I was a bit surprised that my old hometown has just been annointed to be the site for next year’s big political event. After all, there are many more glamorous cities the Democrats could’ve chosen: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, or even Las Vegas. I remember way, way back when two political conventions were held in Philadelphia.
The 1940 Republican National Convention was in late June. I was a 14-year-old student at Girard College, a residence school for fatherless boys. A member of our battalion of cadets, I participated in the parade by Convention Hall.
We wore heavy woolen khaki WW1-style uniforms, with cloth puttees wrapped around our legs. We sweated profusely while marching with other high school and military units. Also with us were the famed Philly Mummers in their colorful costumes and string band music. Wendell Willkie was nominated and lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was seeking his third term.
Eight years later, I didn’t actually attend the 1948 Democratic Presidental Convention. That’s where Harry Truman won the nomination, and went on to surprisingly beat highly-favored Republican Tom Dewey. However, I was nearby while it was in session. A college student, I had a temp job as an interviewer for a political poll company. With a stack of forms, I wandered outside throughout the five boiling hot and humid, late-June Philly days.
I stopped delegates and visitors to ask a series of written questions. I was paid 25 cents for each completed form. Some people were cooperative, some politely brushed me off and others angrily cursed me. By the fifth day, most just ignored the eager student with the clipboard. I had earned a total of less than $30.
Here I must make a shameful confession. Desperate with time running out, I found a bench under a shady tree and started writing fake opinions. Within three hours, I had “interviewed” another 60 people. I don’t recall feeling guilty spending that extra $15 on necessities, such as a dinner date for two at one of Philly’s upscale restaurants.
Of course, the historic significance of those conventions is much more important than my minor participation. However, the personal memories are moments I fondly recall and still treasure today.