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If These Walls Could Talk

Photo Provided Re-enactors Gael Fincham, at left, and Judi Hendrickson, with the Friends of Wheeling, are among the re-enactors who will portray historic figures who visited the McLure House Hotel in Wheeling during a program set for March 8 at the hotel.

WHEELING — On March 4, 1852 – nearly 168 years ago – Wheeling’s McLure Hotel first opened its doors for business. Since then, 11 U.S. presidents have been guests or speakers at the hotel, along with countless other famous and infamous people. On Sunday afternoon, March 8, Friends of Wheeling will partner with the McLure to offer a glimpse into the stories of a few of these people.

Visitors can utilize free parking in the McLure House Hotel garage on Chapline Street.

Thirteen costumed presenters, ranging across the decades from the hotel’s namesake and founder, John McLure Sr., to presidential candidate John F. Kennedy and his wife will share their stories in two different venues.

Visitors have the option of a free tour during the afternoon or a later dinner with a “famous person.” Ongoing, free tours begin at 1 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 4 p.m.

The second option is for dinner guests to interact with the presenters during a reception in the hotel’s ballroom, beginning at 5 p.m., followed by a 6 p.m. buffet dinner with cash bar. Reservations are required by March 2 for the dinner and can be made by calling the hotel’s reception desk at 304-232-0300. No reservations are needed for the free afternoon tours.

Over the years, major remodeling and reconstruction have led to a facility with little similar appearance to the original. But the location has always remained the same, and visitors will feel a sense of history when they enter the building. Unfortunately, original guestbooks have been lost, but newspaper reports confirm the presence of many whose names remain important parts of our past.

Tour visitors will be greeted by “Bellhop” Chris Roarke. A list of the characters and presenters includes the following:

∫ John McLure Sr. (c.1783-1874) was the original owner of the hotel that still bears his name and that of his nephew, riverboat captain John McLure Jr. (c. 1815-1893). The hotel opened in time for the arrival of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad a few months later. (Jim Comerci and Parker Skedel)

∫ Ellsworth M. Statler (1863-1928) began his long hotel career at age 13 as a bellboy at the McLure. His hard work and innovative ideas led to promotions and seed funding to start his own hotel chain that ascribed to reasonable prices and an attitude that “the customer is always right.” To this day, his name is well-known in the hotel industry. (Johnathon Porter)

∫ Civil War General William Rosecrans (1819-1878) and his wife Ann and children were guests of the hotel before the war, when he worked on several engineering projects in the western part of Virginia, and during the war, when he is credited with the design of the Wheeling Ambulance. Two daughters attended Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy. (Jeanne Finstein as Ann Rosecrans)

∫ Actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) played the lead role in the French play “Camille” at the Wheeling Park casino on June 1, 1906. Her highly theatrical and costly lifestyle – that included a menagerie of pets – required her to perform frequently both in the U.S. and abroad to stay out of debt. Her French theater troupe arrived in Wheeling in a special train. (Judi Hendrickson)

∫ William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) brought his world-renowned Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show to Wheeling 11 times between 1877 and 1901. He and many of the show’s cast members stayed at the McLure when they entertained thousands at Wheeling’s nearby Opera House and later at the Wheeling Island Fairgrounds. (Dave Clutter)

∫ Historical accounts of the McLure state that Actress Henrietta Crosman (1861-1944) was born in the hotel near the beginning of the Civil War, when her father was a Union officer stationed in Wheeling. Her long career included performances on the stage and in both silent and “talkie” movies. It’s unknown if she returned to Wheeling after her childhood years. (Gael Fincham)

∫ President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) visited Wheeling on September 6, 1902, less than a year after becoming President following the assassination of William McKinley. Following his arrival by train, he spoke to a large crowd of well-wishers from an exterior balcony of the McLure, promoting a “square deal” for Americans and the breaking up of large business trusts. (Dave Barnett)

∫ Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) had been invited to speak at the McLure Hotel at the annual Lincoln Day dinner of the Republican Women’s Club of Ohio County on Feb. 9, 1950. Rather than making a typical Lincoln Day speech, he claimed to hold a list of Communists in the U.S. State Department, setting off a nationwide “Red Scare.” (Hal Gorby)

∫ Former President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess spent the night of June 20, 1953, at the McLure while on a retirement road trip. Truman also had visited Wheeling in 1928 when the Madonna of the Trail monument was dedicated, although he was called to Washington for important business and missed the actual dedication. (Greg & Debi Smith)

∫ Candidate John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie, were in Wheeling on April 19, 1960, on a campaign tour leading up to the 1960 presidential election. They visited Sylvania Electric Products Company, Hazel Atlas Glass, and West Liberty State and Bethany colleges before speaking to 700 well-wishers at the McLure. (Darrin Richardson & Shari Irwin).

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