Clintonians and Kennedys have a long history together

Clintonians and Kennedys have a long history together

The Town of Clinton and Clintonians in general had a love affair with John F. Kennedy over many years. Perhaps it was the Democratic stronghold the town represented many years ago or the Irish-Catholic population of the past, but the paths of Kennedy and various Clintonians intersected many times over many years.

In 1952, the young Congressman was invited to speak at the Clinton High School graduation exercises in the Town Hall. Kennedy mentioned the many Clintonians who had gone on to make an impact in the world in various fields.  His words from the town hall stage to Clinton students remain timeless today:

“Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, and promote all its great interests and see whether we, also in our day and generation, may not perform something worthy to be remembered.”

In 1958, Kennedy was back in Clinton at a CHS assembly at the Town Hall. At that time, over 1,000 students and community members gathered to hear him speak. On that date, a song, “Massachusetts,” was introduced to the world and dedicated to JFK. 

That song was written by Clintonian John Redmond Lynskey, who was also in attendance that day.  Kennedy, by then a U.S. senator, stated to the local crowd, “Now Massachusetts has a song of its own, which I think has a little Irish tingle to it.”

Several years later, at the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a young Kennedy was nominated to be president of the United States.  That same song, called “Massachusetts, My Home State,” was played at his introduction, only with a new twist – Clintonian Lynskey had changed the words into the politician’s new campaign song called “Kennedy, Pioneer of the New Frontier.” 

It was later recorded by Linda Bowes and the Neighborhood Kids and released by 20th Century Fox Records.  Lynskey, who was already world famous for his songs, had already written campaign songs for Phil Philbin, Robert Meyner, and Ed Muskie.

Of course, at Kennedy’s inauguration that January, Clinton’s Ray Salmon almost stole the show by throwing a cup of coffee on an electrical fire and also assisting poet Robert Frost at the podium – at least until Vice President Elect Lyndon Johnson told him to “please sit down” (in perhaps more colorful words than that). 

Phil Philbin attended that special event in Washington, D.C., as well as John Redmond Lynskey.

We all remember where we were and what we were doing the moment our president was assassinated in November 1963.  In Clinton – and across the country – we went into mourning. The three Catholic Churches in town were filled to capacity with mourners.  St. John’s Church decided to hold two Masses just to accommodate the over 3,000 people who attended. 

Three volleys were fired by the VFW squad and taps played outside on Union Street. At the Holy Rosary, parishioners filled the church to overflowing and many stood outside.  At Jasna Gora, hundreds of people flocked to the service. 

The Clinton Daily Item reported that “men, women, and children wept silently and openly.” 

Shortly thereafter, the Clinton Knights of Columbus petitioned the Board of Selectmen to rename Central Park in honor of John F. Kennedy and to erect a statue in his honor. 

The late Mary Hoffer, from Crown Street in Clinton, was a telephone operator at the White House for many years and was working the switchboard the day of the assassination.

One Clintonian’s involvement with the Kennedys did not end there. Joseph Kennedy, Sr., the father of the famous Kennedy men, suffered a massive stroke in 1961. For the next eight years, about 100 private nurses tried in vain to care for him, but he was a very difficult patient and chased them all away – except one. Mrs. Rita Dallas, of West Palm Beach, Fla., remained faithful to Mr. Kennedy and stayed with the family in Hyannis seven days a week until his death in 1969. 

Mrs. Dallas was the former Rita McNally, a Clintonian and graduate of Clinton High School in 1931.  She later wrote the book, “The Kennedy Case,” all about the family and those very difficult years. Imagine this local woman living with the Kennedys during the time of John and Robert’s assassinations and the indiscretions of young Ted. 

She truly was an eyewitness to the tragedy that plagued the Kennedy family during the 1960s.

Over the years, both John and Ted Kennedy were not strangers to Clinton. They visited campaign friends like John P. McGrail in both Clinton and Berlin. Ted visited Clinton High several times and spoke to students there.  Both dropped in at the Old Timer on Church Street at times and both visited the home of Senator David I. Walsh on Water Street upon his death.

Clintonians and Kennedys … their paths met often.

Terrance Ingano is a Clinton historian.

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