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John F. Kennedy’s 24-Hours in Central Pennsylvania

Senator John F. Kennedy at Campaign Rally in Lebanon, PA (Front Page of September 16, 1960, issue of the Lebanon Daily News; Daily NEWS Photo)
Senator John F. Kennedy at Campaign Rally in Lebanon, PA (Front Page of September 16, 1960, issue of the Lebanon Daily News; Daily NEWS Photo)

The evening of Thursday September 15, 1960, an airplane carrying Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy touched down in northern York County. A crowd of about 3,000 greeted Kennedy as he got off the plane at Harrisburg-York State Airport; now known as Capital City Airport.

Senator Kennedy was already an hour and a half behind schedule after several campaign stops in New Jersey. His arrival marked the start of 24-hours of campaigning in Central Pennsylvania, with stops in five counties: Dauphin, Lebanon, Berks, Lancaster and York. If you are reading this on the Ydr.com site, click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post on the original YorkBlog site; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.

This post summarizes the events of those 24-hours, utilizing articles in nine newspapers. The Friday, September 16, 1960, issue of the Lebanon Daily News published the photo of Kennedy following an early morning campaign stop of that very day. The photo caption reads, “YOUNG SUPPORTER—This unidentified little fellow found himself right on the Democratic presidential candidate’s lap. Senator John Kennedy, the Democratic standard bearer, smilingly approves of the attention given him by the bashful youngster. The incident took place at the Market Square rally this morning. Mrs. David Lawrence, wife of the Governor, attempts to talk to the boy.”

Following the late arrival at the airport Thursday evening, Kennedy could only spare five-minutes to talk to the 7,000 that had gathered at Market Square in Harrisburg. He was late for a fundraiser at the Zembo Mosque, where 9,000 had paid $100-a-plate to attend. Kennedy’s address at this dinner was carried on a seven-station television network that broadcast the speech to most of Pennsylvania. I was in the Zembo Mosque for the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards last fall and could not imagine 9,000 in that building. Associated Press articles explained how it was done for Kennedy’s appearance:

Because of the monumental proportions of the crowd at the Harrisburg dinner, seven different rooms and three circus tents had to be used. As it turned out, those in the tents, on the lawn outside the Mosque and the Scottish Rite Consistory, had the better of it, comfortwise. Inside the huge auditorium, used as the main dining room and the scene for Kennedy’s speech, temperatures were well above 90 degrees.

That night Kennedy stayed at the Penn-Harris Hotel, next to the Capitol Buildings in Harrisburg. That hotel was demolished in 1973 to build the Strawberry Square complex. Early Friday morning began another whirlwind day of campaigning. A 15-car motorcade left Harrisburg, carried the Kennedy party and the press. Kennedy switched between a closed sedan in rural areas and a big white convertible when traveling through denser populated areas.

Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 5,000 at Lebanon, where he predicted, “Here in Pennsylvania this election may well be decided.” Next up was a large and enthusiastic audience that greeted Kennedy at Penn Square in Reading. The police estimated that crowd at about 20,000. Upon leaving, an eager supporter tore Kennedy’s shirt cuff.

During the drive to Lancaster, the motorcade stopped at C. J. Mervine’s gas station for Kennedy to change his shirt and freshen up. Kennedy’s address at Penn Square in Lancaster attracted 7,500 and then it was westward along the Lincoln Highway to York. At one spot in Columbia, an unusually large gathering prompted Kennedy to have the cars stop; where he stood in the car and addressed the crowd for a few minutes.

Kennedy continued westward across the Susquehanna River into York County. In Springettsbury Township, he stopped at the Lincoln Woods Inn for lunch prior to a scheduled afternoon at the York Fair. The St. Joseph Gazette of St. Joseph, Missouri, reported in their Monday September 19, 1960 issue, “Kennedy asked to see Richard F. Griffith the enterprising man who built the place from an old stable in the woods along Lincoln highway. ‘If everybody did his job as well as you did, this country would be in lots better shape,’ Kennedy said to him with great warmth.” The Lincoln Woods Inn buildings now house Fat Daddy’s.

The Monday September 19, 1960, issue of The Gazette & Daily in York, Pennsylvania, published this photo on page 3. The caption states “WAITRESSES GREET KENNEDY – Sen. John F. Kennedy knocks on a window at Lincoln Woods inn in response to a greeting by waitresses there. Kennedy stopped at the inn to eat and rest Friday prior to his appearance at York Inter-State fair.”

Photo on Page 3 of Monday September 19, 1960 issued of The Gazette & Daily, York, PA (Source: Newspaper microfilms at York County Heritage Trust)
Photo on Page 3 of Monday September 19, 1960 issued of The Gazette & Daily, York, PA (Source: Newspaper microfilms at York County Heritage Trust)

After the lunch stop, Kennedy’s motorcade preceded onto the two-lane Whiteford Road, which becomes Arsenal Road, past the Naval Ordnance Plant; eventually arriving at the York Fairgrounds. I was in 5th grade at North Hills Elementary School at the time; the teachers had all the students lined up single file along the Whiteford Road side of the school grounds to wave as the motorcade passed by. I wonder if any photographs of the children waving to the motorcade exist?

Kennedy’s visit to the Democratic Tent at the York Fair and an afternoon on the Grandstand completed a whirlwind 24-hours in Central Pennsylvania. The Maryland press wrote that Kennedy’s motorcade passed the Maryland-Pennsylvania border at 4:55 PM; completing the 24-Hours in Pennsylvania. A campaign stop in Towson, Maryland, was followed by another $100-a-plate dinner at the Pikesville Armory, just north of Baltimore. Kennedy’s Friday evening speech at the armory dinner was likewise televised throughout Maryland.

Links to related posts include:

Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts