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“History Made at Old Armory in Roosevelt Demonstration,” October 25, 1932


(The following article is from the Oct. 25, 1932 issue of the Atlanta Constitution.)

History is Made at Old Armory in Roosevelt Demonstration

by William Key


Roosevelt has come and gone. The big hulk of the city auditorium once more is enveloped in a hollow silence, and chilly draughts sweep through the vast areas which Monday night throbbed with so much human exultation. It was undoubtedly the biggest moment in the history of the great armory; and perhaps never again will the old hall resound with so much enthusiasm, pulsate with so much hope, or find itself so gaily bedecked.

Seven thousand Atlantans were packed in the huge auditorium to hear the democratic nominee deliver his address; and several thousand others stood on the sidewalks or in the cobblestone street outside to hang eagerly on to every word that came through the sound amplifiers. Many of those thousands must have stayed away from movies or other entertainments. They seemed to be the type of people who would have gone to the movies had they not been impressed with the importance of the event at the auditorium.

By 7 o’clock the building was filled. Every seat had been taken in the lower floor and the balconies. Music by the police and firemen’s bands flared forth from time to time, and a mighty hum of expectant conversation kept the place in a constant state of vibration until the hour approached when the rally was to begin. Forty-eight huge American flags hung from the steel cross-beams supporting the barn-like roof. Semi-circles of red, white and blue bunting completed the patriotic motif of decoration.

The stage was a delightful profusion of flowers, contributed by all of the Atlanta florists. The center was decorated with a tall arch of triumph, decorated with flowers, directly under which was the speakers’ rostrum, surrounded at the base by more flowers. Six microphones were on the dais to carry out the words of the speakers of the occasion over WSB, WGST and the Dixie network of the Columbia Broadcasting System.

In the audience, directly in front of the proscenium, was a long table bearing 22 noiseless typewriters and muted telegraph instruments for the corps of newspaper correspondents and telegraph operators, most of whom are traveling with the “Roosevelt Special” in its swing around the nation. Some of the biggest “by-lines,” or names of newspaper writers, are seen among those who sit at those tables. One sees Raymond Clapper, of the Washington bureau of the United Press; W.R. Ragsdale, former Atlanta man, now with the political writers of the Washington bureau of the Associated Press; Ulric Bell, chief political writer and head of the Washington office of the Louisville Courier-Journal; James Hagerty, of the New York Herald Tribune; Walker Bell, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer; and almost a dozen more whose names are on hundreds of papers day in and out. The operators are testing out their almost silent wires, and the concerted sound is like that a dozen insects would make against a screen window. The newspapermen, for the most part, are chewing gum. They chew hard, to make up for the prohibition against smoking.

The crowd is eager to cheer. The band strikes up East Side, West Side, Al Smith’s old battle song; and the crowd howls. The music suddenly switches to Dixie, and if they were making noise a minute ago, they now threaten to raise the roof. The cheering brings out a new species of applause. There are several hundred “Yah-hoos,” not the Gulliver’s Travels species, but a type that yells “Yah-hoo,” over and over again. It is almost like a battle-cry.

Huge Howell steps up to the speakers’ stand. He stands in front of the bank of microphones, and, with the big heap of ferns and flowers, you can just see his head. The crowd quiets down, the last bars of Dixie die away. Howell doesn’t waste any words. He informs the people what they are there for, and introduces Mayor James L. Key. Amid the applause someone yells, “Let’s have some beer!” and there is a might reverberation of concurrence. An old, seedy individual in the fourth row, of rustic appearance, jumps up and waves three flags at once, yelling “Yah-hoo!” Senator Bankhead, of Alabama, speaks a few words, then Howell introduces Senator [Cotton Ed] Smith, of South Carolina, veteran of the senate and hard on the Republicans when he speaks. Senator Smith is a stodgy, bluff man. His mustache droops sardonically over his lips and he speaks with an ironical vehemence. The crowd likes his comeback to the G.O.P. slogan, “Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream.” Smith tells them that the Republicans really mean to plead, “Don’t change engineers in the middle of a wreck.”

Next is Senator Byrnes, also of South Carolina. Senator Byrnes is a thing, immaculate man, well-groomed. He speaks with incisive deliberateness, and his voice cuts through the vast auditorium like a silver stiletto. Then governor Blackwood, of South Carolina, bald, stout, with a throaty voice. Then Governor Gardner, of north Carolina, tall, heavy, silver-haired and clear-voiced; Governor Carlton, of Florida, youthful, deep-voiced and pompadoured. Senator George says a few words, slowly, meticulously; and the newly nominated Senator Robert Reynolds, of North Carolina, whose voice sounds much older than the senator looks. Finally, Breckinridge Long, former secretary of state, who is one of those fervid literary speakers to whom metaphores and hyperboles come naturally. . . . Then:

The band hears that Governor Roosevelt is about to come on the stage. It strikes up Happy Days Are Here Again, and the house goes wild. Finally, preceded by alert news photographers, the New York governor walks out onto the stage. His son, James Roosevelt, guides him through the rows of seats on the proscenium, while the 7000 voices shout themselves hoarse in an ovation of more than a minute and a half.

Someone attending a huge searchlight halfway up in the audience turns the light on the speakers’ stand. You can see Roosevelt’s eyes then. They are blue-gray. They look just the least tired. He blinks as the powerful lights sweep across his face. The lights are extinguished—momentarily. People are standing in chairs now, cheering for the next president. It is a long period of applause. Then there is an abrupt, unnatural silence.

It is unusually how that vast audience becomes deathly still so quickly. It is as if the people realize that they are witnessing something extraordinary; as if they sense that this is a moment big with fate. As if they are about to see with their own eyes the creation of a president of the United States.

Roosevelt begins to speak. Twenty correspondents scan the prepared copies of his address, following every word. They chew their gum harder and begin to write a few paragraphs on the noiseless typewriters. The telegraph operators begin to manipulate their instruments. Twenty-five hundred newspapers throughout the United States know at that exact instant that Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Atlanta, has begun his speech. . . . The time is 9:10. The governor speaks 55 minutes. He speaks with the logic of a man who sees things clearly—a man with a straight vision. He looks that way when he talks. he [sic] makes reasonable gestures—seldom with his hand or arm; usually with his head. Also his eyebrows, if the particular moment is a humorous one. He does not go through violent mouthings like some orators, particularly Mussolini. He is of the convincing school of oratory. When he used a right hand to emphasize a point, it is always with a little circling movement, the index finger extended. Frequently he smiles, or even chuckles during a talk. . . . Behind him his son, James, who looks a great deal like his father, watches him intently. You can sense the great devotion between father and son. . . .

Then the speech is over. He is escorted to a waiting open touring car outside, through thousands of jammed admirers and supporters. Motorcycle police kick off their motors, set sirens going. The governor’s car, followed by his personal bodyguard, moves through town, boys running alongside yelling their heads off. Thence to the Terminal Station, where his seven-Pullman train awaits in the yards. The firemen’s band serenades him, and he expresses his thanks. Then he goes aboard, via a special gangplank. The accompanying newspaper men and the rest of the retinue clamber aboard.

At 10:37 the familiar cry from far up the line of Pullmans, “All aboard!” The train heads north. Roosevelt has come and gone. But he will be back. He said so.

Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 25, 1932