Kennedy campaign visit brought spark to Frederick
Even among presidential candidates, John F. Kennedy had a knack for creating a stir when he showed up at an event.
His May 13, 1960, campaign appearance in Frederick was no exception, according to a reporter who covered it.
John Ashbury worked for the Frederick News-Post when Kennedy visited downtown Frederick during his campaign for the Democratic nomination.
Kennedy met with county and city officials at Frederick’s city hall, located at the site of Brewer’s Alley, gave a speech at Hood College, and lunched with local dignitaries at the Francis Scott Key Hotel downtown during his stay.
“It was him making a whirlwind tour,” Ashbury said.
But one other part of the day still perks Ashbury’s curiosity.
During a stop at the Routzahn’s Appliance Store on East Patrick Street, Kennedy gave a radio interview to WFMD, and Ashbury is trying to identify the man in photos interviewing the then-U.S. senator.
Ashbury said he’s checked with people who worked at the radio station at the time or their surviving relatives, and no one has been able to identify the man.
“Nobody seems to know who he is,” Ashbury said.
Ashbury got to talk to the senator himself at the FSK Hotel, a five- to 10-minute chat during which Kennedy was “just delightful.”
He introduced Kennedy to a friend of his, a local photographer who was also named Jack Kennedy.
Despite the “crazy” atmosphere, Kennedy didn’t have any visible security or Secret Service protection with him, Ashbury said.
Along with the radio interview and other stops, Kennedy’s itinerary also included a speech on his plans for handling the relationship between China and India.
According to a transcript of the speech in the files of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Kennedy followed the Cold War rhetoric of the time.
“Unless India can compete equally with China, unless she can show that her way works as well or better than dictatorship, unless she can make the transition from economic stagnation to economic growth, so that it can get ahead of its exploding population, the entire Free World will suffer a serious reverse,” Kennedy said. “India herself will be gripped by frustration and political instability — its role as a counter to the Red Chinese in Asia would be lost — India herself and then most of Asia would later — and Communism would have won its greatest bloodless victory.”
Whether it was George H.W. Bush stopping into a Frederick Key’s game, Richard Nixon visiting Fort Detrick, or Harry Truman pumping gas at the Carroll Kehne Gulf station on Patrick Street, Frederick has seen a fair amount of presidential visitors, partly because of its proximity to Camp David, said Olivia Millunzi, of Heritage Frederick.
Candidates today may stop in Baltimore or Montgomery County, but Maryland’s history as an easy victory for Democrats usually leads presidential candidates from both parties to ignore the rest of the state, said state Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick and Washington).
But Frederick has seen its share of presidents, he said.
Bill and Hillary Clinton shopped on Shab Row, Walter Mondale came several times while vice president, and Bush went to several Key’s games and played golf in the area, Young said.
Former county commissioner and state delegate Galen Claggett remembers the excitement when Kennedy came through town.
He was a senior at Frederick High School and very interested in politics, but missed the visit because of his classes.
Despite being “very enamored” with Kennedy, Claggett served as a Lyndon Johnson delegate in a mock nominating convention at school that year. He would go on to run Johnson’s campaign in the county in 1964.
But he remembered the excitement that Kennedy brought to Frederick and to national politics.
“He lit the country up, Kennedy did,” Claggett said.