It was the 1960 presidential campaign. I was 8 years old. I didn’t know anything about politics, but picking up what people were saying this was a big thing. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was running for president. He was young and handsome. He was Irish. He was Catholic. Growing up in an Irish-American family, and a very Catholic neighborhood like OLPH; I didn’t know what a big thing this was. I did know people were excited when it got around that JFK was going to be in our neighborhood/parish.
It was an early fall evening. It was a school night. There were hundreds of people on the Avenue, in front of the Church. They were on the church steps, and perched up on the balcony of the church. This was a time when there were no gates. It was exciting just to be there with all these people. Someone important was coming to our neighborhood. I remember waiting, and then hearing the loud music. Then we heard the “rolling thunder” sound of police on motor cycles. A booming voice announced “Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States of America John Fitzgerald Kennedy!!!!
There seemed to be spotlights on him, as he got on the hood of a car on the corner of 60th Street and 5th Avenue, with the Elwood Diner in back of him. I had only seen him on the small black and white television, and was surprised that he had a ruddy face, and hair that looked red. I don’t remember that he spoke. It was not a long visit. Then he moved on.
Does anyone share this childhood memory? Does anyone have a picture?
Other JFK/OLPH Memories
The day he was to be inaugurated, the plan was for all of us to bring our lunches to OLPH School. We would see it on television. But the night before there was a snowstorm, and we got one those blessed gifts, “A Snow Day!” “All public and parochial schools have been cancelled.” I watched it at home. Even as young kid, I remember some of those inspiring words. “The torch has been passed.” “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” “God’s work on earth must truly be our own.”
Another JFK memory somehow I relate to OLPH, was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember it being during cold and dreary days in October. I remember seeing him on television, with dark circles under his eyes telling us about the situation. I saw fear in the adults’ eyes. It was scary. I remember praying very hard that the world would not end. People were scared. Priests have told me, that they heard confessions late into the night. Later documentaries on the 50th anniversary of these difficult days showed that our fears were not misplaced. Some of those fears come back to me now as the tensions with North Korea escalate.
Then on Friday November 22nd 1963 at an altar boys meeting in the auditorium, Father Carr told us the awful news of President Kennedy’s assassination. It was for the baby boomer generation, what Pearl Harbor was for our parents, and what 9-11 was for the younger generation, the moment that marked the end of innocence.
OLPH had a Mass for him in the Lower Church. There was in the front of the church, a catafalque to represent the deceased president. I had never seen OLPH so crowded. Grownups were crying, both men and women. Someone from the Drum and Bugle Corps, played “Taps” the mournful tribute to a hero It was so sad.