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Would JFK have gone to Dallas if he went to Gettysburg in 1963?

Kennedy was invited to speak at 100th commemoration of Gettysburg Address in November, 1963

  • Scott LaMar
31 Mar 1963, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA --- John Kennedy Sitting in Car. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

31 Mar 1963, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA --- John Kennedy Sitting in Car. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Aired; November 22nd, 2023.

November 22nd, 1963 – 60 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. It was one of the defining moments of the 20th century.

During that week in November, 1963, there was an observance of another seminal moment in American history – the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

President Kennedy was invited to speak in Gettysburg, but declined and went to Dallas later in the week.

On The Spark Wednesday we talked about that week in 1963 in Gettysburg, documents that survive and Kennedy and Gettysburg.

Appearing on the program, Jill Ogline Titus, Associate Director of the Civil War Institute, Co-Coordinator of Public History Minor at Gettysburg College and author of the book Gettysburg 1963 Civil Rights, Cold War Politics, and Historical Memory in America’s Most Famous Small Town, said Kennedy could have chosen to attend both the commemoration of the Gettysburg Address and gone to Dallas as well,”The Gettysburg Centennial Commission did invite Kennedy to come for the anniversary and the the anniversary commemoration wasn’t just the (November) 19th. The events really spanned from the 17th through the 19th. There were a few more things on the 20th, and the invitation to Kennedy was to speak on the 19th itself. But there were a number of other activities that the Commission would have loved to have him involved in if he had been here for longer than just the 19th. That it’s definitely true that people involved with the commemoration, as soon as word of the assassination reached them, immediately drew the conclusion that if Kennedy had come, his life would have been saved. They wrote about that very extensively. You know, if President Kennedy had only accepted our invitation, he’d still be alive and the country would have been spared this this horrible tragedy. But I think the documentation shows us that it’s not quite that much of a black and white issue.”

Titus indicated that Kennedy went to Texas because there was a political feud amongst Democrats on the state level and Kennedy wanted to shore up support in an important state in the 1964 election.

Andrew Dalton, Executive Director of the Adams County Historical Society said on The Spark that documents in the Historical Society’s archives include plans for President Kennedy if he came to Gettysburg, but he added those plans included someone who had a significant role after the president was killed,”It’s actually just very kind of hastily put together notes from a meeting that was held, sort of a memo that was created based on this meeting held on September 5th, 1963, between Louis Simon, who was the secretary of the planning committee here in Gettysburg, and Malcolm Kilduff, who was the assistant press secretary.  I just wanted to point out, I didn’t know this until a few hours ago, but Malcolm Kilduff ended up going to Dallas with Kennedy a few days after and was actually the acting press secretary there with Kennedy. He was in, I think the third car of the motorcade that went to the hospital. He was actually the man who informed Lyndon Johnson that Kennedy had died. He gave the statement in front of TV cameras to the press and then actually recorded the oath of office on the plane when Johnson was sworn in. So this guy, just a few days later, is right there on the front lines of what was going on in Dallas. But fast rewind 78 days and you have this meeting in the press office at the White House between the folks in Gettysburg and Kilduff.”

The document Dalton referred to (see below) included logistical questions about Kennedy’s time in Gettysburg and the activities surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. One question from the White House was whether Kennedy would ride in a car through the streets of Gettysburg to the National Cemetery, where Kennedy would speak, or if there was a place for a helicopter to land closer to the cemetery. Dalton speculated there was concern about the president riding in an open car.

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