In life and death, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago Friday, had numerous ties to Harford County, beyond the Northeastern Expressway that traverses the county and bears his name.
Kennedy campaigned in Harford when most local politicians considered him a long shot to win the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination, but even before then his closest childhood friend lived in Fallston, where Kennedy is said to have visited on occasion.
After becoming President, JFK was an occasional visitor to the county, home of future Maryland U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings. Eight days before his death, the president dedicated the superhighway connecting Baltimore and Delaware.
The rifle that shot and killed the 35th president of the United States made at least one trip into Harford County as part of investigations into his death. A prominent Harford firearms expert testified before the select congressional committee that reinvestigated the assassination in the 1970s.
Kennedy's death rocks Harford
Not many feared that a political trip to Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963, would cost young President Kennedy his life. Mr. Kennedy headed to the Lone Star State to not only raise money for his looming 1964 re-election campaign, but also to mediate a conflict between local Democratic politicians.
That Friday, 50 years ago today, was just like any other Friday in Harford County. Children were in school, others were bustling around town anticipating the end of their work week and making their weekend plans. But, around 12:30 p.m. EST, the lives of Americans across the country changed forever.
In an age before texting, live Twitter updates from reporters and the Internet, The Aegis reported that Harford residents were informed of Kennedy's injuries, and then assassination, within minutes "due to modern communication through radio and television."
"Several school girls fainted in their classrooms when the news was received," The Aegis reported on Nov. 28,1963. County residents wept on the sidewalk and people across the county rushed home to receive more details about the tragedy. Many headed to churches to pray and grieve.
Activities throughout the weekend following Kennedy's assassination came to a halt in the county. "Weekend shopping continued, but visitors merely procured their necessities and hurried home," The Aegis reported days following the assassination.
On national mourning day, the Monday following Kennedy's assassination, "few countians were yet prepared to resume their normal activities," according to The Aegis reported. Most businesses, except for the necessities, remained closed.
Harford remembers Kennedy
Former state Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, 85, a Harford native who today divides his time between Monkton and Washington, D.C., became close friends and colleagues with President Kennedy while working on his 1960 campaign for president. Tydings stepson of U.S. Sen. Millard E. Tydings who served during the 1930s and 1940s spearheaded Kennedy's campaign in Harford County and around Maryland, helping the underdog become the top pick from the Democratic National Convention.
The president came up to visit Tydings at his family's Oakington estate, south of Havre de Grace, a few times in the summer of 1963, just a few weeks before his assassination, Tydings said.
Just two nights before Kennedy's assassination, Tydings visited the White House, where he had his own bedroom and occasionally visited with the Kennedy family. Tydings said the president gave him some last-minute, well-needed advice as he contemplated his announcement to run for the U.S. Senate.
"I had been invited to the White House for a dinner," Tydings recalled in a recent interview. "We had only spoken for two minutes. He said 'don't worry you'll win, all you have to do is send your wife out and you'll be in great shape.'"
The day Kennedy was assassinated, Tydings said he had just left a press conference where Tydings announced his resignation as Maryland U.S. Attorney; the president's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was at the press conference.
"I had lunch and then I found he had been shot," Tydings said, sounding emotional during the phone interview.
Tydings said he remembers President Kennedy as having a great sense of humor, but being very, very direct.
"I listened to many of his phone conversations to politicians and leaders around the nation," Tydings said. "He didn't fool around. He was tough."