Gypsies, tramps & thieves: Revisiting ghosts of Queen City visitors past

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

musings logo

I think it was Ben Franklin who once noted that ”fish and visitors smell in three days.”

Now Ben was a pretty smart guy – I give him high marks for that electricity stuff – but I think he’s off by a couple of days on this visitor thing. If you’re having house guests over the holidays, you’ll soon know what I’m talking about. Mind you, it’s not that I have anything against having company per se (from the Latin per meaning ”like” and se meaning ”hell”). After all, if it wasn’t for company, what would happen to traditional holiday rituals?

You know the rituals I mean. I’m talking about the kind of rituals we see in those charming Norman Rockwell paintings, rituals like decorating the tree, leaving the curtain outside the shower, picking all the cashews out of the mixed nuts or pushing a finger through the bottom of the Van Otis chocolates and – if they’re filled with jelly – putting them back in the box.

Fortunately, Manchester has had better luck with visitors than I.

For instance, I’ll bet influential educator Booker T. Washington didn’t leave wet towels on the bed when he visited Manchester to lecture in 1904, and I can’t picture Ethel Barrymore putting an empty milk carton back in the fridge when she played at the Park Theater in 1909.

Yes, we in Manchester have been blessed over the years with a high-class class of visitor, but let the record show that George Washington never slept here. Booker T. Washington? Yes. George Washington? No.

"King of Swing' Benny Goodman's been here.
“King of Swing” Benny Goodman’s been here.

Unfortunately, we’ve never had any kings visit here, unless you count Benny Goodman (he was the ”King of Swing”). No queens either, unless you count Liberace – he played at the State Theatre in 1965 – but we’ve had more than our share of big shots, including, as we currently demonstrate in Presidential Primary, our exhibit at the Millyard Museum, a passel of presidents.

The first president to visit Manchester was Andrew Jackson in 1833. Okay, we weren’t a city then, but he did stop by. He even visited the Amoskeag Tavern, where I like to think Ol’ Hickory got all liquory.

Even before our primary made it mandatory, a whole bunch of other presidents were here In The City. Many of them held office during the boring chapters we always skipped in history class, like James K. Polk, Ulysses S. Grant, Frankin Pierce, Rutherford B. (Gabby) Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Without question, our most famous presidential visitor was Abraham Lincoln, but he was only a candidate during his visit in March of 1860. Honest Abe wowed ’em during a speech at Smyth Hall, but for me, a lot of the mystique went out of his visit when I read an account in the old ”Manchester American” in which a bellhop said he saw Lincoln – I am not making up this up – ”in his shirtsleeves and barefoot and cutting his toenails.”

Talk about investigative journalism.

Speaking of journalism, remember Amherst native Horace Greeley? The fabled publisher of the ”New York Tribune” visited Manchester many times, and while he also gained fame as a failed presidential candidate, he was most famous for the advice he gave aspiring high school students in Manchester when he said, and I quote, ”Go to West, young man.”

Cher had to cancel her Oct. 2014 Dressed to Kill Tour stop, but she's no stranger to Manchester.
Cher had to cancel her Oct. 2014 Dressed to Kill Tour stop, but she’s no stranger to Manchester.

Does the name William Cody ring a bell? Perhaps you know him better by his stage name of ”Buffalo Bill.” Whenever he brought his Wild West Show here to Manchester, the star would always visit local beer baron Robert Schneider and go rabbit hunting. That cwazy wascal.

Did you know that aviatrix Amelia Earhart flew into Manchester in 1933 when she made a fueling stop en route to Montreal? She left right after she learned that there would be a 80-year wait for a table at The Foundry.

Hollywood heart-throb Rudolph Valentino was here In The City back in 1923 to serve as a judge for the Miss Manchester contest at the Arcadia Ballroom. Their beauty must have left him speechless, which explains why he never made talkies.

Music man John Philip Sousa marched into town in 1919. Records show that he purchased a cigar after a tour of the R.G. Sullivan Cigar Factory. Only a wise guy would ask me what he did with the band.

Basketballer Manute Bol was here.
Basketballer Manute Bol was here.

Heavyweight champion ”Gentleman” Jim Corbett was a frequent guest of Billy Hurd at the New Manchester Hotel. According to 1892 newspaper accounts, Corbett ended one such visit with a meal of soft-boiled eggs and buttered French toast, which must have preceded Wheaties as the ”Breakfast of Champions.”

Yes, hundreds of the high and mighty have visited the Queen City over the years. Here’s the long (7-foot, 6-inch basketballer Manute Bol) and short (29-inch Commodore George Washington Morrison Nutt) of it.

We’ve had thinkers (Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ralph Waldo Emerson), we’ve had drinkers (W.C. Fields) and yes, we’ve had stinkers – ax-wielding prohibitionist Carrie Nation comes to mind, as does Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard F.H. Jackson, who was on a recruiting visit here in 1921 when he claimed ”the Manchester branch has been firmly established with 46 prominent Queen City residents enrolled.”

We’ve had champs (Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano) and tramps (Charlie Chaplin) and vamps (like Cher, and Sarah Bernhardt, who played the Park Theater in 1923).

Sen. Styles Bridges whispering in Nixon’s ear in 1960 at Manchester’s Grenier Field.
Sen. Styles Bridges whispering in Nixon’s ear in 1960 at Manchester’s Grenier Field.

We’ve had movers (Henry Ford) and shakers (Irish President Eamon de Valera) and a Quaker who’s a faker (Richard Nixon).

We’ve hosted singers (from Marian Anderson to Rudy Vallee), swingers (like Babe Ruth, Jack Nicklaus and Glenn Miller) and slingers (Christy Mathewson and Cy Young), although there was only one strike on Samuel Gompers when he was here to walk the picket line at Amoskeag Manufacturing in 1922.

Emmett Kelley visited the Queen City in 1944.
Emmett Kelley worked in the Queen City in 1944.

Famous clowns? Bob Hope got an honorary degree from St. Anselm in 1977. Emmett Kelley worked here in 1944 with Ringling Brothers, then there was Max Patkin, ”the Clown Prince of Baseball” and hey, let’s not forget Lt. Col. Ollie North.

We’ve had cowboys (Tom Mix) and Indians (Chief Jay Strongbow) and heroes (our own Rene Gagnon) and villains (like Harry Thaw, the convicted murderer of Stanford White, who sought asylum in Manchester in 1914).

We’ve had communicators (Samuel F.B. Morse and Alexander Graham Bell) and prevaricators (P. T. Barnum), large creatures (like Jumbo the Elephant) and fiery preachers (like Henry Ward Beecher), but still, no real king.

We came close once. In 1924, a guy named Edward Windsor rode through town
by train. Edward was the Prince of Wales, and later he had a brief reign as King of England, but apparently, he was unimpressed with Manchester. According to newspaper accounts, ”His Highness barely turned his head on the way by.”

The only thing that did turn his head was a babe named Wallis Simpson, but those of you who remember your history already know that story.

John Clayton

John Clayton is Executive Director of the Manchester Historic Association. You can reach him with your historical (or existential) questions at


email boxYou’re one click away! Sign up for our free eNewsletter and never miss another thing.


About Carol Robidoux 5785 Articles
Journalist and editor of, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.