They say this current campaign is tame compared to campaigns in our early days. In another century, there was no television (or even radio), no email or Facebook, no telephones or telegraph for use by the populace. Communication was by word of mouth, newspapers, printed postings in public places and the government mail service.
We’ve come a long way communication-wise, with more readily available information than any generation before us. By the same token, there is surely more misinformation as well. Sorting out all of the pros and cons is an overwhelming task. It’s interesting to note that major elections follow on the heels of Halloween. There’s got to be a joke in there somewhere.
Recent warnings about displaying slogans and pictures endorsing candidates near polling places reminded me of the 1976 elections.
Someone had given me a gold-plated peanut on a chain, and I wore it to the polls where I was working on Election Day. The poll manager made me put away this obvious bit of endorsement for Jimmy Carter, but he allowed other workers to park their Fords nearby (Gerald Ford was Carter’s opponent), and he also allowed one of my co-workers to eat her lunch in view of the voting public.
Her lunch included a plainly labeled Dole banana (Robert Dole was Ford’s running mate.) Oh well, win some, lose some.
As it turned out, I didn’t need the gold plated peanut. The day produced some interesting memories. The line was long. All of Woodstock voted at the Depot, and at 7 p.m. the line reached down to the funeral home along the railroad tracks.
Some poll workers, voting last, didn’t vote until after midnight. But the count was not questioned. There were no hanging chads or ornery computers, and the days of voting lists in alphabetical order from the local cemetery were fading away.
Then, as now, the economy is no laughing matter. Not many folks who made it through this last depression can remember the Big One. In the stash of seemingly unimportant items at Dean’s Store is a piece of mail received by Linton Dean in 1937.
The text reads: “A Message From the President of the United States, the White House, Washington. TO EVERY WORKER: If you are unemployed or partly unemployed and are able to work and are seeking work, please fill out this report card right away and mail it before midnight, Saturday, November 20, 1937. No postage stamp is needed. The Congress directed me to take this census. It is important to the unemployed and to everyone in this land that the census be complete, honest, and accurate. If you give me the facts I shall try to use them for the benefit of all who need and want work and do not now have it.” The signature read, simply, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
By this time he was into his second term as president, having been elected three years after the stock market crash. His New Deal had been dealt, but apparently needed some extra cards. In his radio address telling the nation of the census, he said, “The inherent right to work is one of the elemental privileges of a free people.”
According to forms returned, 7.8 million workers were totally unemployed and 3.2 partially unemployed. A survey showed actual figures at 11 million and 5.5 million as some workers did not return forms. Obviously, Mr. Dean did not fill out the form since he was employed. And like a thousand other items in Dean’s Store, he chose not to discard it.
Thus we have a little history lesson. There is probably only one line in American history books about this unique census, and most of us would pay little attention. But with the census card in my hand, it was like living in that time and experiencing history in the making.
While I doubt that folks are stashing away copies of campaign ads or framing photos of their favorite candidates, there may come a time when one of those candidates will say words or take actions that will go down in history as notable.
As it stands now, in today’s political climate, that seems most unlikely. We can only hope.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.