November 6: JFK’s Last-Minute, Late-Night Rally in Waterbury

 

The first week of November 1960 was grueling for Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who was in the final stretch of his rigorous — and ultimately successful — campaign for President of the United States against Republican Richard Nixon. In the early morning of November 6, after a full day and night of campaigning in New York, Kennedy’s plane touched down in Stratford, Connecticut, where a driver then whisked him away to the Roger Smith Hotel in Waterbury amidst a torrential downpour.

Kennedy arrived in the Brass City around 3:00am, doubtlessly exhausted and hoping to slip into his hotel unnoticed to get some sleep — but he was in for quite a surprise. To his amazement, Kennedy found a massive crowd of 40,000 rain-soaked citizens at his hotel, where they had been waiting hours for the popular candidate’s arrival. After a few polite greetings and gestures to the crowd, Kennedy remarked that he would be going inside to get some sleep, but the fired-up crowd cajoled him into returning outside with shouts of “No, Jack, no!” Kennedy then proceeded to deliver a rousing speech from the second floor balcony of his hotel, with his good friend and Connecticut governor Abe Ribicoff at his side. “My name is Kennedy and I have come to ask for your support,” he began, inciting thunderous applause. “My debt to Connecticut is great, and I come here in the last 48 hours of this campaign to the greatest rally we have had in this entire campaign, right here in this city.”

The Senator spoke for the better part of an hour before finally retiring at 4:00 am, after what some staffers later described as the greatest night of his campaign. A few hours later, he woke to attend Mass at the nearby Church of the Immaculate Conception, feeling quite at home in a city with an overwhelmingly Catholic and Democrat population, before continuing on to give more last-minute speeches in New Haven and Bridgeport. Just a few days later, Kennedy would be elected President, carrying the state of Connecticut by a margin of over 90,000 votes. Kennedy became the first Democratic presidential candidate supported by a majority of Connecticut voters in twenty years, thanks in part to an unforgettable campaign stop in Waterbury that took place today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Street Rally, Waterbury, Connecticut, November 6, 1960,” John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Dick Ahles, “The View From Waterbury on Nov. 6, 1960: The Day the Candidate Stormed Naugatuck Valley,New York Times

Slideshow: Connecticut’s Camelot Connections,” Hartford Courant