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The Last Time Cleveland Hosted The GOP Convention


The last time a Republican National Convention was held in Cleveland was back in 1936. Our colleague, Robert Siegel, is there for us this week, and he took a look back.


I'm standing opposite the Public Hall, or more formally the Public Auditorium, built almost 100 years ago and dedicated with this wonderful inscription that's carved in it (reading) a monument conceived as a tribute to the ideals of Cleveland, builded by her citizens and dedicated to social progress, industrial achievement and civic interest. The reason I'm here is because this was the site of the last major party national convention to be held in Cleveland back in 1936.


DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Well, in 1936, Cleveland, like all major industrial areas, was struggling with the Great Depression.

SIEGEL: That's Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Attings (ph) brings you the greatest moment of the Republican National Convention.

BRINKLEY: It was a - really a outsiders' convention in the sense that the only person they could conjure for the nomination was Alfred Landon, governor of Kansas.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I give you the name of a Republican governor from a Republican state, Alfred Mossman Landon of Kansas.


BRINKLEY: But what's most memorable of '36 is simply how boring Alf Landon was.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Alfred M. Landon of Kansas.

SIEGEL: Landon was boring, at least, compared to his opponent. He was a moderate fiscal conservative going up against a formidable Democratic incumbent.


FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: That the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

SIEGEL: And Franklin Delano Roosevelt and did not have to fear Alf Landon.

BRINKLEY: There's nothing wrong with Alf Landon. He's the kind of person we need in politics. But when you're running for president, you have to be Day-Glo and kinetic and you have to touch the hearts and heads of the people. Franklin Roosevelt was the best our country's ever had, and Alf Landon was no match.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Landon is the Republican man of the hour, the Kansas Coolidge.

SIEGEL: A reference to Calvin Coolidge, the Republican president from 1923 to '29. Alf Landon didn't even attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. He accepted the nomination by telegram, which wasn't unusual for a candidate back then. Again, Douglas Brinkley.

BRINKLEY: Candidates didn't even have to show up because traditionally, the nominee just stayed in their home state. So it was not quite the spectacle it is today.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Please (unintelligible).

BILL MCCOY: Well, to be honest I don't remember a whole lot. I mean, I remember there was a convention.

SIEGEL: This is Bill McCoy of Hunting Valley, Ohio. He attended that convention 80 years ago, when he was 12 years old.

MCCOY: I'm 80 - 92 years old now.

SIEGEL: McCoy says he sat with his family in the balcony of Public Hall in downtown Cleveland.

MCCOY: And I can remember there was lots of hubbub down on the floor. People might have had, like, sunflowers on a stick and then waving them. And then speeches.

SIEGEL: Speeches like this one by former President Herbert Hoover.


HERBERT HOOVER: Fundamental American liberties are at stake now. Is the Republican Party ready for that issue?


SIEGEL: Bill McCoy couldn't vote back then. He was, after all, only 12. But attending the Republican National Convention in 1936 was perhaps his unofficial entry into a long family tradition of political involvement.

MCCOY: My mother's grandfather was mayor of Monmouth, Ill. And he was a friend of Abraham Lincoln. And when they dominated Lincoln for president in the Wigwam in Chicago, he was there. And my mother would tell me all this when I was a little boy. And then she'd point her finger at me and she'd say, and you're a Republican (laughter).


SIEGEL: Bill McCoy is not planning to attend this year's convention in Cleveland, but he says he has been a Republican ever since. Back in 1936, by the way, Alf Landon went on to carry just two states - Vermont and Maine - as FDR was re-elected in one of the biggest landslides in American history. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Robert Siegel
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.