What are the chances today a United States Presidential candidate will stage a campaign stop in Claremore?
Probably slim to none.
That doesn’t mean it has never happened before. The fact is one actually did conduct a brief political visit here...71 years ago.
That day allowed a 13-year-old Claremore boy to give a home-grown gift to the candidate and his wife.
The candidate was Republican Thomas Edmond Dewey, at that time the current governor of New York. At age 41, he was the youngest man to run for President and the first to be born in the 20th Century.
It was estimated between 1,800 and 2,000 spectators were on hand that Sept. 23, 1944 to see and hear the candidate. He spoke from the back of a train at the Frisco Depot. He and his wife, the former Frances Hutt, were aboard a special train touring the mid-western section of the country. The night before, he appeared at an Oklahoma City rally. Before arriving in Claremore, stops had been made in Bristow, Sapulpa and Tulsa.
Crowds had been larger in the previous towns. Some 30,000 were in Tulsa. The count here would have most likely been higher had residents known about it. Dewey’s staff decided only two hours before to include Claremore.
It was quickly announced at the schools and over the radio.
Despite being in a mainly Democratic basin, local residents wanted to see a real live Presidential candidate. This was especially true for eighth grader Douglas Reid Parker, son of Claremore residents Mr. and Mrs. Reid Parker. He heard the news at school and raced home when classes were dismissed.
Raiding his mother’s flower garden, young Reid picked an arrangement of orchids and bronze dahlias. Mrs. Parker arrived home in time to help her son with the finishing touches.
Speaking from a platform on the rear coach car, Gov. Dewey thanked all in attendance and was quoted as saying, “My wife and I are very happy to pay tribute to the man who made you famous, Will Rogers.”
He explained some of the policies and plans he planned to put in effect if elected as the next President.
It was all for naught. In 1944, a Republican didn’t have much, if any, hope of carrying the Oklahoma vote. Two months later, Democrat incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt would be returned to office for a fourth term.
Dewey did receive more nation-wide support than the President’s three previous opponents.
As the campaign train prepared to pull out of the station, teenager Parker jumped on the speaker’s platform. He quickly handed his flowers to Gov. Dewey and requested that he give them to Mrs. Dewey.
His reward was big smiles from the couple. The candidate then helped the youngster back down from the train just before it started moving.
Mrs. Dewey was formerly known as Eileen Hoyt during her early career as a show girl, singer, and model. Born in Texas, she spent 11 years of her childhood as a Sapulpa resident.
Thomas Dewey did not win the ‘44 election or the next one in 1948. Going into the final days of the election, latter-most polls and media had him a favorite to unseat Harry S. Truman. As vice president, Truman took over on the death of FDR.
Some said it was Dewey’s trademark pencil-thin mustache that cost him votes. The last President with facial hair was William Howard Taft in 1913. Before Dewey, the last candidate with a mustache or beard was Charles Evans Hughes in 1916.
Dewey had made a name for himself as a hard crime-fighting district attorney in New York City. He had gone head-to-head with noted gangsters Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schultz, and Lucky Lucians. It was said Schultz planned to assassinate the DA, but was killed first by mob figures because they feared the FBI would stage an all-out war on the Mafia due to the death of Dewey.
Denied as President twice, Dewey was elected New York governor for four terms. He served from 1938 to 1954. He then retired to private law practice and in time became a millionaire. In later years, President L.B. Johnson, a Democrat, offered Dewey several prime commission positions and even a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Each time he politely declined.
In 1971, he died while on a vacation trip to Florida. Thomas Dewey was 68.