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Hearing the News
In the 19th and early 20th centuries people relished getting together
on election day. Parades for the candidates could extend for miles,
and crowds of 40-50,000 people would come to town for community
barbecues and bonfires in celebration of voting day.
When it came
to hearing the results of a presidential election, the news was
slow and the process was often quite frustrating. Votes had to
be counted by hand and then word had to travel by letter, by overland
transport and by riverboat to let people know the news. Bad weather
could delay travel, leaving newspaper editors without any news.
As communication methods improved and there was hope of hearing
news on election night, a new tradition emerged--people gathered
together to hear the news.
- In the early 20th century, the staff at the St.
Louis Republic offered a specially fitted lantern to project the news onto a
screen that was set up outside the newspaper office. These reports
were supplemented by announcements made by megaphone. In 1916
when the vote was still uncertain at the end of the evening as
to whether Charles Evans Hughes was going to triumph over President
Wilson, the crowds that came Tuesday night came back again Wednesday
and Thursday. About 10 p.m. Thursday a flash came from the Associated
Press that Wilson had carried California, gaining the votes he
needed to win. A bulletin was put in the window of the newspaper
office and Old Glory was raised to help tell the news.
- To amuse crowds waiting for returns, newspaper offices came
up with various distractions. In 1920 crowds at the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch were entertained by movies, including a Charlie
Chaplin movie and a never-before-seen-by-the-pubic motion picture
made by “X-ray process” showing the movement of the knee cap
when the knee is moved up and down.
- In 1944 voting results were slowed because of the soldier vote.
Though the absentee military votes were mailed in advance, they
were counted last. If a soldier was killed between the casting
and counting of his ballot, his vote was still considered valid.
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