National Press Club

President Kennedy's letter to Club President Cosgrove found

February 5, 2018 | By Wire staff report | wire@press.org

President John F. Kennedy stopped by National Press Club President John Cosgrove's inauguration in 1961, and JFK followed up with a letter about how much he enjoyed accepting his Club membership in person.

President John F. Kennedy stopped by National Press Club President John Cosgrove's inauguration in 1961, and JFK followed up with a letter about how much he enjoyed accepting his Club membership in person.

When the John F. Kennedy Library put together a joint program with the National Press Club last week, it sent something that the Club had not seen: A copy of President Kennedy’s letter to Club President John Cosgrove just after Kennedy attended Cosgrove’s inaugural party.

That Kennedy stopped by Cosgrove’s party just two weeks after Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 is a part of Club lore. The photo of the meeting is in the Cosgrove Lounge.

Cosgrove, who was an active Club member right up to his death at the age of 98 last year, never tired of quipping: “Well I went to Kennedy’s inaugural, why shouldn’t he come to mine?”

Club historian Gil Klein recounted the event during the joint program with the Kennedy Library to discuss Kennedy’s legacy 100 years after his birth.

Klein read Kennedy's letter to Cosgrove written after Cosgrove's inaugural. While the Kennedy Library had a copy, the Club’s archives did not.

Cosgrove did not know that Kennedy would make an appearance until the afternoon of the event. Kennedy’s press secretary, Pierre Salinger, stopped by in the afternoon to pay the president’s $90 initiation fee as an associate member and revealed to Cosgrove that Kennedy intended to make an appearance. He asked that Cosgrove keep the presidential visit under wraps.

“We had a pre-arranged signal – a long ring on the East Lounge phone,” Cosgrove said. “That meant that Pierre and I would have time to leave the East Lounge where the inaugural ceremonies were underway and arrive at the 14th Street entrance to greet Kennedy.

Unfortunately, the presidential limousine made better time than anticipated, and when we reached the street lobby, the president was there, pacing in front of the elevators. Smilingly, he inquired, ‘Where have you been?”

After Cosgrove presented the president with his membership card, No. 2973, Kennedy praised the Club for sticking to its rules and having “the decency to charge me the initiation fee and dues.” The Club, unfortunately, cashed that check, which would be worth many times the $90 value today.

The president’s appearance was brief, but he greeted the head table guests, which included House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Chief Justice Earl Warren. He had to leave before the swearing-in ceremony, but in departing, he looked at Cosgrove and said, “I’m sorry I can’t stay any longer, but be sure to keep your hand on the Bible.”

That apparently was a reference to his own inauguration when someone watching it on television claimed that Kennedy’s hand was not on the Bible when he took the oath.