50 Years After the Death of John F. Kennedy | A Hometown Remembers
“During those summers, you were just aware of the Kennedys because it was such a smaller place back then and because there were so many of them. You’d see the security, you’d see all the nephews and all the others. And to be quite honest, they let it be known that this was their playground, and there was good and bad that came with that. They were sort of known for not paying their bills. I had a family relative who had a meat market, and he went to his grave being owed money. ‘Just do this for me, and I’ll pay you someday.’
“And the tourists, if you were walking around anywhere on the street in downtown Hyannis, somebody would stop you and say, ‘Which way to the Kennedy Compound?’ That question got asked so much, they used to print T-shirts: Kennedy Compound This Way. There used to be an information booth to point people to the Kennedy Compound. You’d be mowing your lawn and people would stop and ask for directions. People would be so annoyed.”
Jo Ann Kelley
“We suddenly had this presidential status.”
Jo Ann Kelley worked summers on the Cape, and her late husband, Chet Kelley, was a radio newsman who covered the Kennedy presidency. She lives in Yarmouth Port.
“I got a summer job at the old Filene’s in West Hyannis. For that time it was very chichi and upscale. There just weren’t a lot of stores on the Cape back then, so the Kennedys all shopped there. This was around the time Jack and Jackie were married, and so we saw quite bit of her. They were just regular people, nobody was really nonplussed by it. And Jackie was pretty quiet and reserved.
“Up until John Kennedy became president, Hyannis was a pretty quiet place, and then—boom!—he was no longer John Kennedy, U.S. Senator, but President of the United States. We suddenly had this presidential status, but we had just one stoplight, no big hotels, the hospital was tiny. Now we had Secret Service all around. The police and fire departments had to build up.
“On the day President Kennedy was killed, my sister called me up, just crying, telling me he’d been shot. That night, a gentleman from across the street who was Jewish and had snuck out in the dark of night from Russia years before, came over to our home. He was devastated. He paced back and forth in our little house for I don’t even know how long, saying over and over again, ‘Not in America. Not in America.’”
“When I gave them those Kennedy half-dollars, they cried and cried. You’d have thought I’d given them a million dollars.”
A former Hyannis Port resident and longtime friend of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, McKeag lives in South Carver.
“In 1974 I was on my honeymoon in Europe. Before I left, a friend of mine had told me that the Italians loved John Kennedy. I had saved all these Kennedy half-dollars, so I threw a bunch into my bag, thinking we might meet some people who would get a kick out of them.
“We were in this little fishing village outside Naples, on the beach. One night we ended up at this party, and when people found out we were Americans, we got invited to all these homes. The first house we go into, there’s a picture of the pope on one wall and John Kennedy on the other. We go to another house, same thing. The next house, it’s the same. So now I remember those half-dollars. I went back to our room and grabbed a handful and brought them back for the wives. I’m telling you, when I gave them those [coins], they cried and cried, and just held them tight. You’d have thought I’d given them a million dollars.
“Years later, my neighbors told me how Rose Kennedy used to walk uphill to the golf course and walk the nine holes. Sometimes she’d play. Every now and then a car with tourists would pull up. They’d say, ‘Mrs. Kennedy, how are you?’ And if she liked them, she’d say, ‘Would you like to see where the President spent his summers as a young man and then as president?’ And she’d take them down to the house and give them a tour. Isn’t that amazing?”