KENNETT SQUARE -- Leon Rowe isn't sure when he started getting interested in political paraphernalia, but he reckons it was pretty early in his life as an Avon Grove High School history teacher and local historian. In the years of collecting post cards, buttons and souvenirs, he has accumulated not only a huge stack of stuff, but also a long list of legends and stories about political shenanigans and dirty tricks.
Next week, Rowe, 67, will share a bunch of his stories with the public at a lecture in the New London Academy on Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m.
Rowe said political dirty tricks and name-calling started as early as the election of George Washington in the United States and have continued unabated ever since even into the early stages of this 2012 election.
'Name-calling has been around forever like 10-year-olds in the playground,' he said.
When he was asked for a preview of his Power Point program next week, Rowe said he would present stories of 'screwing around with the votes and stuffing the ballot boxes' that go back to the 1800s.
He said that in the early years of the United States until the mid-1800s, ballots were not secret, so candidates could see who voted for them. They often offered the voters money for votes and were able to see if their voters had delivered for them.
On another occasion, a mayoral candidate in Boston in the 1930s who was in a tight race sent a stenographer to record in secret his opponent's speech while the opponent was practicing. When the time came for the debate, the candidate who had recorded the speech actually presented his opponent's speech word-for-word, so the challenger had nothing to say.
Rowe said that it has been reported that the late President Richard Nixon in the early days of his political career had a staff member to pay off the conductor of a train so that when his opponent was about to give a whistle stop speech, the train pulled out of the station at the conductor's signal.
Rowe also reported that John Francis 'Honey Fitz' Fitzgerald, the grandfather of President John Kennedy, was in a political race in which his opponent was mounting a write-in campaign. Honey Fitz had his workers print up what looked like stickers for his opponent, but they had no glue on the back. When the opponent's workers came around and saw that the stickers were being given out, they thought they were fellow workers and didn't give out the stickers.
When the voting day came, people who had the opponent's stickers liked them and stuck them on the ballot, but as soon as the moisture dried, the stickers fell off. Honey Fitz won the election, Rowe said.
One of the most extreme cases of name-calling that Rowe has been able to document was the election for president in 1828 between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Rowe said Adams was called 'a pimp for the czar of Russia' while Jackson was called a murderer on handbill that had pictures of coffins with names on them.
Rowe and his wife, Dolores, are both retired from teaching and live in Kennett Square. They take trips to places as far away as Kansas to buy old postcards, buttons and souvenirs.
One of the things Leon Rowe picked up at a local barn sale was a 1928 corporate seal press belonging to the Chester County KuKluxKlan. He also obtained a pamphlet put out by the Klan women's auxiliary condemning the presidential campaign of Al Smith because he was Catholic.
Leon Rowe has hundreds of post cards, some of them recent, with sarcastic phrases and pictures of Barak Obama, George W.Bush and others. When he was asked about recent instances of dirty tricks, he said he considers the recent Pennsylvania Voter ID requirement to be one.
The lecture on Tuesday is sponsored by the New London Historical Society and the Penn-Marydel Questers.
The New London Academy is on State Road in New London Township, just east of the village of New London.