I went to a meeting of the Economic Club of Chicago last week at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, with Bill Daley and Mayor Bloomberg, talking about the important of immigration as a way of enhancing the growth of the United States.
The Stevens Hotel was renamed the Conrad Hilton on the operating takeover from the family of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Some of my early visits to the Stevens hotel were with my parents, who took me to the Boulevard Room to watch the ice skating show on a tiny ice arena surrounded by dining room tables.
But more memorable was my visit to the 1956 Democratic National Convention with its headquarters at the Stevens Hotel. At the time I was a political junkie fascinated by the history of Chicago, national and international politics, so it was a natural for a high school senior to visit convention HQ. I was standing with an informant on a balcony level up about a dozen stairs from the main floor when in from Michigan Avenue walked a goat with a blanket on its back; a blue blanket with a big white "N" on the side. With a quizzical look on my face, I turned to my informant and said "what's this all about?" "The Senator from Massachusetts." was the answer. My response was: "It can't be because Leverett Saltonstall is a Republican." "No, dummy," came the response. "The Junior Senator, John Fitzgerald Kennedy." "I thought he went to Harvard," I said, "what's with the 'N'?" "PT109," was the response, "and the building up of his record in the Navy when his boat was torpedoed and his crew--under his leadership--were able to survive."
In 1952, Adlai Stevenson had been nominated and suffered a landslide defeat to the Republican nominee, the returning war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. But Adlai was to be given the nomination in 1956 for a second try. The assumed Vice Presidential nominee was the Senator from Kentucky, Estus Kefauver, who had led a Senate investigating committee studying the Mafia. On their visit to Chicago, the committee had exposed a Chicago police captain and branded him "the world's richest cop." The newly-elected Mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, took offense at this intrusion into the workings of Chicago and decided Kefauver was not acceptable.
Whether Richard J. Daley worked with the Senator's father Joseph Kennedy (who had purchased the Merchandise Mart--at the time managed by Sargent Shriver), to recruit the younger Kennedy as the Vice Presidential candidate, I don't know. However, at the International Amphitheater Senator Kennedy's name was placed in nomination and it was not until the third ballot that Kennedy asked for recognition to move a unanimous ballot for Senator Kefauver. The Stevenson-Kefauver ticket went on to be defeated and in 1960 the Democratic nominee for president was JFK.
So while there is a Billy Goat Tavern, and the goat mythology at Wrigley Field is famous, that's my personal Chicago goat story.
And one more Conrad Hilton Story:
The neighborhood was in disrepair and decline; a wonderful iconic building was on the verge of closing down. Charlie Shaw came in and with a vision, redesigned and developed the hotel and restored its iconic stature. So the Hilton joins Lake Point Tower and the Museum Tower over MoMA in New York, as an emblem of Charlie's brilliant career. His work at Rush Presbyterian Medical Center and Homan Square on the west side are equally important but less visible than these two star buildings of the lakefront.
And the corner of Balboa and Michigan, right at the Blackstone and the Hilton, was the location of the 1968 Democratic National Convention police riot.