In every fourth year towards the end of October, and appropriately located on a curb right outside Wall Street, a vast market existed trading futures back and forth; but the futures they traded weren’t in corn, pork bellies, or soybeans. Instead, they traded elections, Garfield vs. Hancock, Cleveland v. Blaine, and so on. Much of the money laid upon the line, as it were, was placed by the various potentates in Republican and Democrat parties; and the wagers were viewed as a proxy of how confident the campaigns felt about their candidate.
As it wound its way into the closing weeks, the election of 1888 was particularly close. Benjamin Harrison, a former Senator from Indiana, was a dark horse candidate, nominated when the Republican Party faithful couldn’t agree on a candidate during the Convention in Chicago. Grover Cleveland, the Democrat Party nominee and the sitting President, had gotten married during his first term in office, opposed free silver, and while not particularly beloved of anyone but the new Mrs. Cleveland, stood a good chance at re-election.
Election bets went back and forth between political rivals, and between friends as well. Up in Jefferson County, New York, Adam Shead and Clarence Cook laid an interesting waiver. If Cleveland was elected Cook agreed to be locked in his blacksmith shop and stay there three full days and nights; if Harrison was elected, Shead would agree to be locked in his barn for the same period. In New York, a pretty (but nameless) young lady wagered three kisses against a pair of stockings. When she lost, she met Thomas Ryan, an aged veteran, at the center of Herald Square, and plant three kisses on his forehead.
Some got in deeper than they could afford. Thomas L. Botts, an insurance broker at 32 Liberty Street, checked into the Hotel Royal near Bryant Park on November 11. He promptly lay down on the bed and shot himself. Found in his pockets were a membership receipt to the Insurance Clerks’ Mutual Benefit Association, an invitation to a reception from Miss Ella C. Jones of 346 W. 123 St., a gold watch, a ticket to a lecture, and some $200 in election bet receipts, all backing Cleveland.
Fortunately, most wagers didn’t end so tragically. New York Police Commissioner French backed Harrison against Judge Martine. As a consequence of his loss, the Judge was required to pay for the Commissioner’s wardrobe for a full year, with no limit on the amount of suits which could be charged to the Judge. “I could have a new suit every day if I wanted to take all I am entitled to, but I won’t push the Judge too far. There is no reason I should not dress as well as usual,” French told the New York Tribune. “However, I guess I’ll dress a little better than usual this year.”
Our favorite bet has to be that entered into by George W. Owens, a Republican, against Jake Schaeffer and David Powers, Democrats. All three worked at the Washington Market in Manhattan, and when Harrison won, Schaeffer had to push Owens over the Brooklyn Bridge in a wheelbarrow, and Schaeffer had to push Owens back to the Washington Market. While one pushed, the other carried a banner reading “We pay our debts although we are in the soup.” Several Cleveland allies lent Schaeffer and Powers moral support.
To Our Readership: We hereby propose an election day wager, to the first taker, along the lines of the Owens and Schaeffer bet. Loser has to roll the winner from the Brooklyn side of the River, across the Brooklyn Bridge to Washington Market Park, in a wheelbarrow. Wheelbarrow to be provided by the loser. Using Mr. Owens’ wager as a portent, we shall repeat his wager and back the Republican candidate.