Lewiston shut down to mourn Kennedy

Posted Nov. 17, 2013, at 6:10 a.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — The night John Kennedy came to Lewiston — Nov. 6, 1960 — a crowd of 14,000 people jammed the Lewiston City Park.

And he was late.

His election was only two days away, and the presidential candidate’s barnstorming final hours delayed him from his scheduled 8 p.m. appearance that Sunday until almost midnight.

When he finally appeared at the gazebo in the park’s center, there were still 8,000 people waiting and standing in the cold.

He was young and handsome, a Democrat and a Catholic, the seemingly perfect candidate for the democratic stronghold with so many Catholic church steeples, local historian Douglas Hodgkin recently said.

It may be why he was mourned so much here.

Three years and 16 days later, his death shook Lewiston-Auburn.

The Lewiston Evening Journal published an extra edition that afternoon with the headline “President Kennedy Slain by Assassin in Dallas” and an early photo of the scene at Dealey Plaza.

On Saturday, people flocked to local churches.

“President Kennedy’s death is unbelievable, shocking and tragic,” said Monsignor Felix Martin at Holy Cross Church, according to a story in the Evening Journal that afternoon. “Like the brave soldier he was, he died in the line of duty. Our first thought at this most tragic event of the century is to fall on our knees and pray. Pray for our president, as we have been doing in church every Sunday these past three years, and pray that our great American nation is spared of fanatics, cranks and undesirables.”

On Monday morning, the Lewiston Daily Sun ran photos of Jack Ruby’s shooting of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, images seen the day before on live TV.

And the community shut down.

Mirroring President Lyndon Johnson’s call for a national day of mourning that Monday, Lewiston Mayor Donla J. Girard and Auburn Mayor Harry W. Woodard Jr. issued statements calling for the closure of local businesses for at least the three hours of Kennedy’s funeral from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Many complied.

City and town officers, schools, credit unions and post offices all closed for the day. Many mills and factories stopped working for the funeral. The W.S. Libbey Mill, the Pepperell Mill, Knapp Shoe and Bates Manufacturing all gave workers those hours.

“We trust all of our people will keep these hours sacred by going to their homes or places of worship,” said Joseph Gastonguay, plant manager at the Pepperell Mill, in the Lewiston Daily Sun.

Two months later, Lewiston renamed the downtown park. It’s been called Kennedy Park ever since.

 

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