Image source: Life - July 5, 1968
The Democratic National Convention is currently underway in Philadelphia. The last time the Democrats held their convention in that city was back in 1948, when they nominated Harry S. Truman as the Democratic candidate.
It was a memorable convention in a number of ways (the first televised one, for instance), but among weird-news types it's remembered as the Convention where they decided to release 48 doves inside the convention hall. Zachary Karabell described the stunt in his book The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election
(2000) (via Presidential History Geeks
"Even when Truman was actually nominated, the evening was marred by mishaps. It was sweltering and the voting had taken far longer than expected. A national committeewoman from Pennsylvania, Emma Guffey Miller, sister of the former Senator Joseph Guffey, planned a surprise tribute for Truman. She had the Pennsylvania Florists Association create a Liberty Bell made of flowers. They had given one to Dewey and naturally Miller wanted to make Truman's bouquet even more impressive. She had the florists place a cage of several dozen pigeons inside the bell, and at the appointed time, she intended to release the pigeons into the hall as symbolic 'doves of peace.'
"The problem was that the pigeons had been placed inside the bell hours before. By the time Miller brought the bell to the podium, two of the birds had died and the rest were desperate for relief from the heat. The minute she opened the cage, they darted out as fast as they could and flew directly toward the thirty-six inch pedestal fans that surrounded the stage. Sam Rayburn, the former Speaker of the House and chairman of the convention proceedings, started swatting at the low flying pigeons. His craggy voice carried to the radio and television microphones, and he could be heard shouting 'get those goddamned pigeons out of here!'
"But they could not be contained. One of them briefly came to rest on Rayburn's head, while another landed on the fan right next to Bess Truman. Other pigeons were flying toward the ceiling and, in their nervousness, started to splatter the delegates with droppings. Watching the absurd scene, Jack Redding turned to Congressman Mike Kirwan and said 'what damned fool could have thought of a thing like this? In this heat they all could be dead. It's bad enough having the Zionists, the Dixiecrats and the Wallace-ites after us, now we got to have somebody to arrange for the SPCA to have at us." By the time Truman came onstage, the surviving birds had retreated to the balconies and the overhead lights, where they watched as the president addressed the recently strafed delegates."
A more contemporary account comes from the Kokomo Tribune
(July 28, 1948):
forty and eight white doves [were] released from a huge floral Liberty Bell by Mrs. Emma Guffey Miller at the closing session of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia...
Weighing a neat 140 by Republican (conservative) scales, Mrs. Miller had stood on the platform, the personification of a buxom fairy queen, though without wand or wings. When she waved her lily white hand — Bingo! — a trap door in the bell opened and out flew four dozen of the scaredest pigeons you ever saw. They had been cooped up in that bell for several hours. Their bloodshot eyes popped out and their feathers were bedraggled by the humid 100-degree heat of the convention hall.
Some of the sturdier birds made for the high roof, but the feebler birds fluttered to the first perch they could light on — chairman Sam Rayburn's rostrum and the big electric fans that blew breezes over the speakers' platform. Everybody laughed. Then everybody ducked or threw their arms over their heads. Then everybody hollered or screamed.
The event caused one bard to dash off a quatrain:
Sing a song of Democrats, listen to them yell!
Eight and forty pigeons, parboiled in a bell.
When the bell was opened, the birds began to fly.
Wasn't that an awful thing to hit you in the eye?
Finally, it proved difficult to recapture all the doves.
The Decatur Daily Review - July 15, 1948