The First Modern Presidential Campaign Event

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Ray Hahn

The First Modern
Presidential Campaign Event

HAZELDEN FARM

BROOK, INDIANA                        September 23, 1908

As a way of looking at history from two sympathetic perspectives, Jim Rasenberger’s book, America, 1908 came to market in January 2007 accompanied by the following review:

During the 366 revolutions that the earth made on its polar axis in the year 1908, it was from all accounts a breathtaking ride around the sun.

           As the earth turned toward the sun on the first morning of 1908, human flight remained, for most Americans, in the realm of myth and dream. But before the darkness fell on New Year’s Eve at the end of the year, the Wright brothers would be worldwide celebrities, heralded as the first people in all of human history to conquer the sky.

           It was the year Teddy Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet on a voyage around the globe, Robert Peary began his courageous dash to the North Pole, six automobiles left Times Square on an epic twenty-thousand-mile race to Paris, and Henry Ford introduced an oddly shaped new automobile called the Model T.

           It was a time of seemingly boundless innovation – everything was bigger, better, fast, and greater than ever before. In New York and Chicago, banks of high-speed elevators zipped through vertical shafts in the tallest buildings on earth. Pneumatic tubes whisked mail between far-flung post offices in minutes. Women cleaned their homes with amazing new devices called vacuums. And as American engineers cut a fifty-mile canal through the Isthmus of Panama, the very air buzzed with the imagined potential of new technology.

           Meanwhile, the New York Giants battled the Chicago Cubs in one of the most thrilling seasons in baseball history, and William Howard Taft was elected as the twenty-seventh president of the United States.

We turn our attention to that 1908 election and the postcard that announced the start of the campaign that changed American politics – forever!

***

Until the mid-summer of 1908 Hazelden Farm in Brook, Indiana, was of little consequence to everyone in America, except George Ade. It was his home.

George Ade (February 9, 1866 – May 16, 1944)
Ade was an American playwright, syndicated newspaper columnist, and author who became an American icon because of his street-smart writings that he dubbed, Stories of the Streets and of the Town. His tales were popular simply because he used street language and slang to describe the lives and “goings-on” of the people of Chicago. In general, Ade was among those who threw away the manual of English spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar for the sake of the story.

Without design, Ade gained fame as an American humorist, and for a period of two decades his tales, fables, and short stories appeared on Broadway. He was forced into calling himself a playwright. Some of his best-known works were The Sho-Gun (a comic opera) and the plays The County Chairman and The College Widow that ran simultaneously on Broadway in 1904.

After graduation from Purdue, Ade joined the staff at the Chicago Daily News and developed a company of contacts and friends who he entertained at Hazelden, his home in Brook, Indiana. That cadre of friends included John T. McCutcheon, his college friend and Sigma Chi fraternity brother, who also worked at the Daily News as an illustrator and later became a postcard artist. (See www.postcardhistory.net, John T. McCutcheon, American Cartoonist, March 14, 2022.)

Hazelden Farm
After a dozen years in Chicago and having become financially successful Ade decided to retire and enjoy life in Indiana where he had invested much of his wealth in Newtown County farmland. In 1902 William Ade, George’s brother, purchased for his brother a large, wooded parcel of property along the Iroquois River in Brook, Indiana.

The city of Brook is but 100 miles south of Chicago and at the time it seemed like a perfect location for a summer retreat. But that was not to be. Ade made the acquaintance of Chicago architect Billie Mann in college and had remained friends. The two had talked about a modest residential cottage but the reality came to be a Tudor style home of fourteen rooms in a lush setting that eventually included landscaped grounds, a barn, a swimming pool, greenhouses, and a caretaker’s cottage. Upon completion the new home was named Hazelden and Ade made it his permanent residence in 1905.

***

… from the Indiana History Blog
Today, we expect presidential candidates to come to us. They speak on the capitol steps, at memorials, and in high school gyms. They shake hands, meet local leaders, and in Indiana at least, make sure they’re seen eating a homemade pie or pork tenderloin of local renown. Beyond these appearances, however, campaign ads, emails, and social media posts bring candidates into our living rooms, our inboxes, and our daily lives.

This was not always the case. For much of U.S. history, such active campaigning was seen as power hungry, uncouth, and beneath the dignity of the office. While they didn’t hit the campaign trail, the candidates were still working hard to win over voters with events and promotional material. If we start our story in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1888 and close it twenty years later in Brook, Indiana, we see enormous change in Republican Party campaign tactics. And believe it or not, our modern barrage of presidential politicking owes a lot to the 1908 presidential campaign of William Howard Taft.

When George Ade awoke at Hazelden the morning of August 20, 1908, and settled in to read the day’s Indianapolis Star, he received somewhat of a shock. The frontpage headline read, “Ade’s Farm Rally Will be Big Event.” Ade later wrote that he recalled a casual conversation with Chairman Charles Hernly about the possibility of a political picnic. However, they had not had formally planned any kind of function, let alone one that Hernly described to reporters as “the biggest Republican event Indiana will see this campaign.”

In the morning of September 23, Taft and his staff boarded a five-car train dubbed “The Taft Special” and headed for Indiana. The train stopped briefly in Indianapolis, where Taft shook hands with local politicians and waved to the approximately 200 people gathered to greet him. He joked with the crowd, forgoing a formal speech. The Taft Special stopped again briefly in Lafayette and switched tracks at Sheff before arriving at Ade station just west of Brook. Ade and a welcome committee arrived in a six-car caravan to take Taft, staff, and guests to Hazelden.

It was at Hazelden a few hours later that Republican candidate William Howard Taft announced his candidacy for president of the United States and launched his campaign.

It was a first-of-its-kind event. American politics haven’t been the same since!

***

After
Ade never married, but continued to write and remained active in his community, and in national organizations of literary, civic, and political interests.

Ade fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack and died on May 16, 1944. He is gone but his legacy continues.

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Great article, Ray. I enjoyed all the background of why this home was used by Taft.

I’m reminded of the story about the time Taft was stuck in a small town with several hours to kill before the next train was scheduled to stop. An express train, however, was scheduled to pass through soon. Taft wired the railroad superintendent to ask if the train would stop so that a large party could board. The superintendent agreed to make an exception to the rule. When the train arrived, the bewildered conductor wondered why only one person was waiting. Taft then said: “You can go ahead; I am the large party.”

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