By Peter H. Milliken
Many Mahoning Valley residents attended John F. Kennedy’s Oct. 9, 1960, downtown Youngstown campaign rally or had seen the then-presidential candidate’s motorcade, or both.
Attendance at that rally was much disputed, with The Vindicator pegging it at about 20,000, and Kennedy supporters estimating 60,000.
During his speech, Kennedy, who was then the Democratic presidential nominee, lamented that Youngstown’s steel mills were working at only 44 percent of their capacity, leaving thousands of steelworkers unemployed.
Kennedy challenged his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, to come to Youngstown and tell its residents, ‘“You never had it so good.’ We will settle the question on Nov. 8 whether we have never had it so good or whether we must do better.’’
Harry Meshel had met and obtained an autograph from Kennedy, who was then a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, at the Sept. 21, 1959, testimonial banquet for U.S. Rep. Michael J. Kirwan at the Idora Park ballroom.
Meshel, who was chairman of the Mahoning County chapter of Citizens for Kennedy in 1960, met JFK again at a small gathering of community leaders early in 1960 at the Mural Room, which was then a downtown Youngstown restaurant.
“We just were so excited, and I guess we girls were just so excited to see him because he was so handsome,” recalled Mary Rita Carney, who attended the October 1960 Youngstown rally with her husband Thomas.
“He was very charismatic. He was tanned and handsome,” Thomas Carney recalled of JFK’s appearance at that event.
“It was a huge crowd,” requiring many people to stand on their toes to see JFK as he spoke atop the marquee of the Tod House Hotel, Jackie Casey of Boardman recalled.
“It was overwhelming,” Claranne Lyden McCloud of Boardman said of the rally. “It was a very fitting tribute to him and an indication of what was to come” during his presidency, she said.
After attending the rally, McCloud and her husband went home to take their children, who had been with their grandmother, to see the motorcade pass along Market Street through the Uptown District.
Dick Coughlin of Boardman also attended the rally and recalled he and his neighbors saw the Kennedy motorcade, with the presidential candidate in a convertible, on Market Street in Boardman.
Fred Owens, communication professor at Youngstown State University, recalled seeing the motorcade in downtown Youngstown and attending the rally. “Downtown was just full of people. They were everywhere,” Owens said. “He was in the back right seat of that [open-topped convertible] limo, smiling and just exuding confidence.”
“I was impressed by the moment,” which he said was characterized by “so many people and so much energy and so much confidence.”
Meshel, who observed the rally from behind a hotel window, recalled that rally organizers limited the number of people on the hotel marquee because they feared it might collapse.
“The rally was one of the finest we’ve ever seen,” and probably the largest-ever gathering in downtown Youngstown, Meshel said.
“My memory is so vivid of that day. That day was magical to me,” said Adel Moritz of Boardman, who was only 9 years old when her father, Albert Marsch, a Vindicator printer, took her to the rally.
“My father lifted me over the crowd, and I touched his hand,” Moritz said, referring to the presidential candidate. “He made a point of taking me down there because he believed this was history in the making,” added Moritz, who believes she was depicted in the front of the crowd in a Vindicator photo.
‘‘Even as a 9-year-old, I could see that it was an important event,” Moritz said, adding that she remembers it “like it was yesterday.”
“He was so good-looking, and you could tell his charm was just oozing out of him,” she recalled.
On the same day, Kennedy also spoke to some 42,000 people in Warren and 10,000 in Salem, with thousands watching his motorcade pass through Vienna, Niles, Girard, Boardman and Canfield.
Kennedy returned to the area Oct. 15, 1960, being greeted by some 3,000 people at then-Youngstown airport after a 2 a.m. landing, and then speaking at large campaign rallies in Sharon and New Castle, Pa.
Losing Ohio, but winning Pennsylvania, Kennedy beat Nixon in the national election.
Kennedy won majorities in only 10 of Ohio’s 88 counties, obtaining wins in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
In Pennsylvania, he won in Lawrence County, but lost in Mercer County.
Kennedy won in only 15 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, but captured the state and its electoral votes because of his victories in the state’s most-populous areas.