MACON – It was business as usual in Macon on Tuesday. The downtown streets were quiet by late afternoon. Teenagers warmed up on the track behind the high school while women shopped for flowers across town.
Things seemed perfectly ordinary on the eve of President Barack Obama’s visit to the small farming community in north-central Missouri. Normal except, perhaps, for the shroud of secrecy blanketing the town and its residents — most people didn't want to give information about the president's visit.
As part of his Main Street Tour, the president will visit the POET Biorefining plant and a small area farm, both located near Macon. Obama will also travel to Illinois and Iowa during his two-day visit.
The POET plant, which began operating in 2000, is Missouri’s first to produce ethanol. It is expected that Obama will speak to workers there about the economy and jobs.
Employees at the plant were told by members of the Secret Service not to speak to anyone about the visit.
Secret Service and other security personnel “infiltrated” the town weeks ago but have been trying — and frequently failing — to keep a low profile, according to residents.
“They’re kind of hard to miss,” said Gary Pulliam, who comes to Macon often and shopped at the Westlake Ace Hardware in town Tuesday.
The federal agents have been heard raving about Raspberry's Bar-Bq, a small restaurant just north of town and a few miles west of the POET plant. The owner was asked to deliver lunch to the plant tomorrow but could not give further details.
Residents first learned of the visit when it was officially announced early last week, but they said rumors had been swirling for a while before that. The announcement only increased the speculation.
“I had overheard several folks the other day saying the name of that farm he’s going to,” said Betsy Gray, who lives outside of town. Gray said she was too far from the group, though, and couldn’t hear the name.
“Too bad. I would like to know who got picked and why.”
Sentiments in the town seemed to be divided among irritation, excitement and indifference.
Members of the Missouri Republican Party and the Macon County Patriots, a tea party group, held a protest Tuesday. The group met at O’Laughlin, a ready-mix concrete plant about three miles from the POET plant.
Others celebrated the visit, which they see as bringing positive attention to the town.
“It’s exciting. It’s a historic event,” Gray said. “I’m glad he chose Macon. I wish I could meet him.”
Still others seemed altogether uninterested in the visit.
“It would be different if he were actually coming into town, to someplace where people could meet him or even just see him,” Pulliam said. “But he’s out there talking with the big business people when us real working people have things to say to him, too.”
The president’s visit is not expected to take him through any main parts of Macon, and the two stops will not be open to the public.
Residents speculated that the visit would shut down parts of Highway 36, which runs past the ethanol plant, but road closures were not confirmed.
'One for the record books'
The Macon County Historical Society has records of three previous presidential visits to the town; presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman stopped in Macon in 1909, 1929 and 1945, respectively.
Ruth Masten, who works in the historical society’s museum and genealogy department, said she is sure this visit will also be “one for the record books.”
“I’m sure it’ll go down in the history of Macon that President Obama came and visited the ethanol plant here,” Masten said. “It’s something that is very exciting for our little town.”