Memories Of 1948 Philly Democratic Convention

As delegates gather for the 2016 event in my hometown, it brings back thoughts and a bit of guilt. A GI Bill college student back then, I took just about every night and weekend job I could get. Waiter, janitor, cook and bottle washer. I lucked out when I nailed a three-day assignment with a political polling company for the Democratic gathering from July 12 to 14 in 1948.

My job was to hang around outside Convention Hall near the University of Penn and get delegates to answer a list of 20 questions. I asked their thoughts about Harry Truman seeking reelection, rival politicians, the economy and dealing with other nations.

There wasn’t much opposition at the convention, because Truman had taken over in the final days of WW2 when Roosevelt suddenly died. He proved to be competent in the peace negotiations and other post-war events. His Republican rival was to be Thomas E. Dewey, the flashy New York District Attorney.

I was to be paid 50¢ per completed questionnaire. The first day, full of enthusiasm, I managed to grab enough willing Democrats to fill out 30 sheets, earning me $15. That wasn’t a bad one-day haul in 1948. However, by the second day, the convention action was winding down. I managed to get only 15 sheets completed, because many of the now-bored Democrats refused to take time to talk with me.

On the third day’s early morning, as I tried to get more willing delegates, I was turned down abruptly by everyone. Most were impatient to get to the train station and home. I was about to give up when a brilliant, though somewhat dishonest, idea came to me.

I spent the next five hot July hours sitting under a shady tree near Convention Hall filling out 60 questionnaires. Because I had seen and heard all the opinions during the past two days, my bogus results were almost genuine.

My conscience never questioned the fact that on the final Democratic Convention day I earned myself the grand sum of $30. It paid for an entire month’s rent. That was my share for the dumpy little fourth-floor walk-up, two-room apartment near the campus I occupied with three other GI Bill students. Ah, the wages of sin!

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