John F. Kennedy's Whistle-Stop Tour of Michigan, October 14, 1960

In the early morning hours of Friday, October 14, 1960, presidential hopeful Senator John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of the Michigan Union in Ann Arbor and made history with a brief, impromptu speech about foreign service that ingited the spark which led to the creation of the Peace Corps.

After the speech Kennedy caught a few hours sleep and then was driven by car to the Ann Arbor railroad depot (now the Gandy Dancer restaurant) to embark on an old-fashioned whistle-stop tour covering nearly 250 miles of Michigan countryside and stopping in ten cities: Ann Arbor, Jackson, Albion, Marshall, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Owosso and Saginaw.


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Nipping at the heels of Kennedy's caravan was a Republican "truth squad" that provided a lively opposition to the Democratic senator's rear-platform speeches.

"The Kennedy campaign temporarily left the airlanes and the electronic trial chambers of televison today for a brief excursion through nostalgia," wrote Russell Baker in the New York Times. "The territory was the solid Republican districts of central Michigan and to reach them the Democratic presidential candidate went back to the campaign train."

Baker observed that the rolling, bucolic journey was a welcome respite from the high-voltage tensions of the hard-fought political contest.

"Mr. Kennedy, to be sure, said nothing new as he stopped for eight- or ten-minute speeches, ususally from the rear platform," wrote Baker. "For the most part, he served up fragments of his bread-and-butter speech, arguing that the country had declined in relative strength under Republican stewardship and would 'start to move again' under the Democratic party."

There was a minor threat of scandal during Kennedy's remarks at the Ann Arbor station, when it was thought that a microphone had inadvertently picked him up using a cuss word – "hell." Press agents managed to avert disaster by attributing the incautious remark to an unknown person aboard the train.

These amazing images were captured by photographer Doug Fulton, who rode the nine-car "Kennedy Campaign Special" along with dozens of other local and national journalists. The Michigan History Project recently discovered the negatives in a garage in Arizona, where they were being stored by Fulton's widow.

If you've got photographs or other memorabilia of Michigan's past, please get in touch. MHP is especially interested in old pictures that you may have, even if you don't know what they are.



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