newspaper 10 Oct 1911.  It shows that businesses were quick to jump on the bandwagon for the Presidential visit.

Taft to Come October 13  Oregonian (Portland) 31 August 1911

Salem, OR Aug 30 – President Taft will devote three hours to Salem on his next Western trip, according to advices received by D. Hiles, secretary to Mr. Taft. He will arrive in Salem at noon October 13 and will leave Salem at 3 o’clock, arriving in Portland at 5:15 PM and leaving Portland at 8 o’clock the next morning.
Representative Hawley has requested Max O.Buren, president of the Board of Trade, and Theodore Roth, president of the Business Men’s league, with Mayor Louis Lachmund, to act as a committee on arrangements of the entertainment of the President. Plans will be immediately put under way to give the Chief Executive of the US one of the biggest receptions ever accorded in Salem.

Salem Plans Taft Reception.  Oregonian (Portland) 29 Sept 1911

President will be given breakfast of Oregon delicacies.

With a morning meal of Oregon oysters, crabs and trout, as well as some of Oregon’s finest fruits, President Taft, on October 12, will taste the first part of his welcome to City of Salem.  After breakfast the party, including members of the Salem reception committees, will take an automobile drive about the streets of the city, the drive being along State street, Court street and commercial street.

The exercises of the morning will be held at the east door of the Courthouse and the President will be greeted by a chorus of 3000 school children singing “America.” It is probably that Mayor Lachmund will extend the address of welcome and that President  will be introduced by Governor West.  The President will then deliver a speech which will close in time for everyone to be given an opportunity to take part in the reception.  The President will arrive at 3:30 o’clock in the morning and leave shortly after 10 o’clock the same morning.

“A Public Holiday.” Capital Journal (Salem) 10 October 1911

A half holiday has been given the school children when President Taft visits Salem next Thursday. However, the fact seems to have been overlooked that October 12th, which is the day of the president’s visit, was set by the last legislature as “a public holiday.” This was done as a token of appreciation of the fine work of Christopher Columbus in discovering us.  The legislators probably realized that if it hadn’t been for Christopher they would not have been in the legislature.  Anyway, it is a public holiday, all day.

“Salem to Give President Taft a Royal Welcome.” Oregon Daily Capital Journal (Salem) 11 October 1911

“The decorations of the hotel will be lavish and will consist of jardinieres of salvia lining the entrance and passageway to the breakfast, which will be served in the main dining room, which will be cut in two by a screen of palms.  The orchestra balcony will be covered with scarlet vine maple, and the tables will be decorated with pink roses.  The flowers will be provided by a committee of ladies…

Following is the simple and elegant breakfast menu to be served at the Marion hotel at 8 am:

Grapefruit Maraschino
Fruit comports Oregon Homemade preserves
Salmon Trout, Meuniere.
Scrambled Eggs with Trufles a la Croutons
Breast of Milk Fed Capons, Breaded a la Marion
Parker House Rolls, Toast.

After the drive around the city in Motorcars, President Taft will review the school children of the city on Court Street, between Summer and Church Streets.  After their son, America, the president will proceed to the west entrance of the court house, and at 10 am the speaking will take place.  There will be an address of five minutes by Governor west, and address of three minutes by Mayor Lachmund…and 40 minute speech by Taft then leaves at 11 am.

“Salem Give President a Warm Welcome.” Capital Journal (Salem) 12 Oct 1911

Makes splendid speech to five thousand citizens pays tribute to veterans

The Taft reception began with straggling bunches of citizens stopping on Commercial Street where the Taft Presidential Special train was backed down on Trade Street.  Early in the morning, soon after seven, the curious began to loiter around.  All were met on approaching the rear of the observation car by secret service men who pleasantly interrogated every visitor, and kept them at a safe distance.  At eight the Salem reception committee went down from the Marion hotel to personally escort the president from his car to the breakfast, which was served at 820 in the hotel dining room.

With a background of the national colors and a beautiful screen of vine maple in autumn colors, with sprays of the wild sweet briar, or eglantine, with a table covered with Caroline Testout roses and an extra fine bouquet from the ladies’ committee, the president sat down to the most elegant breast ever served in this city.  There were no drinks served but ice water and coffee—the bracing morning air with a slight fog for a beaker, was enough to stimulate anyone without the traditional cocktail.  On the president’s right sat….

There were pink Testout roses everywhere, and the table was inlaid with a border very artistically arranged of white and purple dahlias, cut this morning from the grant collection at the fair rounds… There was a screen of palms, and great jardinieres of scarlet salvia set in rows from the entrance on Commercial Street to the dining room.  The snowy linen, the glistening silver, and the cut glass, the great pyramid of Oregon fruits almost hiding Taft’s face and broad smile, the swift and silent service by the trained dining room staff under the direction of Major Domo Williams, who handled the president’s coat and silk hat, all made Salemites glad that they had such a fine place to receive the president….

On State Street a mob of Willamette University students held up the parade with the university yell – Rah! Rah! Rah! — Taft.”  The president halted the parade and as he arose the crowd of college boys and girls cheered him over and over.

Commercial to Waverly, Waverly to Court, Court to Liberty, Liberty to Center, Center to Commercial, Commercial to State, State to the Court House Square.  “The review of the school children of the city took place on Court Street on the post office square.  The hundreds of children yelled themselves hoarse as the president drew up and thousands of little hands waved the national flags.  Mrs. Grace Wheelock was lifted up into the president’s motor car and she got up on the seat beside the driver, Tom Livesley, and a thousand voices burst out singing America.  And there was no stopping them.  They sang all four verses with a band and when Mrs. Wheelock stepped down, the president soon had them in the best of humor, answering questions about Oregon, the flag and the Panama Canal. He gave them several samples of his hearty laugh, and said he hoped they would remember him for something besides the fact that he had given them a holiday.

The parade was well handled…

The procession was greeted with few cries of “Hello Bill” and almost no applause along the drive.  One man yelled “Hurrah for Bryant’” and got some horse laughs from the crowd.  The president makes a very pleasing appearance and everybody felt proud of him…”

5000 people.  “His voice carried magnificently and he could be heard to the uttermost edge of the crowd.  Perfect order prevailed and the president was in his best vein.  The sun was beginning to break through the fog and the day was perfect.”

“President’s Reception Salem Politically Cool.” The Evening Herald (Klamath Falls) 12 Oct 1911

President Taft at 11 o’clock started for California. He will travel until 11 oclock tomorrow without a stop.  Politically his reception here was cool.  Democrats are tickled and say that if Wilson is nominated Oregon will be for him.

“Taft Backs Oregon Needs.” Oregonian (Portland) 13 October 1911

Not only did President Taft deliver two speeches here today and become an honorary member of the Philodorian Literary Society of Willamette University, the oldest literary society on the Coast, but his visit to Salem assumed unmeasurable importance when he gave positive assurance to Governor West that he would make a complete investigation of Oregon’s needs as far as reclamation funds are concerned and bend every energy toward seeing that the Umatilla project is completed and that Oregon secures its share of this fund.

In addition, he promised that he would request the Secretary of the Interior to appoint a Federal agent to co-operate with an agent appointed by the state to determine what swamp lands belong to Oregon and allow them to be developed for the benefit of the state….

President Taft arrived in Salem this morning at 3:30 o’clock and that his smile is ever in evidence was attested to by the fact that some early morning enthusiasts stood under his car window and saluted him shortly after his arrival.  The President’s face appeared at the window, his eyes opened and the smile lighted his face as he bowed to the crowd outside.

The first official act on the programme was the entertainment of the President at breakfast at the Marion Hotel, when members of his party and leading citizens of Salem and Oregon were guests of the local reception committee.  Governor West sat at the right of the President and Mayor Lachmund at the left.  Representative Hawley, Postmaster Farrar, Colonel Hofer, publisher of the capital journal; R.J. Hendricks, publisher of the Salem Statesman; HL Pittock, publisher of The Oregonian; Secretary of State Olcott; F.G. Deckebach, C.L. Dick, Charles L. McNary, President Homan of Willamette University; county Judge Bushey; Judge P.H. D’Arcy and Max O. Buren, president of the Board of Trade and Charles Roth, president of the Salem Business Men’s League, were among the guests as well as newspaper correspondents and representatives of railroad lines and telegraph companies.

Following the breakfast, President Taft and the party were taken about the city in automobiles and on one place in their trip were stopped by a small army of school children, who greeted the President by singing “America.”

At the courthouse the speech of the day was delivered before at least 6000 persons.

Governor West spoke briefly, calling attention to the laws of Oregon, to which fact that Oregon has the recall, which applies to the judiciary as well as to other public officers.

“But our judges are so upright and true that we do not need to exercise the recall,” he said.  “I may differ from you in politics, but we like you here.  We like you as President of the United States and because you wear the smile that never comes off.”

Representative Hawley introduced President Taft as “the man who has already written himself in history by his policies and his acts as one of the most conscientious and honest Presidents that the country has ever had.”

In the morning President Taft was forwarded a resolution from J.O Stearns, Jr. and Merton R. Delong, urging him to become an honorary member of the Philodorian Society of Willamette University, the oldest literary society on the Pacific Coast.  In his broad hand the President readily signed his application he is now a full-fledged honorary member of that society.

One of the surprises given the Presidential party while in this city was the quality of the roses which could be grown in Salem resident’s yards in October.  The Woman’s Relief Corps had collected from a number of Salem people a large collection of pink La France and other beautiful roses.  These were tastily arranged into a large bouquet by a special committee and sent by a messenger to be placed in the President’s private car where he would find them upon leaving the city.

“Many go to See President.” Polk County Observer (Monmouth) 13 October 1911

Extra train takes admirers to Salem.

President Taft visited Salem yesterday forenoon and admirers to the number of nearly a hundred went from Dallas to see him there.  The regular train over the Salem, Falls City & Western was not sufficient to accommodate all who wished to go from here, and a special train was put on for the benefit of the sighseers.  Many others….

“Taft joins Willamette Club.” Oregonian (Portland) 15 October 1911

President Greeted by Yale Yells and Honored by Oldest Society

WU While President Taft was in Salem and his parade-passed the university grounds, several hundred Willamette students greeted him with the Yale yell.  The President stopped and spoke as follows to the assembled collegians:

“Your president has asked me to say good morning to you.  I always feel at home in an academic community, and thank you sincerely for greeting me with the Yale yell.  I do not know if you young men and women students of Aristophanes out here are aware of the fact that in the old days a Yale man was known by his ability to give the old Yale yell in the barbarian language of that Greek scholar.  The rest of his, Arisphoanes’ utterances we forgot as speedily as possible.

You are to be congratulated, my dear young friends, in that you are able to attend this splendid old university in the beautiful Willamette Valley, founded, I believe, before Oregon became a state.  I trust that all of you will greet the opportunity to afforded you here to become useful citizens, able and willing to meet the exigencies of popular government.  Again I am glad to have had this opportunity to greet you.  Good-bye, and God bless you one and all.”

While at the Capital city the following invitation was extended President Taft:

“Philodorian Hall, Salem, OR., Oct. 11. – To his excellency, the President of the United States: We , the members of the Philodarian Society of Willamette University, have this evening taken action extending to you an earnest invitation to become an honorary member of this, the oldest literary society in the Pacific Northwest, and of which Oregon’s distinguished Congressman, Mr. Hawley, is a charter member. JO Sterms, Jr.  Merton R. DeLong, Committee”

“It gives me pleasure to accept your invitation to become an honorary member of the Philodorian Society of Willamette University. “WM. H. Taft.” October 12, 1911.

1920 Visit

“Taft at Salem” Monmouth Herald 21 May 1920, page 1

Ex-President William Howard Taft will lecture at the Salem Armory, May 29th, on THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS UP TO DATE.  Mr. Taft comes here through the Ellison-White Lyceum Bureau.  This is indeed a rare privilege for the people of the Willamette Valley since Mr. Taft lectures only in two other cities in Oregon, namely Portland and Eugene.

Lecture Tour” Capital Journal (Salem) 15 May 1920