With all the presidential hopefully tossing their hats in to the ring this year, we thought it might be fun to take a look back at an unusual presidential candidate who made a brief stop in Wyoming in 1940. That year, Gracie Allen, half of the comedic power couple Burns and Allen, declared that she would run for president in her very own Surprise Party.
It all started as an ongoing radio joke, with Gracie appearing on various other programs to “promote” her campaign to be the first female president. In the following weeks, the gag became so popular that she received invitations from the City of Omaha to host her Surprise Party’s “national convention” as well as an invitation to speak at the National Press Women’s Club by none other than Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady and wife of candidate Roosevelt himself. She was even endorsed by FDR’s alma mater Harvard!
In conjunction with Omaha’s offer, the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) offered Gracie a special train take her from Los Angeles to Omaha, making campaign whistle stops along the way. After quite a bit of coaxing from her husband and the crew, she finally agreed and made 31 stops between May 8th and May 14. Four of those stops were in Wyoming, including spending Saturday night and all day Sunday in Cheyenne before dipping down into northern Colorado Monday morning.
On Saturday, May 11th, the “Gracie Allen Special” arrived in Wyoming. Her first stop was at in Rock Springs where she, George and her announcer spoke briefly from the train platform. The city presented her with a kangaroo sculpture made out of coal from a local mine by Elgin “Bud” Meacham. The kangaroo was Gracie’s chosen mascot for the campaign. The Rock Springs Rocket estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 were on hand to greet the train, though she was not the only excitement for the day. The visit coincided with the second annual Golden Spike Days, celebrating the 70th anniversary +1 of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
Gracie’s next stop was at Rawlins, where the paper estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 were gathered. The local Union Pacific clubs had packed much into her 20 minute visit. She was presented with a rug and 26 mountain-caught trout before being treated to a short majorette performance. As she did at all of her stops in Wyoming, Gracie appeared in an 1860s style dress and bonnet, while George wore a dapper beaver hat and tails. The Rawlins Republican also noted that “a loud speaker system [on the train] took her voice to all of the listeners.”
That afternoon, she stopped at Laramie for another 20 minute visit. There, Dr. A. G. Crane, president of the University of Wyoming, introduced the candidate and announced his willingness to join the “Surprise Party” as Laramie’s representative.
At 7 pm, the train pulled into Cheyenne, its final stop for the day. Gracie, George and Governor Nels Smith then rode atop the Black Hills Stagecoach, led by a torch-lit parade up Capitol Avenue of majorettes, bands and Union Pacific old timers. On the lawn of the Supreme Court Building, she gave her stump speech and again in the Junior High auditorium before being whisked away to the Frontier Park for a “ball” in her honor. After spending a quite Sunday morning, George and Gracie visited the Governor in the executive mansion and touring Cheyenne and Fort Warren. One stop was the Veteran’s Administration to visit veterans and entertained patients. An afternoon rain shower canceled a planned appearance at a Warren Bowl sing-along.