I have visited the Essex County Courthouse/Hall
of Records only once. It was a night visit that lasted about 14
The date was November 5, 1940. That day, the presidential election
had taken place pitting Franklin Delano Roosevelt against Wendell
This is a story of how I got to that place and what I did there.
I was a young reporter, who had been covering sports for the Star-Ledger
for nearly four years on a per-assignment basis. In the course of
covering assignments for the Star-Ledger, I also picked up numerous
free-lance reporting assignments from our-of-state newspapers and
news wire services. Newark was a big city for sports in that era.
All of those our-or-state assignments were usually received by
telegram or message via Western Union and sent to me care of the
A Western Union Telegraph operator was usually on duty at the
Star-Ledger, telegraphy being the major form of fast communication
for journalists in those years.
As a consequence of having satisfactorily covered a number of
free-lance assignments previously for International News Service
(INS), which had no Essex County affiliate at that time, they
and asked if I would cover the Essex county presidential election
returns for them.
It was the biggest reporting assignment I'd ever been offered
up to that time and my first instinct was to turn it down.
I discussed the offer with Ed Weinstein, the chief telegrapher
of Newark's Western Union office, with whom I'd struck up a friendship.
I told him I felt incapable of handling such a major assignment
and that I planned to turn it down.
"Tell them 'Yes' Weinstein advised me. "You will be
able to handle it. Don't worry."
He explained to me that all the Essex County election returns
would be coming in to the Essex County election headquarters in
the Hall of Records....further that typing facilities for the press
would be available there and that he would be in charge of the Western
Union telegraphers who would be sending the reporters' dispatches
to their newspapers.
Weinstein told me that as each reporter's dispatch would be sent,
the telegrapher reporting to him would turn in to him the report
to be held for billing purposes.
He said he would let me glance at the messages after they were
sent and that they could give me a sense of the important issues
and trends as the election returns were posted and continuously
With that assurance, I accepted the assignment from International
On election night, I stopped off at the Ledger office on Market
Street and then walked up Market Street to election headquarters
in the Hall of Records.
Set up with desk, typewriter, and telegraph dispatcher linked
to INS in New York, I sent my first dispatch around 6 P.M. advising
Lou Allwell at INS that I was on duty and would be sending election
bulletins as events developed.
More than 12 hours later, I handed my last dispatch to my Western
Union dispatcher. These dispatches were not stories. Rather they
were short bulletins of perhaps 40, 50, or 60 words on unfolding
As the Western Union telegrapher clicked out my last dispatch
with his telegraph key, he added the total word count of all my
dispatches of the previous 12 hours: 1,673.
International News Service acknowledged my last dispatch with
a short note saying message received, and closed with "Thanks
and good night."
It was past 6:30 A.M. and I walked the 11 blocks across High Street
to my home at 29 Montgomery Street and went to bed.
* * *
The Election Result
Though 78 percent of the nation's newspapers had endorsed Willkie
in the 1940 election campaign, Franklin Roosevelt won the national
election and an unprecedented third term with 54,7 percent of the
national popular vote and 449 out of 551 electoral votes.
In New Jersey, he won the state 1,016,808 to 945,475. In Essex
County, where I reported the results to INS, Roosevelt won in Newark,
but Willkie was stronger in the suburbs and won the County by a
plurality of 27,761 votes -- 88,725 to 53,841.
* * *
In the more than 60 years since that 1940 election night, I have
never passed the Essex County Courthouse/Hall of Records, or looked
at a picture of those buildings without experiencing---if only momentarily---a
twinge of the excitement that carried me through that eventful night,
exactly three months and one week before my 20th birthday.