HOMER, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A man who became legendary for being one of the U.S. Navy’s most prolific kissers visited Louisiana more than 100 years ago, but he did not smooch when he visited northwest Louisiana; he came to rally against the social ills of his time.
Richard Pearson Hobson’s heroic efforts began during the Spanish-American war at Santiago Harbor in Cuba.
The U.S.S. Merrimac’s Rear Admiral William T. Sampson ordered the ship sunk in the Cuban harbor. Hobson was one of seven men to volunteer for the suicidal mission when they learned the idea was to block the harbor’s entrance and trap the Spanish ships.
The Spaniards’ land-based cannons sunk the ship before the Merrimac’s crew could, and the Spanish took the crewmen, prisoner.
A month later, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Hobson and the men under his command were released and awarded Medals of Honor for their role in the mission.
The obscure naval officer evolved into a national idol, and hundreds of newspapers celebrated the handsome Navy officer as a survivor of one of the most remarkable feats in the history of the U.S. Navy.
Parents named their newborns after him. A fund was raised to save his parent’s home, which was facing foreclosure. The Union Central Insurance Company proudly advertised Hobson as one of its policyholders. A cigar, “Hobson’s Choice,” was even named to honor him.
With so much fanfare and adoration, it was only a matter of time before Hobson became a heartthrob.
Requests for Hobson to speak came pouring in, but Hobson refused. When he did speak on August 4, 1898, there was thunderous applause from the crowd at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Hobson tried to speak, but the cheering mob stampeded over footlights to reach him.
Hobson headed west to San Francisco, where he was to sail to a new assignment in the Philippines. But along the way, Hobson became a bit preoccupied. A police officer stated he saw Hobson kiss 163 women in Chicago. A day later, reports spread that Hobson had kissed 419 women in Kansas City and was kissing his way across Kansas. Soon word came that the hero managed to kiss 350 women in Topeka and 1,000 Kansas women in all.
Asked if he was tired from his constant exertions, Hobson supposedly responded, “No, haven’t yet: have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. I suppose if I had kissed one woman as often as I have kissed different women, I would be thoroughly exhausted. But the constant change is delightfully exhilarating.”
The newspapers often exaggerated or lied about the craze, his kissing binges in Topeka and across Kansas were contrived. When asked to explain his conduct, Hobson told the press he was simply the victim of “pure patriotic enthusiasm on the part of others” and said he had kissed only a few relatives and some children.
But the reputation was as immovable as the ship Hobson was famous for sinking.
There is no answer to how many women Hobson actually kissed. However, in America in the Victorian Age, such conduct was scandalous. America in the late 19th century hungered for heroes. Hobson was like a knight out of a fairy tale, and the complete and total failure of the Merrimac mission did not seem to bother Hobson’s admirers.
After he left the Navy, Hobson represented Alabama in Congress from 1907 to 1915.
During his time in Senate, he advocated for a large U.S. Navy and railed against the dangers of alcohol. He warned about the Japanese, whom he believed would stage a sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet.
Even after leaving the Senate, Hobson continued his fight against alcohol until the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Then he went after the concepts of addictive drugs and communism.
Alcohol and drug prohibition and communism were his focus when he visited Louisiana in April of 1922 as part of a U.S. speaking tour which included stops in Homer, Mansfield, and several towns in Mississippi.
Hobson told a crowd at Homer’s Baptist church during his 1922 visit that alcohol “destroys the Godlike spiritual part of man and leaves him like a beast with the social forces all at war with each other.”
He also declared that communists and anarchists were “sowing seeds to defy the American Constitution and overthrow this government.”
Hobson led the life of a crusader, and whether the nemesis was the Spanish, racism, alcohol, drugs, or communism. Perhaps kissing damsels was simply a part of the role, or perhaps he lived a life contrary to his reputation.
Wesley Harris works as the parish historian for the Claiborne Parish Library in Homer, where he researches, writes, and speaks on North Louisiana history. His specialties are Reconstruction Era crime and World War II in north Louisiana.
An author of several books and hundreds of historical articles over the past 40 years, his work has appeared in national publications such as America’s Civil War, Wild West, and others. After retiring from a 43-year career in law enforcement, Harris joined the Claiborne Parish Library staff in 2020 and has since written or edited five books on north Louisiana history.
Harris was the 2022 recipient of the Max Bradbury Award for the best article published annually in North Louisiana History, the journal of the North Louisiana Historical Association.