According to the National Archives, Monday’s holiday was legally Washington’s Birthday, although the tradition among many Americans is to use the day to celebrate all former U.S. presidents.
Not many presidential people have strayed west of Salt Lake City, but some past presidents, future presidents and people wanting to be president, have ventured into Tooele County.
The late George Diehl, who served as mayor of Tooele from 1983 to 1994 after working for 33 years as the executive assistant at Tooele Army Depot, recalled two presidential-type visits to the depot in a 2011 interview with the Transcript Bulletin — one by a president-to-be and one by a past president.
“It was a total surprise,” Diehl said about the Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower visit. “I got a phone call about noon telling me that Eisenhower was in Salt Lake City visiting Fort Douglas and was on his way to the Tooele Army Depot.”
Ordinarily, a visit by a high-ranking officer like Eisenhower would be prefaced with plenty of warning, giving troops time to polish everything and prepare all the proper protocols. That was not the case on this occasion, however.
“The official I talked with said that Eisenhower wanted to see TAD while he was in Salt Lake because it was one of the military’s largest operations,” Diehl said. “Back then, we had about 5,000 people and things were really humming at the depot.”
The first thing Diehl did upon hearing of the visit was to call the superintendent of schools, who at the time was Sterling Harris. He ordered all schools in the valley dismissed and students lined Main Street in Tooele to get a chance to see the five-star general who had become a national hero in World War II — which was won only months earlier.
“Eisenhower wasn’t aware of the crowd that had turned out to see him,” Diehl said. “When he got to the edge of town and could see the people on the street, he got out of his sedan and rode in an open jeep so people could see him.”
George McKellar, Tooele, recalled his experience as a 12-year-old student at the time of Eisenhower’s visit.
“Eisenhower was the supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe and we had learned about him in school,” McKellar said. “The whole town turned out to see him. The entire length of Main Street was lined with people. It was exciting. He was probably the most notable person to visit Tooele.”
Diehl said Eisenhower’s depot tour went smoothly and he found the general to be very personable.
“I was impressed by his knowledge of military equipment,” Diehl said. “He asked about our tanks — how many were in service and how many were being repaired. He asked about the capacity of the depot and about the fluctuation in temperature from day to night.”
Temperature fluctuation affects the storage life of ammunition, Diehl explained.
Diehl found out later that Pentagon officials apparently were not aware of Eisenhower’s plan to visit the depot.
“Later, when the folks back at headquarters heard that Eisenhower had visited us, I got phone calls asking me things like, what did we show him, what did he ask, what were our answers,” Diehl said. “I let them know that we were able to entertain such a high-ranking official on a moment’s notice without any problem.”
It wasn’t the first time Eisenhower had been to Tooele County. Years before his visit to TAD, Eisenhower spent a night in Tooele County.
Following World War I, in 1919, the U.S. Army organized a convoy from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco that followed the Lincoln Highway. The convoy’s purpose was to test the use of automobiles and trucks in moving troops and supplies, and one of its members was then Lieutenant-Colonel Dwight Eisenhower.
The 28-year-old soldier camped overnight at the Orr Ranch in Skull Valley, according to Dennis Andrus, former owner of Orr’s ranch.
Herbert Hoover, who served as president from 1929 to 1933, visited Tooele Army Depot following his days as president in the early ‘40s, according to Diehl.
Hoover, who was a mining engineer, was in Tooele County to visit the Bauer Mine, which was owned by a company Hoover had a major interest in: the Combined Metals Company.
“Hoover referred to us at the depot as ‘his neighbors,’ Diehl said. “He was no longer the president of the United States and he appeared to be just a regular Joe.”
Hoover also had ties to Rio Tinto, the current owner of the Kennecott Copper Mine. Early in his professional career, before becoming president, Hoover served as the managing director of an Australian company named Consolidated Zinc Corporation, one of the companies that eventually merged with other mining interests to create the Rio Tinto Group in 1997.
Six years after visiting Tooele Army Depot, Eisenhower went on to serve for two terms, from 1953 to 1961, as the president of the United States.
“We knew he was a good leader,” Diehl said. “But we had no idea at the time that we were looking at a future president of the United States.”
Two Kennedys who wanted to be president visited Tooele County, although their visits weren’t during their presidential campaigns.
Both Ted Kennedy, who lost the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter, and Robert Kennedy, whose presidential campaign ended when he was assassinated in June 1968, stopped over in the county.
During an interview with the Transcript Bulletin in 2011, Beverly White, a Tooele Democrat who served 10 terms in the state House as a representative from Tooele, recalled a visit by Ted and Bobby Kennedy to Tooele in the early 1960s.
“They came to town briefly to stump for Jack’s presidential campaign,” White said. “They had breakfast at my house and we put them on a plane to Provo.”
White recalls hearing later that the plane had to make an emergency landing in a cornfield on the way to Provo.
Ted Kennedy visited Tooele again in 1972, according to White. This time his appearance was part of a campaign stop to support Democrat Wayne Owens’ run for congress.
“He landed in a helicopter on the ball field near the swimming pool,” White said. “I walked with him from there to the high school auditorium. On the way, I taught him the correct pronunciation for Tooele.”
When he got up to speak and pronounced Tooele correctly, everybody in the auditorium cheered, White said.
“It was so loud the house almost came down,” White said.
Phillip Miller, a member of the Tooele High School class of 1974, was in the audience that day.
“I can’t remember what he said,” Miller said. “I can recall the auditorium was new, it was the end of the school day, and we were excited to have a member of the Kennedy family come to Tooele to speak to us.”
The political scene in Tooele was a lot different back then, according to Miller
“Tooele was the only county in Utah that supported George McGovern in the general election in 1972,” Miller said. “The Democratic Party was very dominant locally.”
More recently an independent candidate for president made a last-minute campaign stop in Tooele County.
Evan McMullin, independent candidate for president in 2016, spoke to a crowd of around 300 people about a week before the 2016 general election at Clarke Johnsen Junior High School in Tooele City.
Speaking to the audience in the school’s cafeteria, McMullin made it clear that his strategy was to block both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from getting the required 270 majority of electoral votes.
The U.S. Constitution would then throw the presidential election to the House of Representatives, where McMullin said he hoped to win.
So Tooele County has seen Hoover, Eisenhower, Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Evan McMullin. There may be other presidents that have visited and 2020 may bring more.