June 06, 1963
By Art LiesbonA presidential visit to El Paso in the 19th Century was a far more informal event before the secret Service began building an isolation wall separating the Man in the Whit House from the voters.
Mrs. Bessie Shinn, of 2898 Grant Ave., remembers well the red letter day when she marched in a ahead of President Grover Cleveland from Central School, on the site of El Maida Shrine Temple, to the Myar Opera House on South El Paso Street.
She was in the fifth or sixth grade at El Paso’s public school, in either 1894 or 1895, when Cleveland, then in his second term in the White House, made his appearance on the border. He was the only President to be defeated for re-election and then come back to win a second term.
“I carried the flag just head of the President,” Mrs. Shinn recalls. Helping hold it were Lottie Tiget and Josephine Collins, who with Mrs. Shinn were wearing identical dresses made for the occasion. “Everybody was on foot for the parade and there were four Secret Service agents around the President.”
At the opera house the youngsters who were to put on a program for the President followed him to the stage. Mrs. Shinn, then Bessie Kendall, was one of a choir that sang hymns and the Star Spangled Banner to help entertain Cleveland, while others from the school gave recitations. A Miss Williams directed the choir and accompanying the group was a young teacher who later was to become the wife of El Paso mayor, the late Mrs. C.E. (Word) Kelly. She had come to El Paso to teach at Central.
While the youngsters kept their seats, the Presidential party filed out. This time Cleveland did not walk. A carriage with two sparkling horsed pulling it, carried the President north from the opera house.
Does she remember what Cleveland looked like? Very well. He was a “fat fellow, sort of semi-blond and around six feet all.” He was very pleasant and relaxed while the children entertained him, and all El Paso turned out to see him in the parade.
Mrs. Shinn has been retired for the past 12 years. Before that, widowed when her husband, Jay H. Shinn, died in 1935, she worked in cafeterias at Houston, Rusk and Coldwell school cafeterias. She lives with her sister, Mrs. J.W. Warden.
The man who beat Cleveland, although losing the popular vote, only to be in turn defeated by him, also was an El Paso visitor. A clipping from the “International Daily Times” of April 22, 1891, tells the story of “Plucky El Paso’s grand International Reception to President (Benjamin) Harrison.”
“El Paso gave both salutations yesterday, and right proudly did she carry herself in the ceremony, so proudly indeed that she captured the hearts and admiration of the entire presidential party.
“Nature conspired to make the international reception tendered the president a brilliant success. The day dawned clear and beautiful and at an early hour the finishing touches were given the handsome decorations in which the entire city was clothed. As early as 7 o’clock the streets were thronged with people, many of whom were visitors who came in the evening before, and all wore happy smiling faces in keeping with their surroundings.”
At “7 o’clock sharp” the Presidential train rolled into the depot. A Mexican band struck up the national air of Mexico, changed to “Hail to the Chief,” when the cannon stationed at the depot thundered out in salute of the president. Then the Ft. Bliss band began its part of the program and “the crowd went wild with enthusiasm.”
The fire department joined in the cheering and the reporter reminded us that “when an El Paso fire laddie yells, he yells all over. He goes at it as he does everything else – to excel.”
It was San Jacinto Day and the welcome to the border was international. The news account listing the parade order that followed, pointed out that the tenth carriage carried press correspondents. They were followed by the Ft. Bliss band, representatives of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Fire Department, and “Colored citizens,” in that order.
The parade that followed to the courthouse was between lines “fairly packed with people and thronged with ladies who waved their handkerchiefs … To all of which, as well as to the throat splitting cheers of the jostling crowd in the streets and on the sidewalks, the president acknowledged with bows and the lifting of his hat. Our distinguished Mexican visitors came in for a liberal share of the cheering.
At the courthouse the party were escorted between two lines of school children “dressed in white and looking as fresh and pretty as young rosebuds on a May morning.”