It was October 17, 1962 when President John Kennedy flew to Connecticut for a day of campaigning on behalf of his fellow Democrats. White House records show the president was in the state for roughly four hours. Kennedy flew into the Bridgeport Municipal Airport and spoke there, then traveled by motorcade to Waterbury, and then onto New Haven. We recently found some rare, old film in the Channel 3 archives of Kennedy’s historic visit, and we have donated a copy of this historic visit to the Kennedy Library in Boston. A library spokeswoman told me they had never seen film of Kennedy’s trip here, and they are thrilled to have it now.
Tens of thousands turned out to see the President, an estimated 55,000 people in the Brass City, and 70,000 on the New Haven Green. The three speeches he gave that day were quintessential JFK; charismatic and humorous, yet filled with a sense of purpose. Kennedy spoke of his political allies here in Connecticut, the space program, national defense, and unemployment.
Unbeknownst to the crowd was that President Kennedy was managing one of the most serious crises ever faced by this country; the Cuban Missile Crisis. Just three days earlier, the President learned with certainty the Soviet Union was secretly setting up missile launches on the Communist island nation of Cuba, just 90 miles from American soil.
Kennedy was shown the photographic evidence on October 15th, and that day and the next he met steadily with advisors about the crisis. On the 17th, he broke away from the extremely tense situation in Washington, to travel to Connecticut, to honor a commitment to campaign for his long time friend Abe Ribicoff, who was running for the Senate seat held by the retiring Prescott Bush. Kennedy also campaigned for Governor John Dempsey and Congressmen John Monagan and Bob Giaimo, but Ribicoff was the focus. Kennedy was also accompanied on the trip by Senator Tom Dodd, father of now former Senator Chris Dodd.
Later that night, a U-2 flight over Cuba would discover nuclear missiles, capable of striking most of the continental United States. Americans would learn of the crisis five days after the Connecticut visit, when President Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22, 1962.
I welcome your thoughts on this old film. As you watch it, keep in mind the heavy burden Kennedy carried as he delivered these campaign speeches.