Thursday, October 18, 2012

Menalcus Lankford (1883-1937)


   The bespectacled man pictured above is Virginia Congressman Menalcus Lankford, certainly one of the more oddly named 20th century U.S. Representatives you'll read about here on the site. I first discovered the name of this obscure politician in 2001, courtesy of the politicalgraveyard website. Since locating his name over eleven years ago Lankford's apparent faceless-ness became the stuff of legend, with no portraits of the man coming to light in all that time! You'd figure that an individual of Lankford's stature would have at least one picture of himself pop up in some form, but sadly this wasn't the case! I eventually gave up hope that I'd see a picture of Menalcus, and decided that he may have been camera shy, hence why I hadn't located any pictures of him yet.
   With that being said, I'm pleased to announce that during a furtive search on the newspaperarchive website (mentioned in the site introduction), a picture of Mr. Lankford has finally been located, courtesy of the Harrisonburg Daily News Record! This rare newspaper portrait of him appeared in his obituary in the above mentioned newspaper on December 28, 1937, and with that introduction, we'll now take a look at the life of this long forgotten Virginia politician!
   Born on March 14, 1883 near Franklin, Virginia, Menalcus Lankford was one of four sons born to Dr. Livius and Mary Conway Burnley Lankford. The name "Menalcus" has its origins in Greek mythology and is also spelled "Menalcas". Its meaning is given as one who is "strong, firm, resolute" and was featured in ancient work by the Greek poet Virgil called the Eclogues. Known by family and contemporaries as "Mack", Menalcus Lankford attended the Norfolk High School and later went on to study at the University of Richmond, graduating in the class of 1904. He continued his education at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, earning his bachelor of laws degree from this school in 1906. 
   Lankford was admitted to the Virginia State bar in the same year as his graduation and soon after opened a law practice in the city of Norfolk. In 1909 he married Richmond native Nancy Garland Waddill (1886-1963), and the couple are recorded as being childless.  Throughout the late 1900s and early 1910s Lankford's skill as a lawyer earned him wide repute, and his career in law was put on hold in 1917 when he became an ensign in the aviation service in the U.S. Navy. He served in the Navy throughout the duration of American involvement in World War I and at the war's conclusion returned to his law practice in Virginia.
   In 1920 Lankford made the jump into politics, mounting an unsuccessful campaign for Congress. Another campaign for a Congressional seat in 1924 met with similar results, but in 1928 the political tide turned in favor of Lankford, and in November of that year he won election to Congress, defeating Republican incumbent Joseph Deal by nearly 4,000 votes An article mentioning Lankford's election to the house appeared in 1929 edition of the San Jose News, and also makes light of the coincidence that two men with the last name "Lankford" were then serving as a U.S. Representative (the other being seven term Georgia congressman William Chester Lankford). In this article (posted below) attention is given to Menalcus' odd first name, and the congressman himself is recorded as saying that as far as legislation was concerned, "I'm more in favor of putting more joy into people's lives than taking more out. The more we let people alone the better off we'll be."

                                                 From a 1929 edition of the San Jose News.

   Lankford was reelected to Congress in November 1930 and was defeated for a third term in November 1932. He would serve as a delegate to the 1932 and 1936 Republican National Conventions in Chicago and Cleveland, and in 1933 was named as U.S. referee in bankruptcy for the Eastern district of Virginia. Lankford served in that capacity until his death at age 54 on December 27, 1937 at his home in Norfolk. Lankford was memorialized by ex-President Herbert Hoover in his Harrisonburg Daily News Record obituary as "a great American idealistically devoted to the interest of the country. As great as his loss is to us, it is a great loss to the nation."
   A few days following his death Lankford was interred at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk, Virginia. He was survived by his wife of nearly thirty years, Nancy Waddill Lankford, who. following her death in 1963, was interred at Forest Lawn next to her husband.

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