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May 23, 2014

Villagers, visitors gather for a glimpse of the president

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Cooperstown residents and visitors were disappointed they didn't get to see President Barack Obama on Thursday, despite his historic visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

But many agreed it was an honor just to witness the occasion - the first time a sitting president has visited the Hall of Fame, and the first time a current president has visited Cooperstown since Martin Van Buren came in 1839.

After Obama's speech concluded at about 4 p.m., rumors swirled on the street that he would make an appearance outside the Hall of Fame on Main Street.

News crews and police gathered at the building's entrance, setting up metal barriers. Eager fans were let down when word spread that Obama had already left Cooperstown and was on his way to Chicago.

“I wish he had at least shown his face,” said Florence Disotelle. “We're big Obama supporters. It wouldn't have taken much time. It would have been considerate for them to tell us he wasn't coming out.”

George and Leola Streeter hoped to see the president, as well. George said he collects a special line of presidential baseball cards produced by Topps, and was hoping for an autograph.

Leola recalled meeting President John F. Kennedy in 1960, while she was in high school in Ilion.

“He was so handsome,” she said. “It was really something to see him in  person. You don't usually see a president.”

Kristin Karasek, an art teacher at Cooperstown High School, and her former student, Elizabeth Kenison, supported Obama's visit in a creative way. The two women spent more than four hours painting his caricature  on a storefront window of F. R. Woods Memorabilia Shop on Main Street.

“Even if we don't get to see him, it was still fun to do and be part  of,” Kenison said.

Before Obama's arrival in the village, at about 3 p.m., Stacie Haynes was one of many hoping to catch a glimpse of the commander in chief. She had camped out under the scorching sun, near more than 10 state police officers and a handful of other bystanders.

Haynes, 31, is seven months pregnant.

"I'm preparing my child to be president someday," she laughed. "If I met him, I'd be speechless. I have so much student loan debt. … Without him, I'd probably be homeless."

Not much older than Haynes' unborn child, 8-month-old Anna, accompanied by her mother, Qin Zhu, of Cooperstown, walked around Main Street. Zhu said Obama holds a special place in her heart because he was elected the same year that she immigrated to America.

"I wanted us to see him, but it's too long to wait," she said.

The actual Marine One touched down in Cooperstown at 3:07 p.m., followed by the president's motorcade to a back entrance of the Hall of Fame. As the president passed, onlookers cheered and were able to glimpse his waving hand through tinted glass.

RJ Stalzer, 11, and Jason Furnari, 10, along with other local students, were let out early from Cooperstown Central School. From atop their scooters, the pair had a front-row view of Obama's motorcade as it passed.

"I felt like I was an inch away from him," Furnari said breathlessly.

"If I could, I would tell him thank you for coming, especially to a small place like Cooperstown," Stalzer said. "We saw the president and we got out of school early - all in the same day!"

Jessica Reynolds writes for the Oneonta, N.Y., Daily Star.

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