America looked to Independence on Election Day 1936

BY ANDY TAYLOR

chronicle@taylornews.org

 

The eyes of the nation focused their collective gaze on Montgomery County more than 75 years ago when an Independence man was one step away from being elected U.S. president.

 

It was a bitterly cold morning of Nov. 3, 1936, when Alfred Landon — the Kansas governor and Republican nominee for president — rode into Independence aboard the “Sunflower Special” train and cast his ballot in the presidential general election. News reporters followed Landon’s every step in his brief appearance in his hometown — just as they did when President Franklin D. Roosevelt cast his ballot in his hometown of Hyde Park, N.Y., that same day.

 

Landon had largely been absent from Independence since his election as Kansas governor in 1932. However, he maintained a residence at the corner of Ninth and Maple streets — and he visited his home on the day he came to Independence to cast his election ballot.

 

Landon’s trip to his hometown came after completing an arduous multi-state, multi-month campaign that began after his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in July. The Kansas governor concluded the campaign late Monday night, Nov. 2, by delivering a nationwide radio address from his residence in Topeka. All radio networks carried Landon’s election-eve address, just as they carried a similar address given by Roosevelt from the White House.

Landon and his wife Theo, eldest daughter Peggy, and Landon’s father John then boarded the Sunflower Special train in Topeka and made the trek to Independence, where the special locomotive rolled into the Santa Fe Depot on North Tenth Street and was greeted by an estimated 4,000 people.

 

Landon doffed his gray felt hat as he stood on the platform of his railcar and quickly reached down to his well wishers by using the double-handed handshake that became his custom at all campaign rallies. The American Legion provided a 19-gun salute as the Landons came off the train.

 

The Coffeyville Journal reported that freezing temperatures in the mid-20s forced greeters to huddle around the Landon family. A bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums was given to the Landon family, and a convertible automobile carried the family from the depot to the downtown business district, where thousands of people lined the streets to greet the man who sought the nation’s highest office.

 

The Mid-Continent Band braved the frigid elements by performing “O, Susannah,” which was Landon’s official campaign anthem.

 

The Journal reported that Landon and his family then went to the Booth Hotel, where Mrs. Landon was the honored guest while Mr. Landon met with many of his former acquaintances.

 

The Landons then walked a few doors west to the Arnold Motor Company at 215 E. Main, which was their polling site (1st precinct, 3rd ward). Newspaper photographers and film makers documented the Landons’ every step in the polling place and snapped dozens of pictures as Landon placed his ballot in the voting box.

 

“The photographers used more flash bulbs than Independence ever saw,” the Journal reported.

 

The Universal Newsreel, which was a staple form of news and information at every movie theatre, captured Landon as he walked the streets of Independence and cast his ballot. Showing signs of exhaustion and weariness from the long fall campaign, Landon was able to provide a statement about the importance of voting. Wearing the felt hat with the bent brim that became his trademark, Landon said, “The ballot box stands like a blockhouse. The citizen who does not vote neglects and evades the responsibility of citizenship.”

 

At about noon, the Landon family boarded the Sunflower Special train and began its return to Topeka. As the Santa Fe train chugged northward, the train slowly passed through Cherryvale where a crowd of several thousand Landon fans lined the depot platform in the heart of the business district. Although the train did not stop, Landon did stand on the platform of the rear car and waved to his admirers, reported the Cherryvale Daily Republican newspaper.

 

Ironically, one ornery bystander tried to disrupt the event by carrying a sign promoting Roosevelt’s presidency. On the night prior to the election, an exhibition boxing match was held in Cherryvale. The champion boxer was in the crowd and was quickly sought to take care of the lone rebel standing in the crowd, the Republican newspaper reported.

 

The Landons would return to Topeka to listen to the results of the election by telegraph amd radio. In the early morning hours, America’s choice for president was clear.

 

Roosevelt proved to be popular among a majority of the U.S. voters. Having instituted various government programs and legislation to deal with the Depression, Roosevelt was re-elected to his second term by a landslide. Alfred Landon received nearly 17 million votes (36.5 percent of the total) compared to Roosevelt’s 27 million votes (60.8 percent of the total). But, Roosevelt overwhelmed the electoral college, winning 523 electoral votes compared to Landon’s eight. Landon carried only the states of Maine and Vermont and failed to garner enough support to carry his own home state of Kansas.

 

Following the defeat, Landon finished out his term as Kansas governor, leaving office in 1937. He did not return to his hometown of Independence but, instead, chose to live in Topeka, where he maintained interest in the oil business and would become owner of several radio stations in northeast Kansas.

 

During his retirement, he was regarded as one of the nation’s foremost Republican spokesmen and would be sought for advice by GOP aspirants in subsequent elections.

 

He died in 1987 at the age of 100.

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