EATON — William Henry Harrison, the United States’ ninth president, ran a campaign in 1840 that is responsible for setting the stage on how even modern day political races are run.
He was accused of being a “hard cider and log cabin man” – or in other words, a drunk. Harrison turned that to his advantage, claiming he was a hard cider man and a log cabin man and also a regular man. It set a precedent which is still used today, playing to an image and not just policy.
During this campaign trail though, it was long thought Harrison stopped in Eaton on Sept. 8, 1840. But after very extensive research from Steve Martin, a reference librarian at Morrisson-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana, he was able to prove that Harrison absolutely did stay in Eaton.
However, here is the catch – his stay wasn’t on Sept. 8 like first thought.
Instead, his stay was cited to be on July 25, 1840, and it is believed (using secondary sources) that Harrison stayed the night at his friend Cornelius Van Ausdal’s home on 122 E. Main St. in downtown Eaton.
Martin was able to pinpoint the date by sifting through several newspapers, accumulating a timeline for Harrison’s whereabouts in September and October to no avail.
But then he found a book titled “The Log Cabin Campaign” by Robert Gunderson. As he read through the book, there was a direct quote on what Harrison said in Eaton during the campaign – including a footnote.
“If this had been a suspense movie,” joked Martin. “I couldn’t get my eyes down there fast enough. But I’ve had my hopes dashed and I tried to not be too happy or be too glum, but that was electrifying moment. I did not need coffee that day.”
The footnote was from The Cleveland Axe in Aug. 6, 1840.
Martin sought surviving newspapers from July and August of 1840 through the Library of Congress while also finding websites that had digitized newspapers from Ohio and Indiana.
He found a story in The Eaton Register, also from Aug. 6, which described how excited the town was to have Harrison stay for two days and two nights – July 25-26. During his time in town, it is believed he gave a speech on the corner of Main and Barron, where William Bruce’s statue now sits.
The paper described how Harrison traveled from Hamilton to Eaton while several hundred people came to see him on that corner. It even tells how 13 young girls were dressed in white dresses, blue liberty caps and sashes with banners representing the 13 original states.
On the morning of July 27, he woke up and left the Van Ausdal home and headed to Greenville for a celebration.
It becomes an even more unique piece of history, as Martin points out, because Harrison is the only president to stay locally in a structure that still exists in Eaton. He is also the shortest serving president in U.S. history, running the country for one month before dying of pneumonia, which also made him the first president to die in office.
The structure on Main Street is now owned by Rick Gade, who also helped fund Martin’s research. Martin donated all of his findings to the Preble County District Library.