Betting on Who's Winning Presidency

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.

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