“The story goes that President William Howard Taft sat in this plain wooden chair — specially procured for his outsize stature — in 1909 while delivering a speech at Johnson C. Smith University, then known as Biddle University. Except Taft never really sat in this chair at all.
“Brandon Lunsford, university archivist and digital manager, says that the truth is widely accepted. ‘It’s a cool little artifact and just a fun story,’ he explains. The whereabouts of the actual Taft chair remain a mystery.”
— From “19 Hidden Treasures at North Carolina’s Universities” by Chloe Klingstedt in Our State (January)
Among the eclectic selection of treasures: Miles Davis’s trumpet, Elisha Mitchell’s pocket watch and Southern Culture on the Skids’ flaming La-Z-Boy.
On this day in 1930: After a month’s rest at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville fails to halt his mental and physical deterioration, William Howard Taft submits his resignation as chief justice of the United States.
Taft, who earlier served as president, is 73 years old, weighs 300 pounds and suffers from progressive heart disease. After sending his resignation ahead, he returns by train to Washington, where he will die barely a month later.
“A large ‘possum occupied an exalted position on one of the wagons [in the parade celebrating President Taft’s 1909 visit to Charlotte], and the President laughed outright when he witnessed in the raw the meat that made his Georgia trip some months ago memorable.
“This was merely a forerunner, however, to the ‘Possum Club [float], which contained a number of ‘possums up in a huge limb and a number of hounds furiously barking after them. …. The Chief Executive continued to laugh as the float moved into the distance. It had impressed him mightily.”
— From a souvenir booklet commemorating Taft’s visit [souvenir postcard here]
In 1909, of course, controversy had not yet attached to the use of possums for entertainment purposes.
“ ‘Presumptive nominee’ was used as early as 1908 by Charlotte Observer to describe William Howard Taft.”
— From a tweet by presidential historian Michael Beschloss (April 26)
hat tip/ Ed Williams
On this day in 1908: William Howard Taft becomes the first Republican presidential candidate ever to campaign in North Carolina. His train makes whistlestops in Statesville, Salisbury, Lexington, High Point and Greensboro before continuing on to Virginia.
Taft will easily defeat Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan for the presidency, but another 20 years will pass before North Carolina goes Republican, choosing Herbert Hoover over Al Smith.
On this day in 1909: President William Howard Taft visits Charlotte for Meck Dec Day and the dedication of the 12-story Realty Building, the Carolinas’ first steel-frame skyscraper.
Just as a parade past Taft’s reviewing stand ends, a sudden downpour sends thousands running for cover. The president’s speech, moved indoors, opposes partisan politics in the federal judiciary. But it will be the “Taft rain” that Charlotteans remember.
Later, at what will become Johnson C. Smith University, Taft sits in a chair custom-built to accommodate his 325 pounds and urges blacks to continue pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.
These two postcards from the collection mark Taft’s visit to Charlotte.