Retro Charlotte

1916 Presidential Election suspense!

Woodrow Wilson re-election pin, 1916.
Woodrow Wilson re-election pin, 1916. Collection of David J. and Janice L. Frent

In 1916 the country waited for days to learn if President Woodrow Wilson had been re-elected or unseated by Supreme Court Justice Charles Hughes. And for three days and nights in Charlotte, “crowds ranging from a few hundred to more than 4000 surged along South Tryon Street in front of The Observer office awaiting returns from the election.”

Election day was Tuesday, November 7, 1916 but final results took days to tally. Then as now, Charlotte relied on the Observer to provide the latest news. The excerpt below describes the scene:

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The Charlotte Observer/November 10, 1916

For 72 Hours Crowds Await Election Returns

Beginning Late Tuesday Afternoon Audiences Ranging in Size From Few Hundred to More Than 4000 Persons Crush About Observer Offices Awaiting Bulletins on Greatest Presidential Race

“We Are With You To End” say Watchers

For more than 72 hours, three days and nights at the time of going to press Friday morning, crowds ranging in size from a few hundred to more than 4000 have surged along South Tryon Street in front of the Observer office awaiting returns of the election. An enthusiasm and interest which is entirely unprecedented in Charlotte on any previous occasion has held the city in its grip and at times all Charlotte has been lined across the street for almost the entire block between Independence Square and Fourth Street. (The Observer was at 32 S. Tryon.)

Numbers of persons who at the last minute before the Associated Press wires closed in The Observer office this morning, standing with upturned faces listening to the reports, were there when the wire first opened late Tuesday afternoon.

All during the three days and nights they have been present, taking 30 minutes for lunch when the operators and editors at The Observer took them, and going home for a few hours rest between the time the last morning report came in and the wire reopened again.

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That the feature has proven one of the most enjoyed and at the same time most appreciated of any which has ever been held before in the history of newspapers in the city, is the statement of prominent persons of all walks of life who have been guests either on the sidewalk and street or in the offices of the building, while the reports were coming in. Comments from many of the most prominent have been that The Observer has given one of the best bulletin services which has ever been rendered in the State. Time after time when the outcome of things would look doubtful, the hours would grow long or reports come in exceedingly slow, Circulation Manager J.J. Patterson who has been in charge of the megaphone would ask the crowd how it was feeling and whether or not it intended sticking.

The answer would flash back in one mighty shout as the throng would unanimously announce its intention of staying until the last report had been received in The Observer office. “We are with you Pat, go ahead,” they would shout and taking interest and a new lease on the tedious work, the operators and newspaper workers would again resume their work with the feeling that the citizenship and patrons of the paper were with them in their endeavors.

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At one time Thursday night the wires had closed 30 minutes for lunch and many person had left their stands on the sidewalks to go to near-by lunch counters to snatch a bite to eat. While eating was in progress and the counters in the vicinity of The Observer office were lined with the hungry, a bulletin came in announcing a Wilson gain. It was called from the megaphone and the remaining crowd shouted especially loud and strong. Leaving pie, milk and various and sundry kinds of viands the lunch hunters rushed from the restaurants in a mob to see what the latest had been. Restaurant proprietors and clerks, nearly frantic over the sudden exit of the customers with unpaid bills, followed the rush to the sidewalk. Slowly the hungry ones returned and latest reports from the restaurant keepers were that everyone came back and paid their bills, showing that an extraordinary sense of fairness was exhibited by everyone.

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“I believe that the appreciation is such that your paper has gained a number of friends who will realize the time, money and sacrifice of comfort which The Observer staff from office boy to editor-in-chief has contributed” said Mayor Kirkpatrick.

Police Chief Horace Moore stated Thursday that The Observer returns were to be thanked for keeping the city orderly during the election. “Although the traffic situation has been hard to handle and I would prefer the election to be shorter I must say that the returns have certainly been well handled and that the absence of disorder in the city is attributable to them,” said the chief.

Thursday remained quiet in every other phase of city life but politics. All stores reported things still extraordinarily quiet as did the city and county executive offices.

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After a hard-fought contest, Wilson defeated Hughes by nearly 600,000 votes in the popular vote and secured a narrow majority in the Electoral College by winning several swing states with razor-thin margins.

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