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Political Rally

Political rallies were one of the varied summer evening entertainments popular in Nebraska
communities before the advent of television. One such rally was recorded by Ernie Pyle, at
the time a roving reporter for the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers. Published in the
Washington News on September 9, 1936, Pyle's column is datelined Chadron, Nebraska. He
wrote:

While strolling down the street in Chadron one evening, just to pass the time away, the sound
of public speaking fell upon my ears.

There being nothing else to do, and the night being balmy and full of prairie stars, I though,
well, I'll just take a look-in.

The voices came from a park, full of grass and big trees, and there in one corner, under dim
electric lights, was the speaking.

It was a political meeting you can tell one the minute you see it, you know. There was a
small platform, with some patriotic housewife's sheets draped over the front. And on the
platform was a table and a pitcher of water and three chairs.

In front of the platform were rows of seats, made of boards set on boxes. The crowd wasn't
very big, maybe 500 people, sitting around in shirt sleeves and summer dresses. We sat
down on an empty box. Quite a few people (Republicans, I assumed) stood around the edges,
ready to leave at a moment's notice.

There was a chairman and two speakers. The chairman was a local banker, I forget his name.
The first speaker was Rep. Harry Coffee, who lives in Chadron. The second and star orator
was Sen. Joseph C. O'Mahoney of Wyoming.

The Coffees, I am told, are the leading family in this part of the state. They are cattlemen and
bankers. They are very well-to-do.

Harry Coffee has served just one term in Congress. It was his first whirl into politics. He is
up for re-election. He is still a fairly young man.

We sat thru the whole meeting, and enjoyed it, much to our surprise. It was over by 9:30. It
was one of the most reasonable political meetings I have ever heard. Exaggeration and
vilification were not invited in. The speakers sounded actually as tho they meant what they
said.

Not once did I hear "the man who . . ." or "I pledge myself to . . ." Altho Rep. Coffee did say
he was dying to have a little personal chat with every voter before November, and Sen.
O'Mahoney did raise his voice and wave his arms and shout "I say to youuuuu, my friends . . ."

* * * * * * * * * *

There were big trees all around the audience. The trees were full of little boys. The biggest
tree was right behind the speaker's platform. It was alive with children.

They crawled from limb to limb. I knew something would happen. It did. One lad got too
far out, and the limb broke with a great crack, and you could see the lad's white shirt going
swiftly down thru the green leaves. The crowd caught its breath in a big unanimous gasp.

But the kid was good. He grabbed another limb on the way down, and swayed till he got his
leg up over it. Sen. O'Mahoney never missed a phrase. A man in a white suit surged around
and sent all the kids scurrying. The fallen lad's mother, sitting next to us, said, "I suppose I
ought to whip him, but I'm so thankful he wasn't hurt . . ."

* * * * * * * * * * *

Sen. O'Mahoney made an excellent speech. He did not use notes, he did not hesitate, he did
not "ah" or "er" a single time. He is thin and doesn't look like a politician and his voice is
rich.

His theme was that Nebraska is an agricultural state, and that for 12 years the Republican
administration didn't have an agricultural policy, and that Roosevelt is the first President
since the war to do anything for the farmers. The audience cheered.

He said that Roosevelt would be elected by a bigger majority than he had in 1932. Some
Republicans sitting on top of a World War cannon in the corner of the park mumbled to
themselves, and I heard one say, "When a man talks like that, it just shows. . ."

When it was over, the audience was invited up to meet the Senator, personally. About half
of them went up. I went up, too. The Senator stared at me like he was seeing a ghost.

"You didn't know you'd have a Washington reporter way out here, did you?" I said.

"Well, where did you come from?" he asked.

After the crowd had dwindled away, we got in a couple of cars and went down to Rep.
Coffee's house for some refreshments.

We sat on the screened-in front porch, and everybody was throwing bouquets at Sen.
O'Mahoney, and he took it like a man and said, "give me some more," and a few other people
drifted in--Rep. Coffee's mother who came up over the Texas trail in a wagon with her
husband so many years ago; Rep. Coffee's brother and his wife, who had come in 50 miles
from the ranch for the speaking; half a dozen other neighbors of the Coffees.

It was a nice social evening--not a horse-and-buggy evening by any means--I suppose a
political speaker would call it a "typical American evening." I was glad it all happened the
way it did.

 

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