TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The black-and-white photos taken in Tampa on the afternoon of Nov. 18, 1963, seem softer now. The faces are happier, more hopeful.
For this city, it was the first visit for a sitting president. Thousands of people gathered along the streets just to get a glimpse of John F. Kennedy driving through in his black convertible limousine.
His trip to Florida, the last before his assassination 50 years ago, is remembered for its joy and optimism. People who saw him that day saw their own wishes and dreams in him, from civil rights to space exploration. They didn’t know it then, but their view of the nation would be irreparably changed just days later when the gunshots struck Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas. It was, in a way, one of the nation’s last innocent memories of its president.
“I marvel at the innocence of the pictures that we see in Tampa,” said Gerald Posner, a Miami Beach-based author of “Case Closed,” a book about the Kennedy assassination. “It was a different era, a time that will never likely be repeated in American politics. The ability to go through a major American city, a 26-mile motorcade, an open car, interacting with thousands of people along the way. It’s a slice of history that unfortunately belongs to a more innocent time.”
At times, Kennedy stood in the back of the car, waving and smiling at those in Tampa.
“Everyone thought he looked right at them and smiled right at them,” said Tony Zappone, who was 16 then and snapped photos for his high school yearbook.
Kennedy spent five hours in Tampa, making four stops in the city that day. In the afternoon, he flew to Miami and gave two more speeches condemning the communist threat. He returned to Washington, and then went on to Texas.