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One hundred years since what?

Did you know that in October of this year we could conceivably celebrate the 100th anniversary of President Taft’s visit to Peabody? I am not sure there will be a celebration, but it might be nice to recognize the event. Yes, it is true. Right down there at the south end of Walnut Street where the Santa Fe Depot used to stand. The President … of the United States … right here in our town.

Recently there was a photo-postcard listed on e-Bay showing a large crowd gathered behind the passenger car of a train. Scrawled across the bottom of the card were the words, “Taft in Peabody, October 3, 1908.” Wow.

Of course, you naysayers will note that we don’t know for certain that the photo is of the honest-to-goodness President of the United States. The guy pictured at the back rail of the passenger car might have been great great-uncle Rufus Smythe from Fast Buckle, Ky. After 100 years, who is really going to know?

And the townsfolk pictured could have been anywhere on Earth … even in Fast Buckle, Ky., rather than Peabody. Again, how could we tell?

I have a card just like the one that sold on e-Bay. I have carefully looked it over with a magnifying glass. I guess the big guy on the back of the train car could be President Taft. It probably is. A couple of historical books about Peabody and Marion County note that he was here.

Uh-oh. I have discovered a tiny fly in the ointment.

He wasn’t really the president when he arrived at our Santa Fe Depot. He was campaigning. He served as president from March 1909 until March 1913. So he was just out there on a whistle-stop tour.

Still, I think we should have a celebration of sorts on Oct. 3 (which is a Friday), to recognize the presence of a pre-president in this very community. I wish that I had known about this before the July Fourth fireworks show. We could have had a set piece of a big guy on the back of a train that sputtered steam as it pulled into the Peabody Santa Fe depot.

There you go. Something to ponder about our history. I must confess I know nothing of President Taft or anything he might have said or done. Except, of course, stop a train in Peabody and give a speech. I certainly have no idea why he thought Peabody was a haven of voters he needed to court.

We will see if the local newspaper covered the event or if they thought the speaker was a phony … a Rufus Smythe from Fast Buckle, Ky. Keep an eye out for this topic in this column. We will bring you history.

—Susan Marshall

Last modified July 31, 2008

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