ST. LOUIS • In the final days before the Nov. 2, 1948, election, most newspapers and pollsters predicted an easy victory for Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York. President Harry S Truman gave one of his last "give 'em hell" rallies to an enthusiastic crowd at Kiel Auditorium, but the bookies gave 6-to-1 odds to Dewey.
Truman went home to Independence, Mo., to await the votes. Newspapers prepared for the obvious.
And then Truman won. Two days later, on Nov. 4, he had a delicious opportunity to gig the press when his train pulled into St. Louis Union Station for a brief rally on his way back to Washington.
As the photographers jostled at the end of Track 35, a beaming Truman held court from the open platform of his special car. Former U.S. Rep. C. Arthur Anderson of Mehlville passed up a copy of an early edition of the Chicago Tribune with the famous headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Truman mugged with the Tribune in his hands. Flashbulbs popped. Supporters roared with laughter.
"That's one for the book," Truman said.
His train had pulled into Union Station about 1:30 p.m. to a VIP crowd of 2,000 trackside. Behind the closed gates to the wide station midway were an additional 13,000 supporters. Truman shouted, "Open the gates," and police officers let the cheering crowd gather around. Truman posed with his wife, Bess, and their daughter, Margaret, and shook hands with his local political pals, including Postmaster (and former St. Louis Mayor) Bernard F. Dickmann and federal tax collector James P. Finnegan.
How the St. Louis papers played what became one of the most memorable photos in American politics is another part of the story. That evening, the Post-Dispatch led its front page with a photo of the Truman family on the train car and put a photo of the crowd on its Everyday page. The rival afternoon Star-Times, which closed in 1951, led that afternoon with a crowd photo and put its version of Truman with Tribune on its inside picture page. The old Globe-Democrat, which closed in 1986, led the next morning's front page with the Tribune photo.
The Post, apparently with second thoughts, came back the next afternoon with its own shot of president and Tribune on its Everyday page. All three St. Louis newspapers, by the way, had endorsed Dewey.