September 1997 | Volume 48, Issue 5
It was the fall of 1936, and students at West Grammar School in Portland, Maine, were excited. Alf Landon was coming to Portland! Mr. Landon was running for President against Franklin Roosevelt. Why were we kids so interested in the election? There was a very practical reason. The desks we used had inkwells recessed in their tops, and we wrote with stock pens. When the pens became dirty, they wouldn’t write well, so we needed a good supply of pen wipers. Alfred Landon’s campaign button was attached to a bright yellow felt sunflower that made the best pen wiper we had ever found. Because of the great demand, what had at first seemed to be an endless supply of buttons was beginning to run out, and campaign workers had started giving them only to adults. I resigned myself to the fact that the dozen or more wipers I had collected were going to be it.
One day, when I had just finished listening to my favorite late-afternoon radio programs (Jack Armstrong, Little Orphan Annie, and Tom Mix), my father announced that Alf Landon was giving a campaign speech at the ballpark that night and asked if I would like to go with him. I jumped at the chance, not so much to hear the candidate as because going out with my dad on a school night was a real treat.
The Portland stadium was not more than a thousand feet from our home. It was small, but in my mind it was the size of Yankee Stadium. As we entered the park, a campaign worker who knew my father motioned him to one side to tell him why the country needed Landon as its next President. I found myself all alone beside a box filled with Landon buttons. I couldn’t resist the temptation. I pinned those buttons all over my body, and when my father and his friend saw what I had done, they both laughed. The worker said to my father, “You have a real Landon man here,” and to me: “Tonight you’re going to see the next President of the United States.”
While we sat waiting for Mr. Landon to arrive, a fog bank gathered in the outfield. As the candidate strode confidently toward the podium set up on the pitcher’s mound, the fog moved in the same direction. They met at the mound. Alf Landon spoke eloquently to an audience that couldn’t see him and that he couldn’t see.
I can’t remember anything the candidate said, but I will never forget what my father said. Dad told me I should have enough pen wipers to last me through high school. When I told him I was disappointed that I had not seen the next President of the United States, my father said simply, “Mr. Roosevelt wasn’t here tonight.”
Although Alfred M. Landon didn’t convince my dad to vote for him, he did carry the state of Maine and one other state, Vermont, giving birth to the phrase “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”