Castro at the U.N. General Assembly
During visits to New York City in 1959 and 1960, Cuban President Fidel Castro experienced sticker shock at the city’s hotel rates, acted like a tourist at the zoo, and kept reporters entertained with stories of his time as a fighter in the Cuban guerilla war.
Just four months after Castro led a successful revolution to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, he visited New York City for 11 days on an invitation from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. With his signature green army uniform and boots, bushy beard, and exuberant nature, Castro reportedly hired a PR firm (though it seems he hardly needed to), enjoyed the city’s famous hot dogs, and “kissed ladies like a rock star, and held babies like a politician,” according to Mashable. During a tour of the Bronx Zoo, which he called “the best thing New York City has,” Mr. Castro reportedly jumped a railing and stuck his hand into a cage to pet a Bengal tiger.
Fidel Castro and Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa. Photo via imgur
And like many visitors, he balked at hotel prices, at one point threatening to “go any place, even Central Park,” rather than pay the $10,000 deposit the Shelburne Hotel in Midtown reportedly demanded of Castro and his entourage, who they claimed were plucking chickens in their rooms and otherwise behaving as rockstar entourages do. “We are mountain people,” he told reporters. “We are used to sleeping in the open air.”
He eventually decamped to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, which at the time also served as a meeting place for the city’s African American politicians. Castro said he felt at home among Harlem’s majority black population, and upon his arrival at the hotel, spent an evening giving exclusive interviews to African American newspapers and hosting activist Malcolm X in his suite. In addition to his scheduled visit to the U.N., Castro entertained poet Langston Hughes and Beat writer Allen Ginsberg in his rooms at the Theresa as well. The hotel is now an office building known as Theresa Towers, and a New York City landmark (PDF).
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Neighborhoods : Harlem