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May 7, 2005

A famous visitor

A reader who shares my interest in the history of this part of the Cherokee Outlet recently wrote with a couple of suggestions, and I am happy to pass them on to you. The reader writes that he watched a History TV channel show that brought to mind the fact that both Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of FDR, and Mickey Rooney, once the biggest draw at movie box offices in the U.S. visited Perry in the 1930s. Both visits were covered in my book, The First Generation, (see chapter 31) but he believes this should again be called to the public's attention. I am pleased to agree with that, and a portion of the chapter dealing with Eleanor's visit is provided herewith, as he suggested. The part about Mickey's brief stopover here will follow in a few days. Here's the portion telling of Mrs. Roosevelt's stay in Perry. (The book, by the way, is available at the Cherokee Strip Museum on West Fir Avenue.)

"Perry is perhaps slightly off the beaten path, so not too many celebrities have visited this city through the years. A few have found their way here, however, and in most cases they were warmly, if sparsely, received. Two of the biggest names that come to mind are Eleanor Roosevelt and Mickey Rooney. They were here on separate occasions in the late 1930's and the total amount of time required for their stopovers was perhaps less than half an hour." (Remember, this is an abridged account and big chunks of the original chapter are not reprinted with this column due to lack of space.)

"...Mrs. Roosevelt came to Perry via Santa Fe Railroad (she was going to Alva) and this was as close as the rail line could take her. The remaining distance had to be traveled by automobile. The First Lady detrained at The Perry depot. There she was met by a small official caravan to whisk her away for the approximately four-hour highway journey.

"Although she was traveling on a tight schedule, Mrs. Roosevelt graciously consented to a brief public appearance here...From the moment her train's scheduled arrival approached, hundreds of people lined both sides of the streets around the square....The Perry High School band turned out in full uniform under the direction of Professor Leopold Radgowsky," (The President's wife said it was one of the best bands she had ever heard.) "Perry citizens, then as now, were extremely proud of their band, and that remark endeared Eleanor to local hearts. She was a good will ambassador of the first magnitude."

Coming up: Mickey Rooney visits Perry