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The President Comes to Town

When John F. Kennedy scheduled a campaign visit to Indiana, it left quite a mark on hundreds of county residents, especially those who were a part of the advance preparations committee.

The young United States Senator from Massachusetts was scheduled to reach Indiana on Saturday October 15, 1960, at 4:30 p.m. His campaign organization had been in Indiana two weeks prior to ensure that all went smoothly when the Democratic Party’s banner carrier arrived in town.

A hundred college students volunteered to letter signs for the Kennedy visit and another hundred high school and college girls were outfitted in similar skirts and blouses and wore imitation straw hats, lettered “Kennedy and Johnson.”

Signs ranged from “All the way with JFK” and “The man for the 60s.” A 40 by 5 foot sign reading “Indiana County Welcomes Sen. ‘Jack’ Kennedy to the Christmas Tree Capital of the World” was hung on the front of the courthouse.

The presidential candidate was followed by his national “press corps” in two chartered buses. Arrangements had to be made for the installation of ten telephones at a large table within the fence at the front of the courthouse.

On the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, a flatbed trailer was parked. A set of stairs was erected and a railing was mounted around two sides of the trailer. There were bunting and American flags which decorated the trailer. Loud speakers were hung from nearby light standards and a public address system was installed on the rostrum and microphones were plugged in and tested with the familiar “Testing. One, two, three…”

There were rope barricades placed across Philadelphia Street at Sixth and Seventh Streets, and wooden horses were placed at the busy intersections for the safety of the crowds. With the arrival of the presidential candidate, extra Indiana Borough Police were on duty and State Police from the Greensburg Barracks supplemented those assigned to Indiana.

The Ernest Community Band was located near the speakers’ stand and played rousing martial music. As the time grew closer, the crowd grew, spelling past Sixth Street and Gompers Avenue. The area surrounding the courthouse grew into a mass of faces and signs. People were pushing for better positions for the platform. Just ten minutes before Kennedy was due in town, the crowd continued to grow.

There were rumors spreading through the crowd that “He isn’t going to show up. Why would he stop in Indiana?” Still everyone craned their necks and someone would say “There he is,” and the crowd would start to murmur.

Finally, one of the State Police officers walked toward Indiana Police Chief Harry Owens and murmured something into his ear, at that moment Chief Owens pushed his way through the crowd and stopped at each policeman. It did not take people long to become believers. Even before the event, Indiana County Democratic Chairman, E. James Trimarchi, estimated there would be at least 10,000 people flock to Indiana to see and hear Kennedy, and he was not wrong.

Not long after Chief Owens started making his rounds, a sleek convertible glided to a stop on the Sixth Street side of the courthouse and somewhere in the crowd, Kennedy was busy doing what became his trademark - shaking hands with everyone near him.

Behind the convertible were the two chartered buses which held the press, and they began to take their seats behind the speakers’ platform.

Photographers started taking photos, from the rooftops around were television newsmen who aimed their cameras at the speaker’s platform as the line of dignitaries started to file up the stairway.

As everyone took their seats, the crowd looked over the notables on the platform: Colonel John S. Rice, Secretary of the Commonwealth; U.S. Senator Joseph S. Clark; Senator Kennedy; Governor David L. Lawrence; and Mr. Trimarchi. To the rear of Kennedy were County and Democratic party representatives.

Indiana WDAD radio announcer William Jordan served as master of ceremonies. Kennedy wore a small red imitation poppy in his lapel, placed there by Frank M. Barkley, a GOP Indiana County Commissioner. The flower was a “Buddy Poppy” which were being sold by the VFW Auxiliary in Indiana.

For many in the crowd, this would be the first and last “live” look at the young presidential candidate who went on to win the presidency.

All those on stage were introduced to the crowd. Kennedy kept the large audience on its toes. This was reportedly the largest crowd ever to assemble to hear a political candidate speak in Indiana County. Kennedy aimed his attacks at the GOP and received rousing cheers for his platform for “getting America moving again.”

During his speech, several GOP members produced a large banner with the GOP candidate’s name on it in large letters. However, this sign was torn to shreds shortly after being displayed by a group of young Kennedy backers.

The whole ordeal was over within 40 minutes, when Kennedy ended his remarks and the program came to an end. The shining convertibles and buses disappeared down South Sixth Street on their way to Johnstown.

Many will long remember the events here on October 15, 1960. If you or family members have memories of this event, we welcome you to share your stories in the comments below.

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