June 9, 2019

JFK Recuperated at Castle Hot Springs

After his PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in World War II, John Fitzgerald Kennedy fought back problems. During his recuperation, he spent about a year in Arizona and Castle Hot Springs. It wasn’t JFK’s first trip to Arizona, nor would it be his last.

Before World War II, John and his brother Joe, Jr., spent the spring and summer of 1936 on the “Jay Six” ranch near Benson. There they built up “their strength for school athletics in the fall,” it was reported. The two were described as “willing and hard workers (who) did everything they were told.” Among other things, the Kennedy boys herded horses, mended fences, and even helped build an adobe office building.

JFK (far right) at the Jay Six Ranch in 1936.

“By the time the boys left the Jay-Six, they were ‘leather-tough and tanned,’” the ranch owner observed. After Kennedy became President years later, that same ranch owner spoke to him saying: “Mr. President, when your presidency is over, I want you to know that your old job as a cowboy is still waiting for you,” causing JFK to “laugh uproariously.”

“In November 1944, while a patient at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston, Kennedy wrote to his friend Paul “Red” Fay, that after Christmas, he intended to ‘go to Arizona for about a year, and try to get in shape again.’”

His destination was Castle Hot Springs. The resort has been closed during the war due to fuel and food rationing, but late in the war, the Army Air Corps leased it to rehabilitate injured pilots. "In all probability, Kennedy travelled by airplane from Boston to Phoenix, then boarded a train to Castle Hot Springs Station" (now known as Morristown).

The trip from the train to the resort was a notoriously rough and hard, 30 mile jaunt that could not have done any good for Kennedy’s back troubles. However, once he arrived the resort featured ”just about every type of physical recreation imaginable, from horseback riding to golf, tennis, swimming and more.” Kennedy described the resort during this wartime use as “excellent with good swimming pools and hot baths.” The food was “just fair,” but one could have all he cared to eat.

“Frankly,” Kennedy wrote a friend, “it's a bit slow and it's a tough audience—former presidents of the local Kiwanis, who have put in their three score and ten and are half way round again… Castle Hot Springs is where self-panickers come to die,” he quipped.

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Kennedy quickly befriended another guest there named Joseph “Pat” Lanman. Lanman’s first impression of Kennedy was that he looked as “yellow as saffron and thin as a rail… he wasn't feeling well.” Still, they swam together, rode horses together and shared the evening meal together at the Palm House. The two stayed in separate cabins at first--neither of which had a bathroom, nor a phone. So the two decided to procure and share a cottage at the resort. “Lanman described the cottage as having a ‘living room with a nice fireplace, two bedrooms, a bath, and our telephone.’”

“One thing I remembered distinctly: every evening at five his father, Joe Kennedy, would telephone him,” Lanman would recall. “You could set your clock by it. It was a wonderful relationship, I thought.”

During this time, JFK wrote an article on world peace. His father forwarded it to a newspaper urging its publication, but “the article was rejected.” Lanman also remembered JFK working on a book of family memoirs that included his older brother Joe Jr., who recently died in the war.

Eventually, Castle Hot Springs Hotel, "with its guest clientele comprised mainly of recuperating soldiers," proved too boring for Kennedy.

“‘Actually it got pretty dull for us,’ Lanman admitted." So they departed for more exciting accommodations.

JFK plays Chinese Checkers at the Camelback Inn, 1945

From there, the two spent a short time at the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, but Kennedy thought the place to be too formal. They ended up spending the rest of the time at the Camelback Inn before he returned to Massachusetts to start a career in politics.


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“JFK in Arizona” by J Brian Smith. Arizona Republic; 5/29/1988. Pg. 33 (C1), Cols. 1-4 and Pg. 38 (C6), Cols. 1-6.

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