Campus Myths: Fact or fiction: presidents on campus

The United States Secret Service performs many important functions: presidential protection, the investigation of counterfeit currency and – picking up Lindy’s hamburgers?

Jim Eckels, the owner of Lindy’s Red Lion on 20th and I streets, confirmed the rumor that President Gerald Ford would send some of his black-suited cohorts over to I Street to bring back some burgers whenever he got a craving for some all-American fare.

If this is true, Ford is part of a sizable group of U.S. presidents and members of the first family who have spent time on GW’s campus.

GW’s interaction with presidents began at its inception in 1824, when President James Monroe signed the charter of what was then Columbian College. He returned at the college’s first commencement, where he attended alongside future president John Quincy Adams.

Three U.S. presidents gave commencement addresses at the University. George H. W. Bush gave advice to the graduating class in 2006. Calvin Coolidge spoke to the class of 1929 and Harry Truman addressed the class of 1946, of which his daughter Margaret was a member. Truman would often visit campus, not only to see his daughter, but also to enjoy the hamburgers at Quigley’s Pharmacy, which is now Tonic restaurant on G Street, according to the University archives.

Margaret Truman was not the only member of the first family to visit Tonic. Manager Kenneth Bush (no relation to the the presidents) said Jenna Bush met a friend for lunch at the bar one day around February 2008 and left almost completely unrecognized.

But presidents don’t just come to GW for food and speeches; there’s also plenty of trips to Foggy Bottom for fun and games. Basketball games, to be exact. In February 1995, President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea attended the GW game against the University of Massachusetts in the Smith Center. At the game, President Clinton proposed the idea of additional zone defense to the Colonials’ coach. His tip must have been a good on, as he watched the Colonials defeat Massachusetts by three points.

Some presidential visits are not as light-hearted, however. On the afternoon of March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr., shot and critically wounded President Ronald Reagan as the commander in chief was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel. Reagan was then transported to the GW Hospital where doctors saved his life.

“Had the president been wounded at some other location and driven to a more distant hospital or one without a trauma team, it is questionable whether he’d (have lived),” said one of his doctors, quoted in the GW Encyclopedia, an online database compiled by the University archives. President Reagan himself retained fond memories of the GW Hospital, expressing his gratitude and appreciation after his 12-day stay.

So, will any other presidents be stopping by in the future? University historian David Anderson thinks so. He said current presidents are not the only thing to watch for; students should also keep an eye out for future commanders in chief around GW.

He said, “I think that in the future there’s a good chance that candidates will be speaking here before they become presidents as well as after.”

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