Last week was certainly one to remember. It began with markets going bipolar in moment-by-moment reaction to a potentially cascading financial crisis, helped little by our government’s on-again off-again white knight rescue talk. It ended with the first toe-to-toe presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.
The campaigns are now going over the video of debate number one with fine-tooth combs. They are looking for subtle, and not-so-subtle, moments when points were scored and punches ducked. Absent the black and white of a clear knock out, great attention is being paid to the bobbing and weaving seen in shadows of gray.
But many Americans know that the key moment of the week had already happened days before McCain and Obama shook hands on that Mississippi stage.
For much of the 20th century, the Blackstone Hotel, located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Balboa Street in Chicago, was known as the “hotel of the presidents.” The 21-story facility, recently renovated by the Marriott people with a price tag of 128 million dollars, has long been listed on local and national registers of historic places.
The Blackstone was where the legendary political phrase “smoke-filled room” entered the American vocabulary. It was a description of where and how Warren Harding’s Republican presidential nomination was decided in 1920. Harry Truman was staying there when he was picked to be the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1944, as was Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was notified that the GOP had nominated him on the first ballot in 1952.
The most dramatic Blackstone presidential moment, however, took place on the morning of Saturday, October 20, 1962. Hours before, after a long day on the campaign trail for local politicos, President John F. Kennedy sipped clam chowder in his suite and decided to return to the White House rather than continue his tour. Having made a speech in Chicago, he was scheduled to go to Milwaukee - then out to the west coast to work on behalf of several Democratic candidates.
The fact that the Soviets were installing offensive missiles in Cuba, which had been kept pretty much below media radar for several days, was about to become a very public national crisis. Things were reaching critical mass.
By breakfast time, Secret Service agents were sweeping the lobby, along with every nook and cranny in the common areas of the historic hotel. At mid-morning, Mr. Kennedy emerged from an elevator, adorned with an overcoat and rarely worn hat, and walked briskly though the lobby toward the main door and his limousine.