1960 Presidential Election
This election season has definitely been memorable, but for an entirely different reason than the first election I recall while growing up; the 1960 presidential race between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. As a 7th grader, Civics was one of our classes, and a new teacher had been hired, Mr. Hancock. In Junior High, students rotated to various classes, as opposed to elementary school where the entire day was spent in one classroom with a single teacher - boring. I enjoyed the hourly change in class rooms, teachers and subject matter in junior high.
Mr. Hancock would focus the first half of the class on the normal Civics curriculum, then would shift the discussion to the election. Since literally all the students in the class were Catholic, plus at that time, counter to today, Ft. Loramie was predominantly Democrat, John Kennedy, being a Catholic Democrat, was the overwhelmingly preferred candidate. So Mr. Hancock, whether he actually was a Nixon supporter or not, to make things interesting, took the Republican side in these discussions. But we made some hay against him the day President Eisenhower was asked what contributions Nixon had made as Vice President during his administration and Ike responded by saying "If you give me a week, I might think of one."
There were four debates that election, and all were broadcast for the first time ever on national TV. While watching the debates, my Mom commented that Nixon looked “shady and had shifty eyes”; never could get anything past her! The day after each of the four debates, Mr. Hancock dedicated the entire hour to the previous night’s opposing arguments, re-enacting the war of words with him portraying Nixon going against the entire class (he even looked somewhat like Nixon). The last debate actually involved using split screen technology since each candidate and the moderator were in separate locations around the country. I don’t recall a vice-presidential debate, as that would have pitted Lyndon Johnson and Henry Cabot Lodge against each other.
Mr. Hancock sure got us engaged and involved in politics, an interest that sticks with me and a number of my classmates to this day. I can clearly recall the exact location of his classroom right across from the gym and my exact seat in the class . The only other similar such remembrance was the seat I enjoyed during typing class as a senior sitting between two cute freshmen girls; but I digress! However, luckily, those typing skills sure came in handy once PC’s were invented - and for typing out blogs!
Finally, election day came with the race not called until the wee hours of the next morning. In fact, our neighbors, when the outcome was still unclear, rolled there big black & white console TV into the bedroom and watched the returns until CBS’s anchor Walter Cronkite called Kennedy the victor at 3:00am. Our family visited the neighbors the night after the election and the big TV was still in the bedroom.
Mr. Hancock’s class the next day was special in that with Kennedy winning, we could all rub it in and bask in the victory. But it turned out that Ohio actually went for Nixon, along with the 25 other red states shown below. Note how the popular vote was only about 112,000 votes apart.
Exactly 1000 days after being inaugurated, John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated in Dallas, a day that I’ll never forget. I had the opportunity to meet up this summer with the two guys I was with at the time we found out Kennedy had been shot. We shared a special bond and this indelible memory for the last 53 years, as if it happened yesterday. One of my favorite books is A Thousand Days - John F. Kennedy in the White House, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Special Assistant to the President. It’s my bedtime reading, so I’m lucky to read 2-3 pages of the 1200 page testament before falling asleep. When finished, I merely start over at page one, as the story never gets old. But this election, whatever the outcome, will likely mean more reading each night since it will be much harder to fall asleep.