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Charlotte’s biggest event? Not the DNC

By Mark Washburn
mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte is a city that tends to look forward, not behind. We’re not keen on history.

So we must forgive those who like to say the Democratic National Convention is the biggest thing to ever hit town. In fact, the DNC – expected to draw about 35,000 people – is a distant No. 2.

In the first week of June 1929, Charlotte, then population 82,000, was overrun with about 75,000 guests. It was the host city for the 39th reunion of Confederate veterans, and there are parallels with next week’s event.

Charlotte felt honored to be chosen as the home of the reunion and it spent a year getting ready. A memorial hall was built in only four months for events. Image conscious even then, Charlotte welcomed visitors to “the Queen City of the New South.”

Hotels were stuffed. Each day the reunion drew nearer, appeals were published in the newspapers for people to offer rooms in their homes for the delegates. Cots were set up at Queens College, Central High School and Thompson Orphanage. Tents went up in Independence Park.

Charlotte’s police force of 45 was doubled by reinforcements sent by other cities. Traffic restrictions went into effect and parking was banned on some uptown streets. Unattended vehicles would be towed, the police warned.

And the big-time media came. Fox Sound News Reel sent a team with newfangled recording equipment and cameras on top of a truck. Charlotte’s papers were crammed with convention news. “Confederates Storm City on Eve of Meeting,” shouted The Charlotte News. “Charlotte Surrenders to Confederate Forces” said a banner headline in the Observer.

There were about 5,000 soldiers attending, ranging in age from 83 to 107. With them came about 70,000 family members and other hangers-on.

Speeches were made, some forward-looking. Top generals were the stars of the show. There were parties and entertainers. Congress appropriated money to send the Marine Band.

On the final day, there was a street review that drew an estimated 125,000 observers. Every available car in town was pressed into service in a three-mile caravan to carry the veterans in the parade.

And after four days of festivity, the visitors vanished.

Next week’s convention will be a big moment for Charlotte. How long it will be remembered is another question. We’re not good with history.

Washburn: 704-358-5007.
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