The 1968 Democratic National Convention was among the most divisive in modern history. My wife and I attended that convention on August 26 and 27, 1968. Through our Democratic Committeeman we were issued passes as alternates from different states. You can read the history of that historic event in books, pictures and all kinds of media that are available. However, this is about our observations on how it felt to watch our government at work while the country was split over the Viet Nam war.
We had booked a suite at the Hotel Sherman (now the site of the State of Illinois Building) for our group of Democratic supporters along with our Township Committeeman. On the first evening of August 26th my wife attended the convention after catching a ride with a press car to the International Amphitheater. Along with many of our supporters we anxiously awaited her return. While we waited, we watched with the rest of the world the unfolding events on television.
I was worried about her. Where was she? Did she arrive at the Amphitheater safely? Was she safe and ok? The hours waiting for her to return were agonizing. But then she bounced into the suite with a big smile and tales of an adventure she was anxious to blurt out. After settling down she told us she had witnessed the madness on Michigan Avenue by the Hilton Hotel. For a moment she was actually frightened at what she had seen but realized she was not in any danger of being hurt or caught up in the riot.
After arriving at the Amphitheater in Chicago's South side "Back of the Yards" she had to go through the police line to be admitted. After admittance she got lost momentarily as to where her seat was and wandered onto the main floor where she sat with the Arizona delegation. Sitting next to her was Dr. Harvey Porter of Arizona who tipped his ten gallon hat and welcomed her to the event. She was uncomfortable not because she was in the wrong section but because Dr. Porter was "flirting with her" and offered to buy her a drink. She gladly accepted and when he left his seat she left hers and found her way to the correct delegation.
The wonder of the people on the floor was priceless to see. Right in front of her eyes were the many people we only saw on TV or in newspapers. Most importantly our country and its election process was working in spite of the turmoil both inside and outside the convention site.
August 27th was my turn to attend. I went with the township Democratic Committeeman and took the bus directly to the convention. We were both hungry and walked over to the Stockyards Restaurant, one of Chicago's finest in its day. Needless to say the restaurant was jam packed with at least a 30 minute wait. I then learned a lesson on how to get a table in less than 30 seconds let alone 30 minutes. My Committeeman handed me $5 bill and said to go back to the Maitre D' and say the Mayor would appreciate a table now. Mysteriously a table appeared out of nowhere and we were seated immediately.
After that we made our way through the convention entrance, supplied our passes and went to our separate seats. He sat with the Illinois delegation on the main floor and I sat in the balcony as an alternate with the Mississippi delegation. I had the same reaction to the sights as my wife had expressed watching our government in action. The lights dimmed and a film about Robert F. Kennedy was shown as a tribune to his life and legacy. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated and then Robert F. Kennedy. Two events that changed the course of history.
I then watched the vote unfold that made Hubert H. Humphrey the Democratic nominee for President and Edmund Muskie the nominee for Vice President. This was followed by the historic moments when both made their acceptance speeches. For the record, the two nominees made their acceptance remarks on separate nights in the modern day conventions. First Edmund Muskie took the mike and as he said "I accept your nomination for Vice President of The United States", the roar of the crowd became alive with thunderous applause and whistles. He then droned on for a while and although he was brilliant in his remarks, he came close to putting many of us to asleep.
The highlight of the evening approached with the convention audience anticipating the appearance of Hubert Humphrey as the nominee for President. Everyone started to cheer and then the speaker introduced the nominee calling Humphrey to the mike. The audience went berserk with joy. And then the "happy warrior" as he was known announced "I accept your nomination as our candidate for President of the United States". The audience erupted again. Unlike Muskie, H.H.H. as he was also known thrilled the conventioneers with brilliant oratory and stinging remarks about the opposing party. His speech was peppered with applause and shouting.
After more than 30 minutes H.H.H. finished his speech the music blared, the balloons fell and strains of "Happy Days are Here Again" filled the hall. And then it was time to leave one of the greatest events of my life and in the history of our country.
Richard Nixon went on to win the election. It eventually led to Watergate and his re-election in 1972. That ultimately caused the greatest Presidential crisis in our history.
Memories light the corner of my mind and I hope yours too.
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