An eager teenager’s encounter with an earlier motorcade in another city.
You have probably heard of the Zapruder film, but my guess is that you have never heard about the Gambone film.
I was a young, Catholic high school student in Pittsburgh in 1960 when I heard that John F. Kennedy was coming there for the first time in the presidential campaign. I knew I’d have to skip school and sneak my parents’ 8-millimeter camera out of the house to make it to the “Golden Triangle” by his expected 3 p.m. arrival. I wanted to capture the motorcade on film, then run up next to the car and be the first person to shake his hand and welcome him to my city. I was not thinking about the Secret Service protection.
Three hours passed, and no Kennedy. I was sitting on the ground in the first row when the rumor spread that he was running late coming from Wheeling, W.Va. But then somebody yelled: “I see the cars coming over the bridge!” I jumped up and started filming in the twilight. When his convertible reached what I thought was an appropriate distance, I went under the wooden barricade, camera rolling, and actually reached his car, which had slowed to a crawl. Someone later told me that his protection detail had taken out guns but that the candidate had waved them off. I saw his tanned face smiling at me as he extended his hand. I could see in an instant that the crowds in West Virginia had ripped his shirt under his suit jacket trying to get a piece of history. I reached up and yelled: “Welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Kennedy!”
Fifty years later, I’ve been unable to locate the film I took that day. However, I have never forgotten the strength of Kennedy’s handshake and the radiance of his smile.
James V. Gambone, Orono
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