The Host Committee Welcomes You to SAA’s Hometown!

Steven Szegedi, 2024 SAA Host Committee

For the first time since 2011, SAA’s annual ARCHIVES*RECORDS meeting is taking place in the society’s hometown of Chicago, and I’m lucky enough to be serving as a member of SAA’s 2024 Host Committee. We are eagerly prepping Chicago and our local archival community for ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2024. Post pandemic, it still feels novel to meet up in person and, seeing as I missed last year’s archival fête in DC, I’m especially excited for this one. I’ve been fortunate to attend annual meetings in Portland, Chicago, Austin, DC, and Atlanta. With the upcoming meeting on my mind, I started idly contemplating other conventions I’d attended in the past. And then, my daydreaming ground to a halt when I inevitably wondered, “When was the first convention held in Chicago anyway?”

Before moving to Chicago in 2006, I had heard about the 1968 Democratic National Convention (DNC), of course, and understood that Chicago had some history with political conventions. FDR was nominated thrice in Chicago! The first DNC held here was convened in August 1864, where George B. McClellan of New Jersey was nominated in a custom-built venue called The Amphitheatre. Democrats weren’t the first political hopefuls to take advantage of Chicago’s burgeoning midnineteenth century cachet, either. Four years earlier in 1860, Abraham Lincoln was nominated at Chicago’s first ever Republican National Convention, held in the Wigwam on the corner of Lake Street and today’s Wacker Drive (then called Market Street). The last RNC so far in Chicago, in 1960, was at the International Amphitheatre, site of the DNC’s 1952, 1956, and 1968 conventions, a building that could be found at Halsted and 42nd Street before being demolished in 1999. In all, Chicago has hosted eleven DNCs and fourteen RNCs so far. (Mere weeks after we convene at the Hilton Chicago next August, the United Center will host the twelfth DNC convened here.)

Also of some note is the 1912 Progressive National Convention, Theodore Roosevelt’s short lived political rebellion against the Republican Party (more commonly known as the “Bull Moose Party”). The Progressive Party in 1912 boasted the support of none other than Chicago’s Jane Addams, in part owed to Roosevelt’s encouragement for women’s suffrage, a position which neither Taft nor Wilson endorsed. Yet none of these were even the first national political conventions held in Chicago. That honor belongs, I believe, to the Harbor and River Convention of 1847—you can find its proceedings in the Internet Archive.

All this leads me to imagine the walking tour I’m going to give myself before this year’s ARCHIVES*RECORDS. Starting at the site of the old International Amphitheatre at Halsted and 42nd in Canaryville, I can walk a few miles to Stony Island and visit 63rd Street near Woodlawn where William Jennings Bryan delivered his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. Or perhaps, I should start downtown on Lake Street where that first RNC convention was held. From there, it’d be simple to visit one of my favorite Chicago museums, the Art Institute of Chicago, on Michigan Avenue. That’s the former site of the Interstate Exposition Building before it was razed in 1892 to make way for Columbian Exposition con- struction projects.

Before allowing my mind to wander too far, let me invite you to experience the pleasures and treasures of Chicago yourself. Look out later this spring for additional information about tours, archival site visits, and other recommendations for enjoying the city.

As for Chicago’s first convention, that depends. Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837, but before that it was incorporated as a town in 1833, and the land was surveyed and platted in 1830, and Illinois became a state in 1818, and Jean Baptiste Point du Sable established Chicago’s first permanent settlement in the 1780s, so . . . as Hobie Doyle says in the Coen brothers’ movie Hail, Caesar!, “It’s complicated.” Let’s talk it over together this August, while on a walking tour of the former downtown sites of Chicago’s national political conventions, shall we?

Published in the January/February 2024 issue of Archival Outlook.

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