Commemorating JFK’s Visit

You go, Lynn Marvin Dingfelder. The former TV reporter is hard at work researching, interviewing, and rallying interest in the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s historic–Nov. 18, 1963–visit to Tampa. When completed, her production work will include a Tampa Bay History Center exhibit and a one-hour (WUSF-TV) documentary planned to premier at Tampa Theatre. A coffee table book will complete the multimedia celebration. And, yes, there will be DVDs with all the outtakes. And, yes, we all owe Lynn a debt of gratitude. This is important.

Dingfelder is adamant in underscoring that the project is not about President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. It is about celebrating Tampa’s brush (actually an extended 5-hour visit) with history and what those with memories of the event can share.

While Kennedy’s local appearance pre-dates my relocation to Tampa from Philadelphia, I did have the good fortune two years ago to spend precious time with former Congressman Sam Gibbons, who reflected on the Kennedy visit. Gibbons, who as a state senator had helped the Kennedy campaign in Florida, knew the president well enough to be on the podium for speeches at the International Inn, Fort Homer Hesterly Armory and Al Lopez Field and in his Lincoln convertible through downtown.

Gibbons recalled the Tampa crowds as notably “enthusiastic.” In fact, surprisingly so. “He wasn’t that popular before the election,” recalled Gibbons. “But whole schools got off. Whole families got together. The president waved and shouted back. Even had the limo stop a few times to get out and talk with the crowds. I remember him saying: ‘Sam, you’ve sure got a lot of pretty girls in this city.'”

As for security, Gibbons said he wasn’t privy to details or rumors, although he noted that Secret Service agents rode on the presidential limo’s rear bumper throughout the motorcade, something they didn’t do in Dallas.

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