56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here.

56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial.  Two days after his debate with Nixon.  Nine days after RFK was here.

Rochester War Memorial, 9/24/16. [Photo: David Kramer]

In keeping with our Presidential visits to Rochester series (BELOW), on September 28th, 1960, Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy spoke at the War Memorial.

On September 28th, 1960, during his campaign against Vice President Richard Nixon, JFK spoke before a capacity crowd at the War Memorial on a visit cheered by 50,000.

Nixon would visit Rochester during the last week of the campaign. In 1960, with 45 electoral votes, New York State was the biggest prize in the nation. Kennedy carried New York; while Nixon narrowly won in Monroe County. Kennedy won the election with the smallest popular vote margin in history, .017%.*

* excepting John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W, Bush, each of whom became president despite losing the popular vote.kennedy-nixon



from the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Walk of Honor in Highland Park

from the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Walk of Honor in Highland Park

Kennedy’s visit came two days after the first ever televised debate with Nixon.

radioIn a recent New Yorker article on presidential debates, Jill Lepore writes; “ABC refused to call the event a ‘debate’—the network billed it, instead, as a ‘joint appearance.'” Like almost every other newspaper, in its headline the D & C referred to the Kennedy-Nixon “discussion” as a debate.tv-debate


Frequently, media commentators note that radio listeners said Nixon won or drew; while TV viewers negatively contrasted Kennedy’s tan and fit look against a sweaty Nixon with a five o’clock shadow.  Recent research has debunked this commonly heard refrain as a myth. Rochester viewers and listeners had their choice between WHEC and WHAM.

JFK’s visit is etched in the memories of many Rochesterians. Julie Everitt (who you’ve met before) saw Kennedy that day at the Manger Hotel. Julie framed the autographed he signed.

Julie Everitt’s JFK autograph

My friend Lois Tucker remembers being at the War Memorial. Lois recalls the experience:

In 1960, the voting age was 21, and I  was a newly registered voter, voting for the first time….and voting for president.
One of my fellow teachers at # 19 School gave me a ticket to the campaign rally at the War Memorial.

We got there early to get a seat and waited a long time. Meanwhile, I was thinking, this guy had better be worth the wait. JFK was an electrifying speaker. Clapping and cheering, I felt fully engaged and surprised how deeply and quickly  I had been moved from passivity to full participation in a crowd bent on electing this man president.

Feeling that I had seen history being made, this event began my lifelong love and participation in politics.

And in a sign of the times, in the September 29th edition, the D & C‘s Christine Gratto weighed in on the “current political-fashion controversy.”


9/19/60 Democrat and Chronicle

JFK was not the only Kennedy to visit the area during the 1960 campaign. Nine days before, Kennedy’s brother Robert stopped in Brighton and Canandaigua.rfk


Senator Kenneth Keating and Democratic Senatorial candidate Robert F. Kennedy, opponents for the same senatorial seat in the coming election, shake hands while attending the Columbus Day Dinner held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. October 11, 1964

keatingRFK’s political career intersected with Rochester when he won he won Rochester’s Senator Kenneth Keating’s  seat in 1964.  Keating would later serve as Ambassador to Israel. According to the Canadian Jewish Chronicle, New York’s Jewish voters were split between Keating and Kennedy.

John Kennedy had visited Rochester several times prior the September 28th campaign stop.attend-dinner

In 1957, Kennedy was the main speaker at annual dinner of the Monroe County Democratic Committee (not covered by the D & C).  Curiously, the announcement mentions the dinner was to be held prior to the beginning of Lent. Kennedy was, of course, Roman Catholic.


Provided courtesy of Temple B’rith Kodesh

In 1958 and 1959, Kennedy spoke before Rochester Jewish groups. Jewish voters may have been attracted to Kennedy as a (relative) religious minority.


May 13th, 1958


October 2nd, 1959

And — as described by the Rochester Review — on October 1st, 1959 JFK spoke to a full house at the University of Rochester’s Strong Auditorium.


Senator and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressing a standing-room audience in Strong Auditorium on October 1, 1959. (photo courtesy of Rare Books and Special Collections)

On the same day Kennedy won the election, the plaque at the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor notes: Three days later, President Ngo Diem thwarts a coup attempt in South Vietnam.nov-8-1960

During Kennedy’s administration U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated, the conflict his successor inherited and further escalated.


The Presidential Visits Series in its entirety: James Monroe to Donald Trump


About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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