In the "war years" of 1942, 1943 and 1944, Greater Lafayette was visited by some famous people for some rather strange reasons.
The popular singer FRANK SINATRA, for example, performed here just once. It was the evening of March 28, 1942.
There was a "Victor Varieties" type of show in Purdue’s Elliott Hall of Music at 7:30 p.m. and you had to buy U.S. War Bonds and stamps to get in. Two hours later there was a "mixer" in the Purdue Union Ballrooms.
TOMMY DORSEY and his Orchestra was the main attraction. The band included Sinatra, singer Connie Haines, the vocal group called the Pied Pipers, and an energetic young drummer by the name of BUDDY RICH!
That summer, on Aug. 1, 1942, a popular singer named WEE BONNIE BAKER sang her famous "Oh Johnny!" number from the stage of the Mars Theater, heading a wartime variety show. One of the comedians who did impersonations on that show was named LARRY STORCH.
DOROTHY LAMOUR the actress was the headliner at a rare outdoor show in Ross-Ade Stadium on Sept. 24, 1942. She was touring the country selling war bonds, and her local audience of more than 20,000 on a cold night bough $508,443 worth of bonds. (Rita Hayworth had been scheduled, but was ill.)
DUKE ELLINGTON and his Orchestra made its first visit to Lafayette for a concert in the Columbian Park Stadium the night of Aug. 15, 1944. The "Duke" returned several times before his death.
J.C. PENNEY paid the first of several visits to his local store on Aug. 5, 1947.
LOWELL THOMAS broadcast one of his radio shows from the Purdue Union the evening of Oct. 6, 1952.
RICHARD M. NIXON was running for vice president of the United States on Oct. 16, 1952, when he campaigned here from a Wabash Railroad train at the depot on Ferry Street. He and his wife Pat were given keys to the city.
ANN SHERIDAN, the actress, visited Lafayette Feb. 18, 1953 on a sad mission: To attend the funeral of the famous Steve Hannagan, a Lafayette native who became one of the world’s most noted press agents.
BILLY GRAHAM was in Lafayette for a few minutes on Dec. 31, 1957. He left a train at the station at 2nd and South streets and climbed into a car bound for Champaign, Ill., where he was to speak. The trip would have gone unnoticed but he left his Bible on the roof of the car. The Bible fell off on South Fourth Street atop the hill north of the former Three Sons Shopping Center. A local boy found it, and it was mailed to Dr. Graham at his home on Montreat, N.C.
JOHN F. KENNEDY visited Lafayette three times. The first was on April 13, 1959, to speak on "The Challenges Faced By Our Colleges" at Purdue. The next was in October 1959, to see a Purdue-Notre Dame football game as a guest of Purdue President Frederick L. Hovde. The last was April 7, 1960, as a candidate for president who the day before had won the Wisconsin primary.
ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, who visited Purdue in 1936, returned for a talk at a Methodist Youth Conference in Elliott Hall of Music Aug. 27, 1959.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, 20 months after leaving the White House, landed at Purdue Airport and waved to crowds in a motorcade to U.S. 52 north. He was en route to Rensselaer to honor veteran Congressman Charles A. Halleck. The date was Sept. 13, 1962.
KING MOHAMED ZAHIR of Afghanistan visited Purdue and received an honorary degree on Sept. 16, 1963.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY campaigned for president here on May 1, 1968. His itinerary included a welcome at Purdue Airport, a motorcade to the north side of the Courthouse for a speech, a tour of Purdue and an address from the stage of the Hall of Music. Just six weeks later he was assassinated in California.
NEIL ARMSTRONG had studied at Purdue and lived in West Lafayette as a young man. Later he became one of the nation’s astronauts and, on July 20, 1969, became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon. He visited the campus several times after the moon walk, but when he returned Jan. 9, 1970 for a speech and honorary degree, he was a world hero whose name would belong to the ages.
About the series:
Each week, the Journal & Courier is reprinting some of the best of Bob Kriebel’s Old Lafayette columns. Today is a look back at notable visitors to the city. This is taken from a column published April 30, 1978.
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