Saturday, October 13, 2018

JFK Returns to McKeesport, Pa.

The first Kennedy-Nixon debate took place not in 1960, but in April 1947 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.  The two young, first-term members of the U.S. House of Representatives were invited by the local congressman to debate each other in his hometown. 

The debate, which focused on the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, took place before a sparse crowd at the Penn-McKee Hotel and received little attention.  After the event, the two World War II veterans went out to dinner and then shared a sleeping compartment on the overnight train back to Washington, D.C.  Although political adversaries, they become friends.

On this day fifteen years later--October 13, 1962--President Kennedy returned to McKeesport campaigning for Democrats in the mid-term elections.  He started his speech at the City Hall by saying, “The first time I came to this city was in 1947, when Mr. Richard Nixon and I engaged in our first debate.  He won that one, and we on to other things.”  Of course, Kennedy defeated him in 1960 and Nixon was currently running for governor of California.

The Penn-McKee Hotel is still standing although it is abandoned and dilapidated, an eyesore in the city of about 19,000 people in Allegheny County.  The city hall is only a few blocks from where the historic, if little reported, debate took place.

The photograph is of President Kennedy with a group of people outside the McKeesport City Hall in  1962. Credit:  Cecil Stoughton.  White House Photographs.  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston; the photo is in the public domain. 

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