Where were you when Kennedy visited?

Summer History Series

[This article is part of a bi-weekly “Historical Summer Series”contributed by Maya Berardi on behalf of the Avonworth Historical Society. We collect artifacts, stories and images about our area, providing a sense of history and place for upcoming generations. Consider donating to or joining the Avonworth Historical Society to receive their newsletters with similar stories. Also, please contact us to add something to this story--or to tell an altogether different story! Web: www.avonworth-history.org; E-mail: ahs.intern@ avonworth-his.]tory.org

On a sunny day in 1962, women and their babies, boys with confetti, teenagers clutching American flags, sharply dressed teachers, a group of nuns, priests, older couples and pets lined the grassy hill of Ohio River Boulevard, eyes trained on the road below for a car that would soon trundle over its curve. Sure enough, following a rumbling fleet of motorcycles, an open-topped limousine cruised into view. On its trunk sat U.S. President John. F. Kennedy.

The car slowed to a stop, and the crowd surged into the street. Kennedy shook hands with a group of nuns, received a doll for his daughter from the children of Holy Family Institute, and flashed a smile upward before climbing back in the car and speeding away. In a flurry of confetti and whipping red-white-and-blue, he was gone.

Kennedy is the only U.S. President to ever visit the local area. He was driven through on Oct. 12, 1962, on his way to McKeesport, PA for a speech. His reason for a Pittsburgh visit? A Democratic campaign in the upcoming midterm elections that included stops in McKeesport, University of Pittsburgh, Washington, and Aliquippa.

Pittsburgh undoubtedly received him well. An estimated 25,000 people packed into a small McKeesport park to hear the speech; lining up a day in advance; and, at one point, breaking the wooden rail barrier around the speaking platform. Kennedy delivered a 10-minute speech to a cheering crowd, painting a positive picture of international politics -- a mere three days before the CIA identified missiles in Cuba, which triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis.

A year later, Kennedy was assassinated. Avonworth students who had watched him breeze by in an open-top motorcade only a year before recall the news being relayed via intercom in the high school.

Today, McKeesport boasts the oldest full-body statue of Kennedy in the world. Unveiled on Feb. 9, 1965, it honors the speech he gave that day and the vision he inspired for millions--especially in little communities like ours across America.