A future president, a suspected Nazi spy, and an FBI wiretap

Once the Fort Sumter Hotel, the building at 1 King Street is now used as condos + office space | Photo by @samuelhodgesphotography

TGIF. Jen here. This marks my last newsletter for CHStoday, so I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you one of my favorite pieces of Charleston history. Buckle up, folks – this is a wild one. 

The year was 1942. A young Navy ensign named John F. Kennedy fell in love with a beauty queen and journalist by the name of Inga Arvad. 

It was less of a fairytale romance, though, and more like Romeo and Juliet: The Kennedy family disapproved of Arvad, due to her documented association with Adolf Hitler. The leader of the Nazi Party hosted her at the 1936 Summer Olympics, and once described her as the “perfect Nordic beauty.” And it wasn’t just the Kennedy’s who were skeptical of Arvad – the FBI suspected her to be a Nazi spy, and began to surveil her.

To distance his 24-year-old son from the suspected spy, JFK’s father had him transferred to Charleston in 1942. But, as is the case with young love, parental disapproval did little to diminish the flame between the two. 

Here’s where the story really heats up. Arvad visited Kennedy in Charleston several times. At one point, the two even spent a few nights together at what was then the Fort Sumter Hotel (room 132, to be exact).  

Following the instruction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the FBI room was wiretapped by the FBI, and an agent covertly followed the couple around town.

By the end of that year, the scrutiny from both the federal government and Kennedy’s family led the two to call it off. The FBI eventually cleared Arvad of any suspected wrongdoing, and the two went on to marry other people. But the salacious story of their brief tryst in Charleston, along with numerous love letters the two wrote to one another, have left a permanent mark on the former president’s legacy.