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Friday, June 14, 2024

Presidential Treatment

It is not every day a sitting president of the United States visits Evansville — but it is not the first time we’ve welcomed the Commander in Chief.

Evansville’s Downtown businesses and the city itself scurried to prepare for President Donald Trump’s rally at the Ford Center in August 2018 — many establishments were set for the increase of traffic and the crowds, while a few adjusted hours in anticipation of the event.

Evansville is no stranger to presidential visits. Evansville Regional Airport last hosted Air Force One in 2014 when former President Barack Obama flew in to visit Gibson County. However it has been just over three decades since the last sitting president made his way into the River City. In October of 1986, then-president Ronald Reagan addressed a crowd at a rally at Roberts Stadium for Republican Richard McIntyre, who was running for Congress.

The biggest and most grand presidential visit, however, was that of Gerald Ford in April 1976.

In an effort to spur his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination (going up against Reagan), Ford headed to southern Indiana before the state’s May primary to garner support. Local residents still talk about how Ford rode standing up in the backseat of his limousine, waving to crowds as he traveled from the airport to his first rally stop at Vanderburgh Auditorium (now Old National Events Plaza).

It was a whirlwind morning for Ford in the River City — after his speech at the auditorium, there was a packed reception at the Executive Inn, and then a noon parade along Main Street with Evansville’s mayor Russell Lloyd Sr.

Going back farther, Evansville can lay claim to brief stops from Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 (speaking just at the airport) and Harry Truman in 1948 (rallying at the Old Courthouse grounds). There’s also the secret trip from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Republic Aviation Plant in 1943.

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