Election Night, Madison Square - 1888


Madison Square, New York City on election night in 1888. It was about the presidential election held on November 6. Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison, a former Senator from Indiana, defeated Democratic President Grover Cleveland of New York. Engraving drawn by Charles Graham, published in Harper's Weekly of November 17, 1888.

Illuminated bulletins by the New York Herald projected on a canvas screen on top of the Flatiron commercial buildings at Twenty-third Street, Broadway and Fifth Avenue, announcing: "Harrison caries the State by 12000." The Herald had a branch office at Madison Square. The equipment used was a stereopticon, a kind of slide projector with two lenses, usually one above the other, mainly used to project photographic images in the 19th century. Below, the text by Frank Marshall White that accompanied the engraving above in Harper's Weekly:

«EMERSON, who never took an active interest in mundane politics himself, once pictured an excited mortal coming out from a political gathering into the light of the immortal stars, who inquire of him, "Why so hot, little man ?" lf the curiosity of the immortal stars was not gratified on this occasion, and has not been since, there must have been some amazement among the heavenly bodies at the sight witnessed in Madison Square on election night, where from ten to fifteen thousand men and women and even children were gathered to read the returns displayed upon the great Herald bulletins. This vast multitude, a part of it shouting and exultant, and a part of it downcast and silent, but each mood alternately seizing either division, so that the square continually resounded to triumphant cheering, surged and seethed and billowed and roared from early evening until long past midnight, with hardly a diminution of enthusiasm. From directly in front of the queer little three-cornered building at the junction of Broadway and Fifth Avenue across to the uptown Herald building, and extending down Twenty-third Street to the east, far under the trees of the park to the west, and northward up Broadway and the Avenue as far as the Brunswick and the St. James Hotel, the tumultuous human sea seethed and rolled. So dense was the mass that the stages and streetcars found the utmost difficulty in obtaining passage, and surrounded and partially obscured by the eddying waves of humanity, seemed, from the windows of the hotels and stores about the square, to be floating upon an ocean of heads.

Not the least remarkable feature of this great crowd was the heterogeneity of its personnel. Men eminent in politics, in commerce, and in the learned professions swung their hats and shouted, side by side with shabby clerks and ragged laborers. Gamblers in gorgeous raiment who had large sums staked on the result were elbowed and jostled by anxious department employés whose daily bread hung in the balance. Hundreds of women of every social walk, accompanied by husbands or brothers, by other escorts, and not accompanied at all, added their songs of triumph to the grand chorus. Tired children, kept in the street by parents who were too much interested to leave the bulletins, clung wearily to those parents' coats or skirts, as the case might be. Half-grown boys, who, it is pleasing to reflect, were probably thrashed when they got home for staying out late, played idle pranks in the crowd, with their eyes open for the police. Once or twice there was a little auxiliary excitement as a detective, dragging a venturesome pickpocket, forced his way through the throng. An occasional beggar, drifting helplessly from place to place, implored alms at close quarters, and scores of messenger boys were continually pushing through the throng, bearing despatches to newspapers and telegraph offices.

That New York is a Democratic city was demonstrated before the Herald bulletin in the earlier part of the evening as clearly as it was at the polls. When the local returns reporting large gains for CLEVELAND were received, the major part of the crowd was mad with joy. Each change of the stereopticon was followed by a roar that sounded like a blast-furnace, and that might have been heard at the Post-office and Central Park. But as the returns from the State, and then from the other States, indicating gains for HARRISON, were posted, there was a brief but perceptible diminution in the volume of the cheering, that was almost immediately brought up to the former level by the defection of disgusted Democrats who left the square and whose places were taken by Republicans, whose enthusiasm bordered upon delirium. As the HARRISON vote gradually crept up until victory seemed assured, the Republicans gave way to the most insane demonstrations of glee. Hats were tossed into the air, knocked over the heads of the crowd with sticks, or kicked about the streets. As if by magic, innumerable flags blossomed out over the hydra head of the multitude, and impromptu processions marched up and down among the eager watchers at the bulletin, shouting the war-cries and bellowing the songs of the campaign.

It is to the credit of the city that, in spite of the state of feeling in this great crowd, there were few hard words and no fighting. An Irish gentleman who is on his first visit to this country observed the demonstration from a window of the Hoffman House, and was much amazed at the good-nature of the gathering.

" My countrymen would have been at it hammer and tongs by this time," he said. "Why, I have seen members of Parliament resort to fisticuffs at less provocation."

l t was one o'clock in the morning before the bulk of the crowd was dissipated, and then the scenes in the adjoining cafés and bars were no less animated than they had been in the square. Those who were defeated were drinking to drown their sorrow; those who were victorious were drinking to their victory. Cheering, shouting, and singing continued as it had in the streets. The Republicans went home happy.»

In 1896, the New York Times showed bulletins of the presidential election on the wall of the Cumberland House (seen above behind the Herald's equipment) to the people gathered in Madison Square. More: Madison Square in the 19th century


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Election Night, Madison Square - 1888


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