Kennedy’s Cold (10-19-1962)

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Once upon a time, Chicago was not the home of the President of the United States.  And so, whenever a president arrived in the city, it was major news.  On this particular occasion, the presidential visit turned out to be a footnote to world history.

Mayor Richard J. Daley had played an important role in helping John F. Kennedy reach the White House.  The state and congressional elections were now only a few weeks away, and the mayor asked his friend the president to join the campaign.  Kennedy was happy to oblige.

Air Force One touched down at O’Hare in late afternoon.  As the president stepped off the plane, he was greeted by bag-pipers and every Democratic office-holder or candidate from a radius of a hundred miles.  A bubble-top limousine was waiting.  Then the presidential motorcade moved out.

Crowds jammed the route along the Northwest Expressway—up to half a million people, according to one estimate.  Later that evening, Kennedy spoke to a $100-a-plate Democratic fund-raiser at McCormick Place.  At the conclusion of the speech, a fireworks display lit up the night sky.  The highlight was a flaming profile portrait of the president.

His long day over, Kennedy settled into his suite at the Blackstone Hotel.  The next morning he was up early, and left the hotel a half-hour ahead of schedule.  Reporters were told that the president had caught a cold.  He was running a fever.  He was cutting his campaign trip short by one day, and immediately returning to Washington, under doctor’s orders.

That wasn’t the truth.  For some time, Kennedy had known that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba.  While he was in Chicago, he received word that the bases might soon become operational.  That was the reason for the “cold” story and his abrupt departure.

On October 22, the president announced a blockade of any weapons’ shipments to Cuba.  After a week of fevered negotiations, and the specter of all-out nuclear war, the Soviet Union agreed to remove its bases.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was over.

President Kennedy never returned to Chicago.  After his assassination, the highway on which he had traveled was renamed the Kennedy Expressway.


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