The bald pate and rotund body seen here on the Capitol veranda is that of George W. P. Hunt, photographed on Valentine’s Day, 1912, delivering his inaugural address as the state’s first governor.
Earlier that morning – 10:23 a.m. Washington, D.C. time – President William Howard Taft, no lightweight himself, had affixed his signature to the proclamation of admission for Arizona statehood, and a 40-year effort. As Taft signed his name, a camera whirred in the background, the first time moving pictures were made of a presidential function.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Arizona time, whistles, bells and yells went up announcing receipt at the telegraph office of the news that Arizona had last emerged from its territorial womb. “I congratulate the people of this, our newest commonwealth, upon the realization of their long cherished ambition…” wired Taft to outgoing Gov. Richard E. Sloan.
Hunt, headquartered at the Ford Hotel, then set out for the Capitol to take the oath of office from newly sworn-in Chief Justice Alfred Franklin. In a display intended to show the citizenry that his administration would be a frugal one, Hunt waved away automobiles and carriages and walked to his inauguration – a 45 minute jaunt punctuated by frequent stops to press the flesh.
He was late, but nearly as late as he might have been had a sharp-eyed trainman not saved him the day before.
The previous morning, Hunt, his wife and his 7-year-old daughter, Virginia, had boarded the train at Globe and taken a circuitous route to Phoenix via Safford, Benson and Tucson. Arriving at Tucson late in the afternoon, he was met by perennial presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a man the press often called the “great commoner.” Unbeknownst to Hunt, an informal reception had been put together on the station platform – not for him, but in Bryan’s honor. The governor-elect found himself in the role of introducer, and the long-winded Bryan wanted to be introduced to everybody.
The clock ticked and the train began rolling out of the station. Hunt – forgoing dignity – abandoned Bryan and dashed from the platform, chasing after the train, his arms flailing and his voice rising in epitaphs. “A lively race followed,” chronicled the Tucson Citizen. “Governor Hunt, though somewhat handicapped in the matter of weight, led easily. Even at that, the official party would have been stranded in Tucson had not the rear end brakeman observed the race and signaled the train to halt. When it started again the governor and his friends were safely aboard.”
Thus, the governor’s race (for the train) was won, and the inauguration of the people’s choice proceeded in a timely fashion.
– W. Lane Rogers. Photo courtesy of the author.