Wild Ride: When President Eisenhower Stopped to Pick Up Hitchhikers

Getty / Getty

If you dare to stick out your thumb and hitchhike, you never know who’s going to be behind the wheel. It could be a kind stranger. It could be a serial killer. It could be Larry David. And, if you lived in the D.C. area in the 1950s, it could have been the President of the United States.

In December 1954, 34th U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie were on their way to Catoctin Mountain, home of the presidential retreat Camp David, when they spotted two Marines looking for a lift. When Eisenhower sent his chief of Secret Service to investigate, he discovered that both men were traveling home after spending time at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Pvt. Harold D. Payne, 20, was headed to Akron, Ohio, while Pvt. William L. Weaver, 19, was going to Dewitt, Michigan.

The young men hopped in, though they didn’t get to ride in the car with the Eisenhowers themselves. The Marines had to make do with a Navy physician and the president’s personal valet for company. The presidential motorcade was able to take the men about 40 miles before they had to go their separate ways.

It wasn't the only time the president offered his assistance. In December 1957, Eisenhower was traveling from D.C. to his farm in Gettysburg when he happened across airman second class Jerry Beswick with his thumb out. Beswick was headed back to his Air Force Base in Syracuse after a trip home, and the president figured it was only appropriate to help the serviceman out—and this time, he rolled down the window and made the offer himself. “I thought we’d give you a lift,” he told the surprised airman. Like the previous hitchhikers, Beswick was assigned to the car carrying the presidential physician. He exited at the farm in Gettysburg with a heck of a story to tell when he got home.