Posted at: 09/24/2013 8:15 AM
Updated at: 09/24/2013 10:17 AM
It was a rainy day in September of `63 when John F. Kennedy came to town. Crowds, police, and the news media began arriving at Duluth International Airport hours before Air Force One was due to land. But the rain failed to turn people away. Not since Harry Truman had a chief executive set foot in Duluth, and JFK would be warmly welcomed in this heavily Democratic area. Two helicopters, including Marine One, which would fly the president to Ashland for a dedication ceremony waited on the airport tarmac. So did his limousine. News cameras were carried to a special press platform. Then local news director Glenn Maxham covered the event for one of only two television stations which existed here in 1963.
"This man, more than any other person, man or woman, that I interviewed, just radiated a charisma. I'd heard people say that before I interviewed him and I more or less thought it was their imagination, but when I actually sat down with the man and talked with him, you felt that he had a total grasp of whatever you were asking him, and he just radiated charisma."
Word that Air Force One was in sight sent cheers through the crowd, and as the four-engine plane touched down, there was a sense of patriotic awe. After all, most of this crowd had never seen a president. The doors to the plane opened, and from the fence, the crowd screamed. He wasn't supposed to, but the president broke away from his entourage and his Secret Service, and he walked over to greet his people. They pressed against the fence, hoping to at least get a better glimpse of John Kennedy.
"I'm sure there was a lot of excitement on the part of the general public. I know there were some general announcements made in advance with people not to crowd around too much, but security compared to today seemed to be somewhat lax. People were able to get a lot closer. I remember him walking along the fence shaking hands with people, and people were delighted, a really exciting, heady time."
Well if you're interested in reliving some of this history, the Ashland JFK Airport is hosting a celebration today, from 4:30 to 6:00 at the airport. There will be musicians, and speakers such as former congressman Dave R. Obey to commemorate the 50th anniversary. The event is free to attend.
If you have any stories to share of this historic day in Duluth and Ashland, let us know, or call one of the JFK Day Airport Event organizers at 715-373-1001.