Lyndon B. Johnson launched his 1948 run-off campaign for U.S. Senate in a helicopter.
While crisscrossing the state, he landed in Bergfeld Park in Tyler to a crowd of well-wishers at the spot known as “old circus grounds” and gave a campaign speech, according to information from the Smith County Historical Society.
George H.W. Bush has been in Tyler too, as has his son, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and has Dwight D. Eisenhower.
These are among the presidents who have visited Tyler. One even lived here.
Monday is Presidents Day, a U.S. federal holiday held the third month of February, partly in celebration of George Washington’s birthday.
But it was the 10th president who has added significance for Tyler.
The city is named after John Tyler, who was instrumental in helping get the state of Texas annexed into the United States in 1845. The city of Tyler was established five years later.
Stories abound about U.S. presidents who have visited Tyler — some before they were president, some while they were president and others after they had served in office.
Both George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, and his son, George W. Bush, paid visits to the Rose City for election campaigns. And Ronald Reagan came here when he worked for General Electric to visit the newly-opened plant in 1957 and to participate in the Texas Rose Festival.
President Gerald Ford spoke to Tyler Junior College students in 1976. Although other presidents might have visited Tyler, documentation was found on Eisenhower, both Bushes, Johnson, Ford and Reagan.
Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday now observed on the third Monday in February, was known as Washington’s Birthday until 1971. The date always was observed on Feb. 22, no matter on which day it fell, according to the National Archives website.
The U.S. Congress voted in 1968 to create a uniform system of Monday holiday observances, and Presidents’ Day was first observed in 1971. The day also gives a nod to President Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was Feb. 16.
Although for years, many in Tyler believed Eisenhower had been born here, he was actually born in Denison. The family moved to Texas from Abilene, Kan., in 1890 because of a failed crop.
“We had a sign up saying that Tyler was the undisputed birthplace of Ike, but the city had to take it down when we learned he was born in Denison,” Mary Jane McNamara, of the Smith County Historical Society recently said.
Ronald Reagan stopped here when he worked for General Electric to visit a newly-built plant on the south side of town and to take part in the 20th Texas Rose Festival.
A 1957 news account said the future president, in addition to visits to the General Electric plant, would be the master of ceremonies for the Distinguished Guest Luncheon at the Carlton Hotel for the Rose Festival.
He rode in the official parade, introduced the rose queen at the Queen’s Ball, and left for Dallas on Sunday morning, according to newspaper accounts.
An article from the Tyler Morning Telegraph detailed a 1980 Reagan presidential campaign visit here. He said he wanted to take home some Tyler roses to plant in the White House garden. Reagan told a crowd of 3,200 people at Harvey Hall (now Harvey Convention Center) that “a little bit of Texas never hurts.”
When Johnson, who became president in 1963, rode his helicopter into Bergfeld Park, his path crossed with Reagan during the 1957 Texas Rose Festival. Johnson spoke during the same Distinguished Guest Luncheon as a U.S. senator who Reagan hosted.
Johnson talked about the need for the United States to build up its missile system because of the recent launch of a Soviet satellite into space in the early days of the Cold War. “We have to get rid of the rose-colored glasses,” Johnson told the luncheon guests.
“We have to admit frankly and without reservation that the Soviets have beaten us at our own game — daring, scientific advances in the Atomic Age,” he said.
Calvin Clyde Jr. knew Lyndon Johnson personally. Sen. Johnson published a Tyler Morning Telegraph editorial in the August 1957 Congressional record. It talked about tighter controls of interstate firearm regulation.
“There are new demands sought that every firearm must be minutely marked as to the manufacturer, his address, serial number, caliber number, model number and other details,” Clyde wrote in his editorial.
“Understandably, the proposed regulations would have aroused the ire of many law-abiding gun owning citizens …”
Tyler Morning Telegraph Publisher Nelson Clyde said the contact his family has had with public officials is one of the privileges they have enjoyed.
“We have a dialogue we can share with our readers,” he said.
He said the interaction with the candidates has been valuable “when we could see the whole person face to face.” Political advisers now have put more distance between political candidates and the media and the public.
Both George Herbert Walker Bush, elected president in 1988, and his son, George W. Bush, elected in 2000, both made multiple visits to Tyler. During a 1964 senate campaign visit to Tyler, the elder Bush said he thought the United States should recognize the exiled Cuban government, “with support for it militarily and economically.”
And, on a 2010 visit to The University of Texas at Tyler’s Cowan Center, George W. Bush said he missed being president and being on Air Force One, but said he didn’t miss the limelight.
He described taking his dog Barney on a walk through his neighborhood in Dallas, and said he hadn’t been able to do something like that in a decade. “It felt liberating,” he said.
Bill Clinton also visited Tyler, Longview and other East Texas cities in 2008 when his wife, Hillary, was seeking the Democratic nomination for president.