Iconic Maine Photos
Kennedy’s Surreal Campaign Trail Moment

Iconic Photos

Library of Congress: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection

We scoured 175 years worth of images to find the 10 Most Iconic Maine Photos of All Time. Acclaimed to obscure, joyful to haunting, they’re the shots that tell Maine’s story.

#4

January 2017

To see all 10 iconic Maine photos, grab a copy of our January issue.

It’s early evening on September 2, 1960, and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s motorcade is making its way downtown from Portland-Westbrook Municipal Airport. The street, in Libbytown, is nearly empty. Dark clouds glower over the parade route. A child’s ball has come to rest nearly in the path of the approaching car. And there’s JFK, sitting high on the back seat of an open convertible with three other pols, their shadows stretching out before them.

I am gripped by this photo. I was 5 years old in 1960. Kennedy is the first president I remember. Absorbed in this image, taken by an anonymous United Press International photographer, I see those shadows creep forward three years and 81 days to November 22, 1963, a date as deeply etched into my memory as my own birthday. On that day, school lets out early without explanation. My mother, breathless and tense, waits for me at the corner. “The President’s been shot,” she says. He’d been riding in an open convertible in a Dallas parade.

Three days later, watching the funeral procession — the flag-covered coffin, the riderless horse, the veiled and grief-stricken Jackie, the incessant muffled drumming — I’m startled by a solitary choked sob from my father, a man who’d despised Kennedy. It’s the only time I’ll ever hear him cry.

This photo’s power has only increased since I’ve learned that it captures a rare, seemingly desolate moment on a day otherwise filled with optimism for a charismatic young candidate. Portland was the last stop on a whirlwind tour of Maine, Kennedy’s first formal day on the campaign trail since accepting the nomination in July. That morning, a cheering crowd of 10,000 greeted him in Presque Isle (yes, Presque Isle, population just shy of 13,000 at the time). In the afternoon, 5,000 came out to the Bangor State Fairgrounds. After a news conference in Portland, the Portland Press Herald reported, a couple thousand people pushed through police lines to lift Kennedy off his feet, “pushing and pawing for a handshake, a touch of his sleeve, a pat on the back.” That evening, 6,500 people crammed into what’s now Fitzpatrick Stadium to hear Kennedy speak.

There are photos that present the buoyancy of that day, but this one captured something else. It is, instead, an eerie foreshadower of a turbulent decade to come.

— Senior editor Virginia M. Wright


Honorable Mention

Iconic Photos

Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

JFK Has a Maine “Bachelor Weekend”

You get, if you are lucky, maybe three attractive presidents in a lifetime. Maybe four or five who are capable. But no more than two will be cool. And they don’t come any Fonzie-in-Chief cooler than Kennedy on vacation in Maine in August of 1962.

A Portland reporter dubbed the trip a “bachelor weekend,” as the President was traveling without the First Lady. He was, however, in the company of his sister, Patricia Kennedy Lawford, and brother-in-law, debonair actor and Rat Pack member Peter Lawford. The President stayed on Johns Island, off Pemaquid Peninsula, a guest of retired boxing legend Gene Tunney. He visited friends on Islesboro and ate at a lobster bake on Reed Island. He went to mass in Boothbay Harbor. But mostly he sailed.

Kennedy was never as offhandedly, New England–preppily cool as when he was chilling aboard the presidential yacht.

Kennedy loved to sail and was never as offhandedly, New England–preppily cool as when he was chilling aboard the Manitou, the 62-foot Coast Guard yawl he selected early in his term as the presidential yacht. This photo (our cover image this month, taken by White House photographer Robert Knudsen somewhere off Pemaquid) is one of the great Kennedy-in-repose shots of the Camelot era. It’s been held up by GQ, Time, and others as emblematic of what The Daily Beast calls the 35th President’s “effortlessness and classic cool.” The Ray-Bans, the deck shoes, the sweater you might wear outside to rake the yard: Kennedy’s Maine vacation look, The Daily Beast goes on, “was the epitome of American ease.” I’m no sailor, but I’m on board with that. — B.K.

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Virginia Wright

Virginia M. Wright is the senior editor at Down East.