Mock Con documentary airs on public television in Virginia

Documentary highlights the story of Mock Con from its beginning in 1908

Kelly Swanson

“Wow, this is why I came to W&L, this right here,” Alex Cummings said to the crowd at Washington and Lee’s Mock Convention in 2012. Cummings, ‘13, was just one of the many former students who boasted about W&L’s tradition of picking the presidential candidate for the party out of power in “Mock Con,” a documentary covering the event’s history.

“Mock Con” aired Sunday, Oct. 25 on WCVE TV-23 and WHTJ-TV, in addition to other stations in the coming month, according to Executive Director of Alumni Affairs Beau Dudley, ‘74.

“This is a great story and it has a lot of connections to people connected and not connected to W&L, so we are happy to put it on the air,” Dudley said. “We have a schedule for about five or six stations across Virginia that are going to show it in the next month or so.”

The documentary is roughly 35 minutes and features interviews from former students telling their favorite memories from mock con, as well as raw footage from past conventions. Since 1984, mock con has been filmed by Bill Parks, ’82, the executive producer of Dominion Parks, who ended up producing the film.

Emma Whittemore, ‘16, the social media chair for Mock Con, said that the documentary helped give her a more realistic mental image of what Mock Con really is.

“Watching the documentary last winter made me really excited for Mock Con because even though I had been involved with it as a social media chair, I really did not know that much about it,” she said.

Whittemore said that one of the highlights of “Mock Con” is footage from the convention in 1956 when former Vice President Alben Barkley said, “I’m glad to sit on the back row, for I would rather be a servant in the House of the Lord than to sit in the seats of the mighty,” then fell over and died from a heart attack.

“We found the live film and audio track from when the former Vice President keeled over at the podium in 1956,” Dudley said. “So that is in the film and is literally hair raising actually. On the stage at that time, only four chairs down was Bob Huntley, then a law student, who would go on to be the president of the university.”

Dudley said that the documentary was the brainchild of Tyson Janney, ‘53, who thought it was strange that no one had ever told the story of Mock Con, a tradition continued since 1908.

“He came to me in roughly 2011 and he said, ‘Is it possible that W&L has never told the story that is mock convention? That is silly, and we need to change that,’” Dudley said, recalling a conversation between himself and Janney.

Janney and his graduating class of 1953 raised money to fund the creation of the film to celebrate their 60th reunion, according to Dudley. Gerry Lenfest, also a member of the class of ‘53, then made a matching gift.

Once funding was secured, Dudley and Janney, joined by Wilson Hallett, ‘15, scoured through boxes of mock con memorabilia provided by W&L’s Special Collections and Archives in order to collect material to be featured.

Former CBS newsman Roger Mudd narrates the film, stating in the very beginning that he, “attended the 1948 Republican convention which erroneously nominated Arthur Vandenburg of Michigan.”

In addition to the airing of the documentary, the Mock Con committee is preparing for a wide array of news coverage of the event.

“We used to have C-SPAN cover it gavel to gavel, which is really cool,” Whittemore said. “We are trying to get that to happen again, fingers crossed.”