Reunion at the Blackstone (5-27-1918)

The Tribune ran the story on the front page.  Two travelers—one from New York, the other from Ohio—had a chance meeting at the Blackstone Hotel.

But these were no ordinary travelers.  Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had each been President of the United States.  And they’d been feuding for years.

Taft had been Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, and the two men became personal friends.  In 1908, when Roosevelt decided to step down after two terms, he hand-picked Taft as his successor.  The voters ratified his choice in the election.

Roosevelt and Taft--Inauguration Day, 1909

Roosevelt and Taft—Inauguration Day, 1909

By 1912, Roosevelt felt Taft had become too conservative.  The ex-president wound up running as a third-party candidate for his old office.  Roosevelt beat Taft, but Woodrow Wilson beat them both.  The two friends hadn’t spoken since then.

So yesterday evening at about 8, Taft arrived at the Blackstone.  While he was checking in, the desk clerk mentioned that Roosevelt was eating dinner in the hotel.  Taft immediately headed for the dining room.

He spotted Roosevelt at a corner table and walked up behind him.  Roosevelt’s dinner companions saw Taft coming.  When they abruptly stopped talking, Roosevelt turned and looked around.  There was Taft, smiling.

Roosevelt did a double-take.  Then he flung down his napkin, jumped up, gave Taft a bear-hug, and started pumping his hand.

The whole country knew about the Roosevelt-Taft feud.  Now the two of them were making up, in the middle of the Blackstone dining room.  At the other tables, some of the diners stood up and began clapping.  Soon the entire room was on its feet, applauding and whistling and cheering.

The Blackstone and South Michigan Avenue, 1918

The Blackstone and South Michigan Avenue, 1918

Roosevelt found a place for Taft at his table.  For the next half-hour they carried on an animated conversation, punctuated with laughter and occasional back-slapping.  Then they went their separate ways.

In 2014 our ex-presidents travel with an entourage, and moving them around is a complicated business.  Things were simpler in 1918.  Both Roosevelt and Taft lived their everyday lives among the people.  They didn’t even have bodyguards—and Roosevelt had been shot during the heated 1912 campaign.

Roosevelt and Taft each told the press how happy they were to have met.  But their renewed friendship lasted barely eight months.  Then Roosevelt suddenly died.

Taft attended the funeral—and wept at Roosevelt’s grave.



2 Responses to “Reunion at the Blackstone (5-27-1918)”

  1. 1 benson May 27, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Your mention of Taft reminded of a fantasy novel I read a couple of years ago, where Taft comes back to life and politics in 2012. Not a great book, but certainly fun. The book’s promotional campaign was interesting, complete with YouTube videos. “Meet William Howard Taft. He’s back, and he’s the biggest thing in politics. Paid for by the Citizens to Reelect William Howard Taft.”

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