The First Clinton Visit

(August 1999)  When General Lafayette visited Skaneateles in 1824, Dr. Samuel Porter illuminated his home on E. Genesee Street in welcome and celebration. The Frenchman had risked his life and fortune to help the Colonies win independence and our young nation loved him for it, greeting Lafayette like a rock star in every town he visited almost 50 years later.

Dr. Porter’s home still stands on E. Genesee Street, but no extra lighting was observed for the recent visit of the President of the United States. However, the Chief Executive and his family did draw enthusiastic crowds.

The throngs seemed to be divided evenly into three groups: people waiting for the Clintons, people trying not to appear as though they were waiting for the Clintons, and people watching the people who were waiting for the Clintons. Every evening, the first two groups lined the curbs shivering and swapping rumors, while the third group soaked up the atmosphere and went home.

The cool evenings stoked business at Roland’s, where those keeping vigil could buy a sweatshirt. Other pilgrims stayed warm in their cars, driving from restaurant to restaurant in hopes of a “Clinton sighting,” as if the President was Elvis himself.

The residents will no doubt appreciate a return to the peace and quiet that the Village is known for. The TV trucks are a bit large for the Village streets. And the undercurrent of griping will not be missed. For people who dislike the Clintons, Bill and Hillary’s appearances were calculated campaign stops and their disappearances were proof of their aloof nature.

One man strolled down the sidewalks with a handwritten placard that said “Hillary’s Crimes” but listed so many of them that the writing was too small to read. What could be read was his New York Yankees T-shirt, creating the impression that the First Lady had somehow sinned against baseball.

A bicyclist wore a day-glo green sign that read, “No Oversized Trucks, Houses, Perverts,” apparently protesting traffic, wealth and oral sex. It made one wonder how quiet the Village would become if he was successful on all fronts. For the moment, however, he rode alone.

What must have grated on the detractors the most was the unabashed glee with which the Clintons were greeted by so many. When Chelsea appeared outside the Village library, a toddler offered her a (wet) lollipop. Hillary found her likeness smiling back at her from store windows. The President shook hands, posed for photos and autographed a dollar bill at Mark’s Pizzeria.

Occasionally, enthusiasm gave way to rudeness. At Mark’s, a reporter sought to detain the President by holding open his car door and had his wrist whacked by a Secret Service agent. Outside Rosalie’s, a mother with her young son on her shoulders was given an expert elbow to the neck by a man behind her who just had to break through to shake the Presidential hand.

The First Family dined at The Krebs on Thursday night. One hopes the President passed by the signature of Andrew Johnson in Fred Krebs’ framed autograph collection, and the ashtray commemorating the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, but did not miss the signature of Rafael Sabatini, author of “Scaramouche” and “The Sea Hawk,” the towering gingko tree on the east side of the restaurant, and the rare 19th century ‘linen on a chain’ hand towel dispenser upstairs in the Men’s Room.

By all reports, there is much the First Family did miss. They did not pause by the war memorials in Shotwell Park, and wonder how such a small town could muster more than a thousand men and women to answer the call to arms, 544 men and women in World War II alone. They did not take a moment to read the golden Slovakian inscription on the rafter at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (Psalm 97:10) or stop to see the Tiffany stained-glass window at St. James Episcopal.

They did not get to stand alone on the jetty at sunrise, or take Buddy to obedience training in Austin Park, float up into the sapphire sky with Georgia Peach in her hot air balloon, listen to music on the lawn of Brook Farm, watch polo, ride the Mail Boat, start the day with a dollar and a dream at Herb’s, eat a warm jelly donut from the bakery, or do any of the hundreds of other things that make Skaneateles much more than a lake ringed by beautiful homes.

Maybe next time.

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