Originally Published: September 2, 2014 6:02 a.m.
On Wednesday, the community will be celebrating its unique relationship with the late Barry Goldwater that hit a fevered pitch in Prescott exactly 50 years ago.
On Sept. 3, 1964, Goldwater stood on the north steps of the Yavapai County Courthouse to officially kick off his presidential campaign.
Goldwater's tradition of announcing his candidacy on the Yavapai County Courthouse north steps began on Sept. 19, 1952 during his first campaign for U.S. Senate.
Local historian and activist Elisabeth Ruffner remembers her husband Budge Ruffner and Goldwater coming up with the idea during a visit to Prescott.
Barry felt like Prescott was his hometown, Ruffner related.
Thereafter, Goldwater continued to announce his candidacies on those courthouse steps. And Budge was almost always the master of ceremonies, as he was 50 years ago.
Goldwater was a symbol of the rise of the New West, yet he combined that with the imagery of the Old West in Arizona's territorial capital for his presidential announcement, observed Jack August, executive director of the Barry Goldwater Center for the Southwest.
Barry Morris Goldwater loved Prescott and the childhood memories it held for him. He spent his summers here while growing up.
Barry's Uncle Morris had the strongest connection to Prescott. After helping with family stores along the Colorado River and in Phoenix, he and his brothers Henry and Baron (Barry's father) opened a Goldwater mercantile store in Prescott in 1876.
Morris served as Prescott's mayor for a combined 20 years. He also held many other political titles, including vice president of the Arizona Constitutional Convention, president of the state Senate, state senator, territorial legislator, county supervisor and city council member. History credits him with organizing the Arizona Democratic Party and creating the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Barry said Uncle Morris' example of public service had a major influence on him.
Barry served on the Phoenix City Council before winning the U.S. Senate seat in 1952 in a huge victory over veteran Democrat Ernest McFarland. That was the first year he announced his candidacy on the courthouse steps in Prescott.
"Prescott has always been lucky for me," he told a columnist shortly before beating the Eastern establishment for the Republican presidential nomination.
The town really went all out for Goldwater's 1964 announcement, organizing a parade featuring movie stars Randolph Scott and Tex Ritter, another famous person with local roots.
The city fathers proclaimed it "Welcome Home Barry Day."
Stores closed down so employees could attend. The Sam Steiger for Congress committee put on a buffet at the Hassayampa Inn. Steiger was a state senator at the time. Yavapai-Prescott Chieftess Viola Jimulla invited American Indian leaders from all over the state.
"What could be more fitting than to stand here to send forth our message - a message for all who would be free and unafraid, a message for all who would face the future with hope and faith," Goldwater told the crowd gathered below him on Sept. 3, 1964. "This is truly the home of the free and of the brave."
It was fitting that it also was Prescott's centennial year, and now its sesquicentennial year.
One of the most popular items selling on the streets that day was "Gold Water," a 20-cent can of lemon-lime brew, the late Jim Garner recalled in his Prescott Evening Courier column on Sept. 4, 1964.
On the inside page was a photo of the Smoki People giving Goldwater a "chief's ring" and proclaiming him the Smoki's first honorary chief. They named him Great Eagle.
As the founder of the country's conservative movement, Goldwater inspired many others to continue his tradition on the Yavapai County Courthouse steps, including U.S. Sen. John McCain.
But Barry Goldwater, Jr., remembers his father did a lot of soul searching about whether to run for president.
He had been good friends with John F. Kennedy, and while sipping a few bourbons at the White House one evening, the two men came up with the idea of flying around the country to debate the issues with each other.
"When the president was shot, it took a lot of wind out of our father's desire to run," Barry, Jr. related. And he wondered if the country wanted three presidents in 14 months.
"Even though he realized he probably couldn't win, he went ahead for those who looked to him as the father of the conservative movement," Barry Jr. related.
Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder
More like this story
- McCain revives Goldwater symbolism on courthouse steps
- Friends, fans honor Barry Goldwater
- Top 10 stories of 2008: No. 9 - McCain presidential campaign highlights Prescott connection
- Gosar bill would name Miller Valley post office after Barry Goldwater
- McCain returns to courthouse steps of Goldwater fame