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If these walls could talk

Friends of Wheeling to offer a free tour of McLure Hotel

WHEELING — On March 4, 1852 – nearly 168 years ago – Wheeling’s McLure Hotel first opened its doors for business. Since then, 11 United States presidents have been guests or speakers at the hotel, along with countless other famous and infamous people.

On March 8, Friends of Wheeling will partner with the McLure to offer a glimpse into the stories of a few of these people.

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 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. There will be free parking in the McLure parking garage on Chapline Street.

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. (To be played by 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. (To be played by 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 Mt. De Chantal. (To be played by 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. (To be played by Judi Hendrickson.)

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917) brought his world-renowned Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show to Wheeling eleven 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. (To be played by 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. (To be played by 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. (To be played by 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 February 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.” (To be played by 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 had also 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. (To be played by Greg and Debi Smith.)

Candidate John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy 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. (To be played by Darrin Richardson and Shari Irwin.)

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