When President Obama arrives in Utah Thursday, it means he avoids the very small list of presidents who never made a visit to the Beehive State. Only Calvin Coolidge, Chester A. Arthur, and Grover Cleveland never came to Utah while in office.
Ronald Fox spent three years researching presidential visits to Utah for a book he co-authored with former West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder. He compiled an exhaustive list of presidential visits beginning with Ulysses S. Grant in 1875.
"Grant was on a train passing through Utah," says Fox. "He was introduced to Brigham Young during that visit."
Meeting with LDS Church leaders has become a tradition for presidents when they visit Utah.
"All of them have met with church leaders to my knowledge. However, with General Conference happening this weekend, it might make scheduling a visit for President Obama difficult," he said.
UtahPolicy.com reached out to the White House for comment on whether Obama will meet with LDS Church leaders during his visit. A spokesperson could not provide details of the president's schedule while in Utah as of publication time.
Fox's knowledge of presidential visits is encyclopedic and astonishing. He can rattle the stats off the top of his head. Want to know which presidents have visited the Capitol building? Only George W. Bush has ever gone inside while in office. Woodrow Wilson spoke to the Boy Scouts on the steps of the Capitol while Herbert Hoover visited while Secretary of Commerce.
The only president to ever swim in the Great Salt Lake was Teddy Roosevelt. According to Fox, he and Governor Heber Wells went swimming together on what was one of the coldest September days in Utah in recent history.
18 presidents have visited the Tabernacle. In fact, Fox, working as part of the advance team for the White House, was able to get President George H.W. Bush inside for an unannounced visit for a choir concert.
"We didn't have any metal detectors for the visit. We had told the choir director about an hour before he came. It was all off the record and very quick. He was able to come in and see half the concert, leaving at intermission."
Fox, who has done advance work for multiple Republican administrations, says a presidential visit is not a small undertaking.
"The decision to have President Obama stop here was probably made 3-4 weeks ago, but people just started learning about it within the last ten days. Everything is pre-approved now. There's no more spontaneity."
Fox says one of his favorite stories about Utah involves then Vice Presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt.
"He came to town in 1900 and went to the Alta Club. Some of his fellow soldiers who served with him in the Rough Riders came to the club with a horse. He went inside, changed his clothes and rode from the Alta Club to Liberty Park and back. Here was a guy who was the Governor of New York and about to become Vice President of the U.S. riding full gallop through downtown Salt Lake City."
Some other tidbits from Fox's research:
11 Presidents have visited the Church Administration Building
17 presidents have visited Provo
- Teddy Roosevelt
- Franklin Roosevelt
Herbert Hoover only came once as President, but visited Utah most often of all men who won the White House, making 23 visits to the Beehive State.