Home > Public Service and Politics > George Wallace's 1968 Campaign Visit to Seattle
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, OCTOBER 13, 1968
BY JACK GORDON
That latter-day Machiavellian figure on the American political scene. George Corley Wallace, flew into Seattle-Tacoma airport last evening with 150 camp followers aboard twin red and white prop-jets and all but overwhelmed the 500 welcomers who turned out in the rain to greet him.
It was a Northland Britzkrieg [sic] led by sodden Dixie flags, signs of every description and staged on a wind and rain-swept airfield.
Wallace, late of the Alabama governor's chair, and still answering to the title, skipped a promised plane-side press conference, pressed the flesh with hundreds of outstretched hands, glared for a moment at a solitary picket hoisting a "Go Home George" placard all in the space of 10 minutes. Then he jumped into a Secret Service escorted sedan and led his self-styled "Mission Impossible" army to the nearby Hyatt House hotel for a brief rest.
This Wallace act has got to be the most audacious putsch in the history of the Great White House key chase. The man comes to town like a Riverboat Gambler. He carries with him a complete traveling show. The cast includes a five-piece country music band, called the Alabamians and led by a man named Sam Smith. (No relation to our City Councilman by the same name, ya' hear).
The show troupe has two blonde vocalists — a pair of Mobile sugar plums called Mona and Lisa Taylor —who'll charm you into joining this grass roots rebellion against the two-party system if you're not careful.
The Governor even has a traveling master of ceremonies, one George Mangum, whose job it is to warm up the rally crowds, spot the hecklers, and set the audience to chompin' and stompin' for the visiting Son of the Old Confederacy.
The 150-pound. 5-foot-eight-inch Governor comes on strong, like Gangbusters with an Apollo rocket booster ready to take on anyone, including the press, who would dispute his now-famous charge that America is headed for ruin unless "someone stops the agitators and anarchists who conspire with the pseudo intellectuals and bureaucrats to produce inflation, crime in the streets, high taxes and bad courts."
His is a real rabble-rousing speech, the likes of which we've never heard before in these parts. A brash, blatant appeal to the passions of prejudice beating in the hearts of some who listen.
The soggy airport welcome was a little like a riverside Southern Bible meeting with hand-shaking, small talk and a litany of Southern-fried jingos that I couldn't understand. The whole show was over in a flash because of the bad weather but not before you detected the intense spirit and fervor burning in this crowd. It was a stronger reaction than I noted when other zealots turned out at this same airport a few months back to meet their heroes, the late Sen. Kennedy and Sen. McCarthy.
This crowd may be a mite smaller but the tide runs deeper.
Waiting in the rain, you notice the strange anticipation reflected on the faces of old and young who patiently stand behind the security ropes.
The official greeters were supposed to be nine presidential electors sworn to install Wallace in the White House if the voters see it their way. They included John E. Mead, John K Algeo, John R. Cadle Jr. and James Conner of Tacoma; Mrs. Dorothy Dwyer of Roy. Wash., and Harry O. Dingwall, H. Haskell Davis. John H. Robertson and Gene Davis of Seattle.
They had to truck on down to the Hyatt House to do the official honors because the airport business got out of hand as the crowd broke through the police lines and all but crushed the visitor from Alabama.
After a brief rest, the Wallace Party was bundled into a well-guarded motorcade for the quick trip downtown and a rally at the 1,671-seat Moore Theater.
At the theater, spoectators had been gathering since late afternoon along with some pickets carrying "Stassen for Peace" signs and other banners critical of Wallace
The pre-speech show is strictly a Grand Old Opry Production, with corn pone, chitlings and black-eyed peas flowing all over the stage.
You watch with fascination as 25 girls, Southern Belle types befitting a Memphis Cotton Carnival, rehearse to go into the audience to collect donations for the campaign. Some of the girls are part of the travelling Wallace show troupe and they've spent the late afternoon training the local recruits on how to smile a Yankee dollar out of the governor's Seattle cousins.
The script calls for the show to start with the Pledge of Allegiance and mass singing of God Bless America. There is no playing of the National Anthem and the planners calculate as how nobody will notice in the glare of the television lights, the banners and the Mason Dixon jazz.
Anticipating an overflow crowd, the advance men have installed loud speakers outside the theater to entertain the crowd on the sidewalk who brave the chilly evening air.
The Wallace men expect there will be hecklers in the theater but they're not worried about the candidate's safety. They have outfitted him with a chest-high, bullet proof rostrom that's supposed to be a Maginot Line against everything except the epitaphs.
Wallace seems to enjoy the presence of hecklers wherever he goes. He rolls them into his speech and unceremoniously dumps them on a trash heap of invective that makes them foils for his whole extravaganza.
The Wallace technique with hecklers is in marked contrast to what we saw when rival candidates, Messrs. Nixon and Humphrey, played this circuit just two weeks ago.
Nixon ignored the hecklers in the main. Humphrey, enlisted the help of TV comedian Bill Dana and tried to reason, plead, cajole, threaten and denounce his hecklers. The result was they almost took the rally over before they were exited out by police in a near-riot scene.
Not so, with Wallace's Act. He makes 'em dirty birds from the first whistle.
Watching the crowd at a Wallace Rally is almost as good as watching the showman himself. The audience waits for his laugh lines like soldiers and sailors at a Bob Hope camp show. They seem, to know what's coming but they whoop, and holler and giggle like first graders at the mention of recess, when the boofers come along.
Wallace's "laugh lines" range from the crack about how he'll "os s albtl theu *reaucrats" [sic. It should be toss all the beaureaucrats] in the river to how he'll run over the hippies with his car if they lie down in front of it.
It's funny in a grim, tragic way.
Then it's all over and Cap'n George's Mississippi Showboat, proclaimed by his backers as the "greatest show on the Potomoc River today" sets sail for another port.
And you find yourself a little exhausted, sitting by the river bank, watching the lights fade away in the distance and wondering what it all means.
You are at JackGordon.org,
a salute to John F "Jack" Gordon, Mr. Seattle
Copyright © 2002-2016 John R. Gordon