November 17, 2013

From the archives: 'JFK found state fine place to relax'

Published on the front page of the Portland Evening Express, Nov. 22, 1963.

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Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer . The front page of the Nov. 22, 1968 Portland Evening Express.

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President John F. Kennedy’s visits to this state were times of relaxation, sailing, party politicking, speech making and degree winning – a far cry from his visit to Dallas today.

The President had been in this state twice since he was elected in 1960. He came as a candidate in 1960, and as a senator from Massachusetts he visited Maine in 1854 and 1959.

His most recent visit to Maine was Oct. 19 when he received an honorary degree from the University of Maine, made a foreign policy speech and flew over Passamaquoddy Bay.

That was a time of smiles on the platform, a time of singing the Maine Stein Song “as every University of Maine man must” in the words of U.M. President Lloyd H. Elliott.

That was a time of good feeling – and of, in general, bipartisan good feeling. It was the first visit by a president while in office to this state’s largest university and was treated that way.

The president’s second Maine visit while in office occurred in August 1962, when he spent several days on John’s Island off Pemaquid and Boothbay Harbor.

This was a time of few speeches, much relaxation, much sailing. The president relaxed at the summer home owned by former heavyweight champion Gene Tunney on the tiny island, not too far off the mainland.

It was another Kennedy who came to Maine in September and the night before Election Day, Nov. 8, 1960. This was the campaigning Kennedy, nearly squashed by the crowds in Portland on the September visit but maintaining his handshake and good humor throughout. He was greeted by cheering crowds also in Presque Isle and Bangor on that Campaign Swing.

Election eve, the president-to-be showed up in Lewiston about five hours behind schedule for a roaring, pushing, cheering welcome at one of the hotbeds of Democratic strength in the state.

Again, it was the same handshaking, the same smile, the same walks through crowds.

Back in November 1959, Senator Kennedy spoke at a Democratic issue conference in Augusta at the Calumet Club.

At that time, he departed from the prepared text to give the proposed Passamaquoddy tidal power project a boost.

Support of the Quoddy had been a standing Kennedy policy since that time – and probably before.

The President saw Quoddy as one way New England might be able to cut its high power costs. He was active in trying to sell it to the rest of New England and to the nation as a whole.

In 1954, the then senator was here in support of campaigning Democrats.

He was a close and personal friend of Maine Sen. Edward Muskie and, as he recently said, had tremendous amount of respect for the campaigning ability of Sen. Margaret Chase Smith.

There’s no telling how often the president might have returned to Maine if the assassination hadn’t occurred.

His brothers, Robert, the attorney general, and Edward, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, toured the Maine coast near the end of this summer, sailing and relaxing.

His close contacts with Sen. Muskie made it certain that the President would have returned to Maine – probably several times – if Muskie runs as seems probable, for reelection next year.

And the President, who liked to sail, very possibly might have returned for more relaxing trips along the Maine coast.

Maine, thus, had glimpses of the dead President as a handshaking campaigner, a political and non-political speechmaker, a man seeking rest and relaxation. Maine seemed to like him in each of these roles.

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