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 October 19th in 1962, the presidential visit turned out to be a footnote in world history.
Mayor Richard J. Daley had played a big part in putting John F. Kennedy in the White House. Now the midterm elections were only a few weeks away, and the mayor asked the president to come to Chicago, to campaign for the state ticket. 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 bagpipers and every Democrat officer-holder or candidate from hundred-mile radius. A bubble-top limo was waiting. Then the presidential motorcade moved out.
Crowds jammed the route along the Northwest Expressway--up to a half-million people, according to one estimate. Later that evening, Kennedy spoke at a $100-a-plate party fundraiser at McCormick Place. At the conclusion of his speech, a fireworks display lit up the sky over the lakefront. 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. Cutting his trip short by a day, he was 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 would soon become operational. This 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 tense 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 John F. Kennedy Expressway.