As America braces for a history setting election Nov. 4 when the nation could elect its first black president on one ticket or its first female vice president on the other, Menominee and Marinette had an exciting day in the word of politics about this time 100 years ago.
Only in this instance the twin towns were not only united in a nonpartisan friendship, but downright proud to host the vice president of the United States.
There wasn’t a footmark of the nasty partisan electioneering that is so common in modern times. Charles Warren Fairbanks, 26th vice president of the United States, was the guest of honor at the old Menominee Fairgrounds, a spacious chunk of land that now features a high school, an elementary school and a cozy residential neighborhood.
A Republican, Fairbanks was the No. 2 man in the nation in the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Born in Union County, Ohio, Fairbanks was sometimes referred to as the “last of America’s log cabin statesmen.” From the one-room cabin, he rose to prominence as a railway attorney, served in the U.S. Senate from 1897-1905, and was chosen as Roosevelt’s running mate in 1904 because of his staunch conservative views.
He was nominated for president at the GOP national convention in 1908, but fell short in a party split with Roosevelt.
The Menominee County Fair was a four-day event that began Sept. 8. Fairbanks appeared on the third day in an overnight stay.
The Menominee and Marinette newspapers began touting the appearance of the vice president and his entourage, plus a delegation of other political dignitaries that included U.S. Sens. Isaac Stephenson of Wisconsin (Marinette) and William A. Smith of Michigan, and governors Fred Warren of Michigan and James Davidson of Wisconsin.
A military-style parade from Hotel Menominee to the fairgrounds emptied households along the route as they sought a glimpse of the vice president and other celebrities. The participants had a long route to cover, from the hotel starting point on Main Street (1st Street) to Ogden Avenue (10th Avenue), westward to Broadway (13th Street), to Park Avenue (18th Avenue) and the fairgrounds.
Military units (National Guard) came from Marinette, Menominee and Oconto. The Escanaba Naval Brigade joined the cadence rhythm of the foot soldiers.
One-hundred cars, an unlikely sight in 1908, all decorated in colors of red, white and blue, transported high school girls dressed in similar patriotic colors. Each girl carried a small American flag.
Most of the industries in Menominee and Marinette entered colorful floats. Police estimated the crowd at the fairgrounds to be 20,000 strong.
Fairbanks and his traveling party arrived in Menominee by train at 10:45 p.m., an hour when most locals were nestled in their beds. Not for this occasion. The guests were met at the former railroad depot on State Street (7th Street), across the street from Esser Paint and Glass.
Crowds lined the normally sleepy streets from the depot to the hotel where the guests were honored at a reception. The vice president and his party were guests of Mr. and Mrs. William S. Carpenter, hotel managers.
The guests may have been tired from the previous day’s travel itinerary, but they had no chance for a long night’s rest. A cannon boomed out a salute at sunrise to kick off the next day’s schedule.
A tour of a developing city was highlighted by a visit to John Henes Park. Children planted a tree in honor of the vice president and proudly named it the “Fairbanks Tree.”
Addressing the crowd at the fairgrounds, Fairbanks paid tribute to the “energy and enterprise of the citizens of Menominee and the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.”
He added: “Who can tell today what in a generation from now will be the progress of this city? I am not a prophet but when I visited your high school this morning and looked into the bright eyes and intelligent faces of your boys and girls, it occurred to me that the future of this city is safe and in good hands and that nothing under the sun can stop the development of this section, rich as it is in minerals, agriculture resources and forests, and blessed with incomparable climate.”
The coming of a vice president grabbed Page One news in the local newspapers for weeks ahead of the arrival date.
The Menominee Herald-Leader produced a special section called the “Fairbanks Extra” as the city was bedecked in a mass of brilliant bunting. The Herald-Leader boasted that the flashy patriotic colors would “make P.T. Barnum (known for his famous circus colors) green with envy if he could see the fairgrounds at the present time.”
While the appearance of the vice president was a monumental celebration, highlighted by perhaps the most imposing collection of political leaders at one setting in the city’s history, the county fair had many other entertaining exhibits. The activities included baseball games, horse racing, band concerts, agricultural exhibits, manufacturing displays and comedy acts.
Jolly Johnie Reilly, dubbed the world’s most famous comedy juggler, displayed his talents.
One of the more dazzling events featured Gerela Norih of the Royal Scandinavian High Divers out of Europe. Her main act was climbing a 120-foot ladder and leaping into a 4-foot container of water without being injured.
The city was only 25 years old when the vice president of the United States accepted the invitation of civic leaders to visit a town still in its cultivating years. The community, supported by its surrounding neighbors, proved to be a first-class host.