The photograph above was taken in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, 45 years ago today. It depicts President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, along with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife Nellie en route from Love Field Airport to the Dallas Trade Mart, where the president was scheduled to give a speech. The photo was taken at approximately 12:25 pm, as the motorcade passed in front of a new Safeway store at 3707 Lemmon Avenue. Just minutes later, the limousine would make its fateful turn into Dealey Plaza, and the course of history would be forever changed.
This photo was taken by Safeway Dallas Division employee Jack Zeller, who was assigned to follow up on the Lemmon Avenue store’s grand opening which had taken place the day before. Zeller had his camera along to take pictures of the new store for the company magazine. The president’s motorcade route and approximate timing had been published days earlier in the Dallas papers (something that would never happen today), and in a bit of serendipity, would pass right in front of the Safeway. As you can see, he managed to capture a fine picture as the Lincoln Continental passed in front of the store.
If anyone finds this combination of retail history and that tragic moment in American life to be in poor taste, please forgive me. I do think, however, that there is something moving and patriotic in the fact that one would be proud enough of the president to want to photograph him in front of their business. And it reinforces my appreciation of the risk our presidents assume in interacting with the public, even with today’s far stricter security practices.
I can remember the sense of pride I felt (and still feel, when I think about it) in grade school at having been born during the Kennedy administration. Our class was roughly split between Kennedy and Johnson era babies. More than once it came up as a topic of conversation in class, although certainly none of us had any personal memories of his presidency - just some facts, our parents’ memories, and exposure to the growing Kennedy legend. To be sure, this admiration was by no means limited to those of us born during his presidency.
Would President Kennedy be revered in the same way had he lived to finish his term, or been reelected in 1964, or if he were still alive today at age 91? I’m not sure that’s even possible. Then as now, the country faced monumental challenges, including the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the struggle for civil rights, just to begin a list. More likely, he would have ended up with the mixed legacy that most presidents seem to have. But perhaps he would be. Who’s to say?
One thing is assured - that John F. Kennedy stands as a symbol of America’s promise, forever young and vibrant, frozen in time.
Pictured below is a similar scene from a happier day. Taken on March 23, 1962, President Kennedy’s motorcade is shown passing the Berkeley, California Safeway en route to the University of California to accept an honorary degree and speak at the University’s Charter Day ceremonies at Memorial Stadium. Over 93,000 people were on hand for the speech – a record for both the University and the President.