Wayne Onkst, retired state librarian and commissioner of the State Libraries, Archives and Records was a guest speaker at The Friends of the Scott County Library meeting Sunday. The Friends of the Scott County Public Library is a nonprofit organization which supports the library.
Onkst, a UK graduate who studied history and library science, is the author of “Presidential Visits to Kentucky 1819-2017.” He shared some of the highlights of the historical visits by presidents to the state Sunday.
“We see the President of the United States every night on TV,” said Onkst. “He’s part of our lives every day. That wasn’t always the case.”
“Seeing the president used to be such an event that people would travel a long way to see him.”
There have been 120 presidential visits to Kentucky, according to Onkst. Twenty-seven sitting presidents have visited the state. Since the Civil War, only three presidents — James A. Garfield, Calvin Coolidge and Grover Cleveland — didn’t visit Kentucky while in office. Eight of these visiting presidents made a stop in Scott County.
James Monroe was the first president to visit Kentucky while in office in 1819. On July 1 of that year, Monroe came with Andrew Jackson to Scott County. They stayed with Richard M. Johnson, a prominent local figure at the time.
“A lot of people didn’t know what the president looked like,” said Onkst. “Imagine the President of the United States coming up to your door and asking to spend the night.”
Onkst also showed a picture that he has a particular fascination with. The image came from the 1983 Derby Eve Gala hosted by then-Kentucky Gov. John Brown Jr. Guests included Donald Trump, former President Jimmy Carter, then-Gov.of Arkansas Bill Clinton and then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. As far as Onkst knew, it was the only time three eventual presidents and a former president of the United States all attended the same party.
Onkst’s book, “Presidential Visits to Kentucky 1819-2017” is available now.
Noah Oldham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.