Sunday, November 22, 2009

John F. Kennedy's Last Visit To Utah; 125,000 Line The Streets Of Salt Lake On September 27, 1963

On November 22, 1963, just 46 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Many of those alive at that time remember exactly what they were doing, just as many also remember what they were doing on September 11th, 2009. The assassination of President Kennedy was one of those epochal events that frequently change the course of history; many believe America, a newly-minted superpower at the time, lost her innocence that day.

But just eight weeks earlier, John F. Kennedy had paid a visit to Utah. No one dreamed it would be his last visit; one of the 125,000 Utahns who lined Salt Lake City's streets for his visit held up a simple sign that said "Come back."

Alas, that was not to be. On November 22nd, 2008, the Deseret News published an article detailing that September 1963 visit and providing a gallery of 22 photos. Kennedy actually first visited Utah in November 1957 and March 1959 for Democratic fundraisers while he was still a senator from Massachusetts. He came as a presidential candidate in January and September 1960, when he promised to return again because President McKay's wife, Emma Ray, had been unable to meet him. He kept that promise, arriving September 26th, 1963, and staying the night at the Hotel Utah. Three thousand met him at the airport. Eight thousand crammed the Tabernacle when he spoke that night, with another 2,500 in the Assembly Hall and 5,000 more on the Temple Square grounds, crowding the Tabernacle doors to listen.

During the parade into the city, Deseret News photographs show Utahns leaning on his car from all sides as he sat up on the top of the back seat. The president shook hands with and waved to men, women and children in horn-rimmed glasses. A sign read, "Welcome Back Jack." Whenever he left the car, he was enveloped in crushes of people, what the Deseret News called "an ocean of motion." Dozens stood on the ledges along the outer walls of Temple Square to get a better look at Kennedy's motorcade.

The first time Kennedy spoke at the Tabernacle, in 1960, a Deseret News photograph captured the image of President McKay, behind and to the left of Kennedy. The church leader is leaning so far to his left to get a better look at the president from his padded leather chair that he is nearly in the lap of the man on his own left. Kennedy concluded both speeches in the Tabernacle with the same line from LDS scripture, section 136 of the Doctrine & Covenants. "We shall 'go as pioneers ... to a land of peace."'

His September 23rd, 1960 speech at the Hotel Utah proved prescient in the area of foreign affairs. You can read the transcript of the speech HERE; in it, he seemed to foresee that not all of our allies would remain allies, but not so much out of hatred for us, but out of a desire to become more independent. Here's the pertinent part of his speech:

My optimism for the future for the country and for the United States and the cause of freedom really goes to our experiences of the last few years in Eastern Europe, in Asia and Africa. If there is any lesson, which the last ten years has shown to me, and it is a lesson that I have been particularly interested in in Algeria and Indochina, it is that the strongest force in the world today is the desire to be independent. This is going to cause us all kinds of trouble in the next ten years. People who used to support us will be neutral. But in the final analysis it is our greatest source of strength. We desire to be independent; so do they. They desire to be independent of us. They desire to be independent of Western Europe, but they also desire to be independent of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists. We do not desire to dominate them. They do.

Wonder what would have happened if JFK had lived?

Addendum November 22nd, 2010: KSL Channel 5 reported the release of a number of never-before-seen pictures of John F. Kennedy during his two visits to Utah.

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