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Democratic National Convention: a wild ride in 1924

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(Read caption) The Democratic National Convention in 1924 included accidental swipes at the South and several very loud sirens. One of its attendees was U.S. Congressman John Nance Garner (pictured at the convention).

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Almost nine decades ago, the Democrats got together in New York City and tore themselves apart.

They fought over civil rights and the Ku Klux Klan. They fought over religion. They fought over legalizing liquor. And they did it for more than two whole weeks while botching everything from the music to the celebratory fire sirens.

The Democratic National Convention of 1924 remains the most destructive of all time. "During its 16 days and 103 ballots, the party virtually committed suicide," writes historian Robert K. Murray.

The players included a future president who'd lose that November, a Catholic governor, a KKK sympathizer and the ultimate nominee, a man who described the chaos, in a bit of understatement, as "a three-ring circus with two stages and a few trapeze acts."

The best and most deliciously readable account of the Mammoth Mess at Madison Square Garden appears in Murray's 1976 book The 103rd Ballot. As the Democrats anoint their nominee in Charlotte tonight, here's a look back at the ultimate height of conventional dysfunction, courtesy of a master historian:

Hey! Let's Insult the South, Part I: When a favorite son from Virginia was nominated, the convention band struck up an awkward selection: "John Brown's Body Lies A-Mouldering in the Grave," a favorite of the North during the Civil War.

It was not, as you can imagine, a chart-topper in the Old Dominion. The band quickly changed its tune, literally, to "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny."

Hey! Let's Insult the South, Part II: Later, during a discussion about the KKK, the band played "an ancient hymn of hate" of the Union Army called "Marching Through Georgia." This "monumental gaffe" infuriated the Southern delegates, who were less than pleased to be reminded of the work of General Sherman.

The Sound of Flee-Dom: After a man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged his fellow Democrats to support Al Smith, the New York governor, the "Garden turned into a cauldron of sound and movement."


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