Rutkoski: A look back at Kennedy from a teenage newsboy
Decades later, many of the images remain as crisp as that historic day in Washington, D.C.
I was 13 on Jan. 20, 1961, and in the nation's capital with about a dozen other Valley Daily News (now Valley News Dispatch) newspaper carriers who had earned trips to John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration.
We left Jan. 18 by train from what is now the Grand Concourse Restaurant in Pittsburgh's Station Square, arriving in Washington the next morning for a day of touring.
The profits from my carrier collections from the previous weeks burned a hole in my pocket. I quickly became every souvenir huckster's best friend.
Today, those souvenirs have acquired for me the status of valued treasures.
The inaugural program booklet remains mostly intact, if a bit wrinkled, in a bedroom drawer. A poster welcoming “Jack” hangs on a bedroom wall.
A snowstorm that the Washington Post described as “crippling” howled into the city that Thursday before the big ceremony. About 3,000 men and 500 trucks were summoned to work through the night to clear snow from the parade route.
A 6-inch snowfall was predicted by inaugural morning. A downtown department store reported it was selling long johns “as fast as we can bring them in from the stockrooms.” Most buyers were from out of town.
My mom packed my thermal underwear. I needed it as we walked the streets during the inaugural morning. The snow had stopped, but the temperatures were frigid.
Even at that young age, I think we appreciated that we should not let wind chills distract us from this special moment.
We shivered, but we listened to the words echoing from building to building over the public address system.
There was the legendary poet, Robert Frost, in his late 80s, proclaiming, “The land was ours before we were the land's.” Frost was the first poet to read at an inaugural ceremony.
Three years later, both he and the president he honored with his poetry would be dead.
It was not until years later that we fully took to heart Kennedy's wisdom: “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”
We eventually understood: we were that generation.
Our top concern was finding a good place among the throngs — an estimated 1 million people were wrapped in blankets with hoods pulled over their heads.
The snapshots and notations in my yellowed attic scrapbook serve as a reminder of who passed in front of us that day: Robert Kennedy, Harry Truman, President and Mrs. Kennedy. My thoughts, as the Kennedys went by, traveled back three months earlier.
On Oct. 15, 1960, then-Sen. John Kennedy made a campaign stop in Kittanning.
My dad, a Democratic committeeman and a news correspondent who had the gift of talking us into places we might not have belonged, made sure I was stationed in the hall where Kennedy would pass to and from his speech.
As JFK walked toward me, I lifted my “Kennedy For President, Leadership for the '60's” poster, now framed and hanging proudly above me in my study as I write this, and summoned all the 12-year old courage I could muster.
“Would you please sign this sir?” I asked.
The man who would soon be president obliged.
As Paul Simon once sang, “Time it was, and what a time it was.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-226-4664.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Saxonburg machine shop 3 generations strong
- At-home schooling on snow days far from reality
- New Christmas decorations make Leechburg shine a little brighter
- Small Business Saturday a boon to Alle-Kiski Valley merchants
- Volunteers get West Deer church’s train display back on track
- Puppy, pals come to rescue of Lower Burrell firefighters
- Body found in Allegheny River in Harrison
- South Butler students push composting as a way to slow food waste
- Apollo-Ridge closer to naming buildings, facilities
- Christmas parade gets warm welcome in Saxonburg
- Police investigate reports bus driver allowed Fox Chapel students to change clothes