By John Jaros, Executive Director, Aurora Historical Society
The 1960 presidential election pitted Republican Richard Nixon, 47, who had served two terms as President Eisenhower’s Vice-President, against the charismatic John F. Kennedy, 43, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts. The two candidates had secured their respective partys’ nominations at conventions in July of that year.
Election day was slated for Tuesday, November 8. The campaign was hard fought, with the candidates criss-crossing the nation in attempts to earn votes. From late August until November, Nixon traveled to speaking appearances, rallies, and engagements in 168 cities; Kennedy traveled to 237 cities during that time.
Just two weeks before the election, on October 25, 1960, candidate Kennedy made a brief but exciting campaign visit to Aurora. This was part of a larger 2-day power swing through Illinois, a critical state. On the 24th he had visited Champaign-Urbana, Peoria, Moline, Rock Island, and Rockford. On the 25th, Kennedy stopped at Libertyville, Barrington, Carpentersville, Elgin, St. Charles. Geneva, Batavia. Mooseheart, Aurora, Joliet, Elmhurst and Des Plaines. By use of plane and car, this swing also included visits to such far-flung locations as Carbondale, Alton, and East St. Louis.
Riding in an open convertible, Kennedy was very accessible, and his motorcade was mobbed everywhere he went. The Beacon reported:
In Libertyville, Barrington, Meadowdale, Elgin, St. Charles, Batavia, men, women and children pressed against the Senator’s car, their hands outstretched or yelling for autographs. Kennedy’s response was the shaking of as many hands as possible, a word or two where it could be heard.
Kennedy’s entourage was running almost an hour late, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds. Kennedy’s motorcade came into Aurora from the north, traveling on Lake Street, past Marmion Academy, and into the downtown in a light rain.
By the time he took the platform to speak in front of the since-demolished old City Hall on Stolp Island (across the street from today’s Pierce Art & History Center on Downer), the crowds of people filled the street to see and hear him. The Beacon reported:
Before him stood a cheering, screaming crowd estimated at from 12,000 to 15,000 persons. The crowd, which contained numerous children, stretched east and west of city hall, jammed itself from sidewalk to sidewalk and surged back and forth as Kennedy approached and spoke.
John F. Kennedy speaks in front of Aurora City Hall, before a sea of people on Fox Street (Downer), October 25, 1960 [Daily Herald]
In his speech, Kennedy talked about problems that would confront the next president: domestic employment and economic growth, national defense, and international relations with the Soviet Union, Africa, and the Far East. And, standing in the rain, Kennedy was able to insert some off-the-cuff humor when he said: “Fortunately, as the Bible tells us, it rains on the just and the unjust. There are some Republicans here and it is raining on them, too.” He urged people to get out and vote.
And vote they did, in one of the closest elections in history–with the Democrat, Kennedy, beating the Republican Richard M. Nixon. Out of 68 million votes cast nationwide, Kennedy won the popular vote by less than 113,000 votes. Kennedy’s wins in key electoral states carried the day, giving him an Electoral College victory of 303 to 219. To earn Illinois’ 27 electoral votes, Kennedy won the popular vote by just 9,000 votes of 4.75 million cast.
Did Kennedy’s visit to Aurora help in this margin? Actually, Kennedy lost in the heavily-Republican Fox Valley. In Aurora, he won only 17 of 58 precincts and lost by 3,500 votes; countywide, he lost by 24,000 votes.
Still, sixty years later, Kennedy’s visit remains emblazoned in the memories of those who were there, and ranks as one of the important events in Aurora history.
Were you there? Do you have a story about that day? Do you have photos or footage? Send us your memories and materials of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Aurora.