Oct. 25, 1960: John Kennedy campaigned among Republicans in the suburbs
As he embarked on a 14-hour motorcade that would wend through several communities outside Chicago on Oct. 25, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy said at the O'Hare Holiday Inn in Des Plaines that he had one thing in common with his opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon.
"That is what we are going to do; we are campaigning where the Republicans live," Kennedy said, according to the American Presidency Project, which includes a collection of speeches, data and other resources pertaining to the office.
Did any Democrats live in Lake Zurich or Barrington? Kennedy asked rhetorically.
"Well, we are going to take the Democratic message out to West Dundee and Libertyville, because this election ought to be won in these areas surrounding the great cities, the suburbs, suburbia or whatever you may call it, people who make an independent judgment on what is best for their state, their families, their country, the cause of freedom."
Kennedy, who two weeks later would be elected the youngest man to hold the nation's highest office, knew the race was close and considered Illinois and its suburbs an important source of potential votes, according to Scott Farris, an Oregon resident and author of presidential histories.
"He was very intrigued how suburbs had become increasingly important in politics," said Farris, whose "Kennedy and Reagan: Why Their Legacies Endure" will be published Nov. 5.
In Lake County, where at the time, a single Democrat was said to have held county office since the Civil War, local party officials sensed a growing strength as voters moved to their areas from Chicago. Kennedy was courted for two months to make a morale-boosting visit. He took his message to several communities that day, including Barrington, Lake Zurich, Wheeling, Carpentersville, Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, Aurora and Elmhurst.
It was a time when the country was at peace and generally prosperous, according to Farris. Yet Cold War tensions were mounting and other issues bubbled.
"America was kind of in a funny mood in 1960," he said. "There was a sense there was a national malaise, that America was adrift and falling behind the Soviet Union."
Kennedy said he was not satisfied with the status quo.
America had to step it up to maintain its position in the world, he said, and keep the balance of power from shifting to Communism.
"This is a contest between the concerned and the comfortable, and you have to decide what you are, comfortable or concerned," he told the Libertyville crowd as the journey began.
Joseph Passalaqua said he had just finished shooting a wedding and was in his photography studio, unaware of the pending visit from the Democratic presidential contender.
"All of a sudden a crowd started to gather and I saw a motorcade coming down Milwaukee Avenue," Passalaqua said. He ran outside and tried to take a picture, but the camera didn't work.
"I swung around and I manually tripped the shutter," said the Green Oaks resident, who will turn 90 soon. "I got a candid shot of him pointing at someone who was heckling the hell out of him."
Libertyville was predominantly Republican, but that day may have been an exception. In an open Chevrolet convertible, Kennedy arrived at Cook Park in the heart of downtown at 10:52 a.m., about a half-hour behind schedule. The park was described as a mass of color, filled with posters and signs, including a Kennedy banner draped across the grand entrance of the Ansel B. Cook Home, which served as the library.
It wasn't the first time a presidential candidate had been in their midst. Adlai Stevenson II, whose mailing address was Libertyville, ran unsuccessfully for president as the Democratic candidate in 1952 and 1956. During his last campaign, Libertyville merchants put up a banner of support across the street — but it was torn down by village employees.
Depending on the party affiliation, crowd estimates for Kennedy's visit varied from 4,000 to 10,000, with many students let out of school for the occasion. Most news accounts said the crowds packed the park and lined the street, and the ovation was wildly enthusiastic.
Phyllis Eggert, 82, was born and reared in Libertyville. "Of course we were red hot Republicans, but we decided we wanted to see him," she said.
Putting her 5-year-old son, Dale, on her shoulders, Eggert took a position near the flagpole.
"We wore our largest Republican buttons and no one paid any attention to that. Between the way he looked and the way he talked, I said, 'He's going to get it,'" she said of the election.
Another lifelong Libertyville resident, Lynne Stetz, was a high school junior and flutist in the band. "We were standing to the side and we played when he came up. It was a huge deal for Libertyville, although Libertyville was a very Republican town," she said.
Kennedy told the crowd the next five years were going to be decisive. He questioned whether America had as strong an image as in years past. He maintained the economy wasn't growing as it should and education was lagging.
"I ask you to join me in setting before the American people the image of an America on the move, moving once again, fulfilling its expectations, spreading its influence, demonstrating that we represent the way of the future," Kennedy said in a speech included in the American Presidency Project collection.
The motorcade passed through Lake Zurich on its way to Barrington High School, where he continued to question the threat of Communist influence and Nixon's contention that America's prestige had never been higher.
Jack Wendt took his students to see Kennedy speak at Meadowdale Shopping Center in Carpentersville and jokes that he doesn't remember much about that day, probably because he was a Republican and because he was busy keeping track of his students. The West Dundee retiree was a teacher at the former Hickory Hill School in Carpentersville.
"I felt privileged to be in his presence rather than seeing him on television, but not enthralled," Wendt said.
What he does remember was the excitement in the air as Kennedy spoke for about 45 minutes.
"I was interested because of his background," Wendt said. "At the time, No. 1 being a Catholic was a biggie, and he had such charisma that everybody paid attention to him and his gorgeous wife."
From Carpentersville, Kennedy took his motorcade to Elgin.
Bill Sarto, who grew up to serve as Carpentersville's village president, was 12 years old when he saw Kennedy in Elgin. But getting a glimpse of the young senator when he came through the city wasn't enough.
After Kennedy finished stumping outside the Spiess department store, Sarto, intent on meeting his political idol, ran to the passenger's side of Kennedy's convertible as it pulled out on Grove Avenue. That got Kennedy's attention right away.
"He yells out in his Boston accent, 'Stop the car!'" Sarto recalled. "He was this tall, sun-tanned guy I'd only seen on TV before, and here he was in my hometown actually talking to me."
What followed is a conversation Sarto says forever changed his life.
Kennedy asked his name, told him it was nice to see him but that he'd better be careful. Sarto told him his name and replied he just wanted to meet him. Kennedy reached out to shake his hand and asked where Sarto attended school.
When Sarto replied St. Laurence Catholic School, Kennedy asked how the nuns were treating him. Sarto replied they could be treating him better and noted that he comes from a family of Democrats.
Kennedy said he hoped Sarto's family was large, and when Sarto said it was, Kennedy flashed a smile and said, "Tell your neighbors to vote for me, too."
Sarto said that meeting made him want to get into politics. He would run for several offices before becoming Carpentersville's village president in 2005.
"I was inspired by him, being Catholic, a Democrat and a cool guy with a cool accent," Sarto said.
Kennedy was the first U.S. president David Tonge ever photographed.
Tonge, a naturalized citizen from England, came to the U.S. when he was 9. The retired director of photography for the Daily Herald was a student at Elgin High School when he heard Kennedy speak downtown. He doesn't recall much about the speech, but he remembers Kennedy being a "handsome looking fella" in a rumpled blue suit complaining about a newspaper he waved around.
"I was just in awe of his presence, really. I mean, my gosh, this guy's going to be a president," Tonge recalled. "And a Democrat in a Republican area? My word."
In the end, though, there wasn't much love for Kennedy in Elgin, according to E.C. "Mike" Alft, a historian, author and former mayor of Elgin. Kennedy received 5,324 votes in Elgin Township to Nixon's 15,478.
"He didn't accomplish much by visiting here," said Alft, also a witness to Kennedy's Elgin speech.
Kane County in 1960 was Republican territory. The St. Charles Chronicle noted a big Nixon rally at the Kane County Fairgrounds, where one of the debates was televised on a large screen. Even after the election, the newspaper focused on how Nixon had defeated Kennedy locally, with all 13 precincts in St. Charles going for the Nixon-Lodge ticket. All but nine counties in Illinois went for Nixon.
Still, Kennedy's drive through the Fox Valley drew crowds.
Kennedy made scheduled stops to speak at Baker Memorial Park in St. Charles and at the Kane County Courthouse in Geneva. The crowd lining Batavia Avenue in Batavia was so large, he made an impromptu stop across from the old Batavia High School near Wilson Street. "It is not a county that has been known for its Democratic majorities, but ... I do appreciate your coming out today," he told the crowd, according to a published transcript of his speeches kept at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.
St. Charles resident Bernie Deutsch got to shake Kennedy's hand as the motorcade drove south on Route 31 in Batavia.
"Of course I'm Catholic, so we're proud of him. We were very proud that he ran," said Deutsch, who has a son who is a monsignor. He also recalled Kennedy's sense of humor. But it didn't turn him in to a party loyalist.
"I think it was the last time we voted for a Democrat," Deutsch said.
Kennedy's drive through the area was enough of a big deal that Grace McWayne Elementary School, just a block west of Route 31 in Batavia, let students out early to go see him, recalled Ron Hubbard, a 9-year-old student at the time.
"It was pretty cool," he said.
Cooler still was that his father had the presence of mind to leave his furniture store, which was on the east side of Route 31, and run home to get the Bell and Howell movie camera he had bought just the week before.
The senior Hubbard filmed Kennedy's brief visit (sans audio).
After his father died, Hubbard found the film in his belongings and told a friend, Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, about it.
"Are you kidding? No one ever got a movie of it," Schielke, a local history expert, told him. Hubbard had the film converted to a DVD and has given copies to the city and the Batavia Historical Society. The city made a Facebook page for it.
Hubbard laughed recalling what else was on the film. After the Kennedy visit, his mother, a staunch Republican, took her sons to a Nixon speech at Wheaton College. She filmed it with the new camera but in her inexperience shot into the sun.
He didn't bother having that image converted.
"You couldn't tell Nixon from a tree," Hubbard said.
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