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For Sheer Drama, This Presidential Campaign Speech May Never Be Topped.

By Curt Anderson
March 3, 2020 11:47 am
Category: History
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No, it wasn't when a little bird landed on Bernie Sanders' lectern at a rally in Portland, Oregon in 2016. The most dramatic presidential campaign appearance ever did happen in Oregon and it was by a Socialist who peppered his speeches with calls for a revolution however.

Frank T. Johns (photo below) was a political activist and politician. He was twice nominated for president of the United States by the Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP). Johns was born February 23, 1889. He was a carpenter by trade who made his home in Portland, Oregon.

At the time of his first selection, in 1924, Johns was the youngest person ever to be nominated by a political party to run for president, just 255 days over the constitutional requirement of 35 years. Johns campaigned on the SLP platform which railed against capitalism and greedy wealthy people.

Johns was renominated four years later. The 1928 SLP convention adjourned and Johns immediately threw himself into his campaign tour of America to speak on behalf of his candidacy and the socialist cause. Johns headed home for Oregon, making his first appearance of the campaign in the central Oregon town of Bend on Sunday afternoon, May 20, 1928.

At the end of his speech, delivered at a riverside park in Bend Oregon, Johns was answering the questions from interested attendees. Suddenly, cries rang out from a young boy who had fallen from a footbridge into the river and was being swept away by the current of the Deschutes River. Johns instantly threw off his coat and dove into the frigid river in an attempt to retrieve the boy. He swam about 75 yards to reach the youngster and began to swim with him, pulling the boy to shore. A short distance from safety Johns' strength gave out and the pair were swept away to their deaths.

Frank Johns was 39 years old at the time of his death, and the boy he unsuccessfully tried to rescue, John C. Rhodes, Jr. of Bend, was 10.

Johns was posthumously awarded a Carnegie Medal for Heroism, which paid his widowed wife (who died in 1933) and the couple's two daughters a stipend of $1,000 per year. A granite memorial was erected in Drake Park in 1970 near the place where Johns drowned.

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