John F. Kennedy's 1960 visit to Berks remembered as assassination anniversary nears

Then-senator from Massachusetts delivered campaign speech on Penn Square

READING, Pa. - As the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination approaches, many are recalling his visit to Berks County as a candidate for president more than three years earlier.

Kennedy, then a United States senator from Massachusetts, spoke from a podium in front of the Crystal Restaurant on Penn Street in Reading on Fri., Sept. 16, 1960, addressing a throng of supporters standing shoulder to shoulder.

"I think in the revolutions of the 1960s, if we take the path of progress, if we look forward, not backward, it can be for the United States and the free world a rising son and the beginning of a great new day," Kennedy was quoted as saying in remarks prepared for his visit to Reading.

"Roaring welcome greets Kennedy," appeared as the headline across the front page of the Reading Eagle that afternoon, with the crowd of onlookers estimated to be 30,000 strong.

"It was as many as you could hold in Penn Square. It sort of reminded you of Times Square in New York on New Year's Eve," recalled George Meiser IX, a local historian who attended the speech, in an interview with WFMZ's Mike Reinert for his 69 News "Time Train" segment.

While in Reading, Kennedy's shirt was reportedly torn by some enthusiastic young ladies in the crowd. On his way to Lancaster, Kennedy stopped at a service station south of Shillington, where the owner welcomed the candidate in to his neighboring home so that he could change his shirt.

Kennedy would go on to defeat his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, in the November election, although Kennedy lost Berks County by more than 11,000 votes.

Do you remember JFK's visit to Reading in 1960? Were you among the thousands on Penn Square for his speech? Share your memories with us by emailing or by leaving a message at 610-871-0074.

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