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Column: Trains once brought many famed persons into town

By Ray Crippen

WORTHINGTON — President Herbert Hoover rolled through Worthington en route to his home in California early on the Sunday morning of Nov. 6, 1932, after making his last major campaign appearance at St. Paul on Saturday night. As far as anyone knows the president was sleeping soundly in the gleaming, extended Pullman car that was designed for use by U.S. presidents. A handful of local people speculated they would be able to see the president’s train if they waited at the depot. Railroad men knew the train was coming; they were waiting. A pilot train led the way, making certain the tracks were clear. Then came the train like no other in the land and (unseen) President Hoover.

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President Woodrow Wilson made a similar visit to Worthington on the early Monday morning of Sept. 8, 1919, after making a Sioux Falls appearance at which he called for creation of the League of Nations. Wilson, too, is thought to have been asleep on the lavishly outfitted presidential train but, whatever, Woodrow Wilson was at Worthington.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt did not get to Worthington, but he got to Org on a private train in 1910 as he traveled to Sioux Falls. Roosevelt answered the call for an appearance by a small crowd at Org and then rolled on to Rushmore, where he made an extended address which attracted many Worthington and Nobles County residents.

Former President William Howard Taft broke a pattern. Taft came to Worthington for a Chautauqua appearance. Taft took a corner room at the Hotel Thompson and talked with visitors and admirers until it was time to head for the park. After his speech, the former president returned to the hotel and remained until it was time to catch his train and leave.

Wendell Willkie, who the Republicans nominated to succeed Franklin Roosevelt in the White House in 1940, made his only Minnesota appearance in a novel way. Willkie’s train backed into Worthington with Willkie, Mrs. Willkie and Minnesota’s Gov. Harold Stassen standing on the platform of rear car — the first car into town.

Red Cloud, the great Oglala Lakota chief, stayed in the depot, sat on one of the benches, while he waited for his train to arrive for the run on the branch line to Sioux Falls. Red Cloud was returning from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he met to express his opposition to agents charged with selling Sioux tribal lands.

Clement Attlee, who was Britain’s prime minister in the years after World War II, stopped off at Worthington on a U.S. speaking tour. When Attlee came to town, the C&NW no longer had dining cars. The retired prime minister went to the Depot Cafe and had a roast beef supper during the evening stop-over arranged for passengers.

Minnesota Gov. J.A.A. Burnquist, Minnesota’s World War I governor, boarded the Worthington train at St. Paul carrying an enormous blue banner that he presented to Nobles County residents in a ceremony on the lawn of old, red brick courthouse. Burnquist announced that Nobles County led all the counties in the state in Liberty Bond sales. A U.S. Liberty ship was named Nobles to honor the bond sales record.

Jeanette MacDonald, the actress and singer best-known for the movies she made with Nelson Eddy, had a different thought. MacDonald left the train and went window shopping along Worthington’s 10th Street while she waited for her south-bound train to arrive. Daily Globe photographer Ed Moberg got her picture as she walked by Schmidt’s Shoe Store.

Father Edward Flanagan stepped off at the Worthington depot when he came to tell the noon Kiwanis club and an assembly at Memorial Auditorium about his Boys Town project. Oh, well — they all did this. Billy Sunday rolled into town on the train to conduct his five-week crusade in a specially made hall. The king of Norway. Amelia Earhart and her family came to Worthington on a train for five summers.

This is how life was when Americans rode trains and when there was public transportation in southwest Minnesota. Nobles County’s Company H boarded the Worthington train for duty in the war with Spain. People stopped at the Depot Cafe to pick up the Chicago Tribune. It was an exciting era.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.