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Carnegie Hall's Presidential History: Part I

As this year's presidential election contest enters the home stretch, we thought it would be interesting to take a look back at Carnegie Hall's own presidential history.

In the pre-television era—and even more so in the pre-radio era—Carnegie Hall, like many auditoriums across the country, often took the role of a "town hall," playing host to civic events, organizational meetings, rallies, and gatherings of almost any sort imaginable, including political conventions. It was not at all unusual to see US presidents—both current and former—turn up to address Carnegie Hall audiences.

Press pass for the 1908 Democratic State Convention at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Delegates to the 1908 Republican Convention as they enter Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Carnegie Hall was a frequent campaign venue for political races at all levels during this era, including presidential contests. In August 1896, Benjamin Harrison used his clout as a former president (1889–1893) to kick off the Republican presidential campaign of that season. As The New York Sun pointed out, "Carnegie Music Hall has been the scene of many great meetings, but never before one of the magnitude and importance of this one and never before one so enthusiastic."

Harrison was launching the campaign of William McKinley, who came to the Hall during his presidency to address a meeting of the Ecumenical Missionary Conference in 1900. In October 1912, when he was facing off against Bull Moose Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson—who was governor of New Jersey at the time—faced a "cheering crowd" that climbed "over chairs and tables" to the stage "to shake his hand," according to The New York Times.

Ticket to the Ecumenical Missionary Conference of 1900 at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Report in The Congregationalist about the Ecumenical Missionary Conference at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Theodore Roosevelt at Carnegie Hall in 1912. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Wilson's most significant Carnegie Hall address took place seven years later, in July 1919, when he returned triumphantly from Europe to give his first report regarding the Treaty of Versailles. Over half a million New Yorkers lined the streets between the 23rd Street ferry terminal, where Wilson arrived, and Carnegie Hall.

The New York Times report on President Woodrow Wilson's speech at Carnegie Hall on his return from Versailles. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can even recognize the appearances of several presidents-to-be, including Warren G. Harding, who as a US senator from Ohio addressed the World Court Congress at Carnegie Hall on May 3, 1916—the day before, former president William Howard Taft spoke before the same august assemblage. Calvin Coolidge's October 1920 speech to a meeting of the New York Young Republican Club took place while he was governor of Massachusetts.

Unlike some of the other late–19th- and early–20th-century presidents who spoke at the Hall either during or after their presidency, neither Coolidge nor Harding returned after they made it to the Oval Office. Likewise, Carnegie Hall missed out on a presidential visit from perhaps the most famous and influential commander in chief our time, Franklin D. Roosevelt. His sole appearance at the Carnegie Hall podium took place on November 1, 1930, when he addressed a Democratic County Committee Campaign Rally while he was governor of New York.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's autograph from his November 1, 1930 appearance at the Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.

Check back over the weekend for more fascinating insight into Carnegie Hall's connections with the US presidency.

Related: Carnegie Hall's History  

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