Remembering John F. Kennedy’s visits to St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS – Wednesday will mark 60 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America.

On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was campaigning for reelection and had been scheduled to speak at a luncheon before Lee Harvey Oswald fatally shot him from a nearby building.

Kennedy, a Democrat, served as president during the height of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. A Massachusetts native, Kennedy served in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate prior to his presidency

Many travels during and leading up to Kennedy’s presidency were centered around national and international affairs. He made several key trips to St. Louis in the 1960s, both as a presidential candidate and as president.

Kennedy and Nixon campaign

In September 1960, Kennedy ramped up his campaign efforts against Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon. Both visited the St. Louis region within days of each other, delivering remarks at the Kiel Auditorium. Kennedy addressed a crowd mostly consisting of people from the International Association of Machinists.

“I think the future lies with us, but we must help that future we must work for it, we must not say we have never had it so good. We must say we can do better,” read one excerpt from Kennedy’s speech, which largely tackled economic reform.

Nixon, serving as vice president to Dwight D. Eisenhower at the time, also addressed the union, discussing how ethics and the threat of communism impacted the American labor movement. Near the end, he addressed the crowd with this message, “I respect your sincerity and your work for a better life in our country and I would only hope you would respect mine.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it’s estimated that tens of thousands swarmed Lambert Airport upon Kennedy’s arrival in September, some even the opportunity to shake his hand.

Other impromptu 1960 trips

With the St. Louis region covering two battleground states at the time of his campaign, Kennedy didn’t slow down his efforts for Missouri and Illinois support after his September visit.

On Oct. 3, 1960, Kennedy paid a visit to East St. Louis around his vision of “unfinished business.” He again addressed a crowd about the need for improved wages, along with equal opportunity for Americans regardless of their race or religion. Kennedy also touted the 1960s as a time to embrace growth, including in space exploration. “I see no reason why we should be second to anyone in outer space,” he said.

Weeks later, on Oct. 22, 1960, Kennedy made one more visit to Greater St. Louis, this time around the grand opening of the Crestwood Shopping Center. He didn’t address the mall much in a speech largely focused on international relations, but he made one notable claim: “This state is a key state in this campaign. Whoever carries Missouri may well carry the United States,” Kennedy said to applause.

Coincidentally, after his follow-up efforts, Kennedy ended up winning Missouri and Illinois by slim margins in 1960, two key states to secure the office of president.

Space Exploration

On Sept. 12, 1962, Kennedy ramped up his efforts to promote space exploration by visiting the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (now known as Boeing) in north St. Louis County.

The trip gave Kennedy an opportunity to connect with key leaders and see two important space capsules in the works, the Mercury and Gemini, up close. After touring the facility in a go-cart, Kennedy spoke to hundreds, expressing that McDonnell’s work was important for national defense and the aerospace industry.

“This is the most important effort in which you are all involved. Building these planes, which help protect the security of the United States and dozens of [allies].”

He also reaffirmed his commitment to putting a man on the moon. “It is essential that the United States participate in this adventure, and it is essential the United States be first. And therefore, we depend upon you.”

Made a little more famous was a speech Kennedy delivered on another leg of his travels that began in St. Louis. Later on Sept. 12, at Rice University in Houston, Texas, Kennedy made the popular remarks, “We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

FOX 2’s Patrick Clark spoke to some around St. Louis back in 2013 about the impact of Kennedy’s 1962 visit, echoing similar sentiments.

Sen. John Kennedy, Democratic presidential nominee is besieged by an unruly group of admirers at the airport upon his arrival in St. Louis, Missouri on Sept. 18, 1960. The crowd surged through sparse police lines foreign Kennedy to take refuge in his plane until the crowd could be calmed down. (AP Photo)A demonstration is in progress as Sen. John Kennedy, Democratic Presidential nominee, on stand at right, arrived to speak before the International Association of Machinists in convention at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis on Sept. 14, 1960. (AP Photo/ Charles Knoblock)President John Kennedy shakes hands with Anthony A. Oading of Florrissant, Mo, the 15 millionth people to receive benefits under the federal Social Security program in his White House office on Feb. 27, 1961. Mrs. Oading and Secretary of Welfare Abraham Ribicoff accompanied him on the visit. Oading has just retired as a model builder for a St. Louis, MO, aircraft firm. Born in Freckenhorst, Germany, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1928. (AP Photo/HWG)President John F. Kennedy delivers an address to approximately 50,000 people at Rice University stadium in Houston during his tour of NASA installations throughout the country, Sept. 12, 1962. The President promised that outer space will not be filled with weapons of mass destruction. (AP Photo)

JFK’s other STL impacts

Kennedy didn’t have many more thoroughly-documented trips around St. Louis, but his impact in the area proved strong beyond his travels.

The Associated Press reports that Anthony Oading of Florissant was the 15 millionth person to receive social security benefits under his office in 1961. He was born in Germany, but became a citizen in 1928 and spent many years as a model builder in St. Louis.

His wife, Jackie, helped the St. Louis fashion scene take stage nationally in the early 1960s, using clothes exclusively from the Saint Louis Woman’s Exchange in 1963 for an Easter photoshoot. As reported by Nine PBS, one photo in those clothes served as the cover for popular fashion magazine Palm Beach.

St. Louis County was also home to a private Catholic school for several decades, from 1968-2017, known as John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, named after the late president. A new subdivision is planned on the grounds of the school after years of declining enrollment, but alumni remembered their time with a sendoff in 2021.

Forest Park also recognizes JFK with the John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest Market. The City of St. Louis says it’s the only area of “virgin forest” remaining at the park.


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