JFK moment for Long Islanders on Cape Cod
In the late summer of 1963, two young couples on a whimsical drive to Cape Cod found themselves face to face with one of the most enduring icons of American lore -- President John F. Kennedy.
Photographs taken by one member of the group, former Montauk restaurant owner John DeLuca, provide a glimpse of the veneration with which many Americans regarded the Kennedy family then, and which continues to influence people today.
There is a photo of the broad-shouldered former PT boat commander passing within inches of a star-struck gaggle of onlookers, their delighted squeals almost audible.
There is another of Kennedy, America's first Roman Catholic president, striding toward St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis, clasping his pink-garbed, 5-year-old daughter's white-gloved hand.
And another, this one of the nation's leader carrying his infant son on his shoulders at the Kennedy's Camelot-like compound on Nantucket Sound.
"He was young and vibrant and made the whole country feel that way," said DeLuca, a longtime resident of Island Park, who opened Johnny Marlin's restaurant in Montauk in 1990. "We felt like he was one of us."
DeLuca, 76, was an amateur photographer living in Island Park when he and his wife, Mary, decided to drive to Cape Cod for a vacation.
Once there, DeLuca said, he learned that Kennedy was at his Hyannis Port family compound that Sunday. DeLuca joined a small crowd that had gathered outside St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church. DeLuca was cradling a Nikon F when the president and his family arrived.
"I called to him, 'Mr. President,' and that's when he gave me that smile," DeLuca said. "He had a great tan that day and looked like a movie star."
Dotty Anderson, who was with the DeLucas during the trip, said she considered first lady Jackie Kennedy an inspiration to the budding women's movement after she addressed President Charles de Gaulle in French during a state visit to France in 1961. She said months after the Cape Cod encounter, she had been asked to take a leave from her job as a secretary at the Union Carbide headquarters in Manhattan because she was pregnant.
"It was a generation with a lot of anticipation, eager to vote and feeling that change was coming," said Anderson, a former Long Beach resident now living in Naples, Fla. "I was totally taken by the charm of Jack Kennedy and you just wanted to be Jackie Kennedy. You felt like you were a part of the new tomorrow."
Observers say Kennedy's enduring appeal flowed from many of the same attributes that excited DeLuca that weekend in 1963. A member of a storied family that combined near-mythical wealth, cultural sophistication and a tradition of public service, Kennedy connected with a newly hopeful America that would take on challenges ranging from poverty to women's rights to space exploration.
"He had an attractive wife, small children and came from a very wealthy family that was very engaged in public service," said Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University's Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency.
Kennedy, who in his inaugural address challenged the nation to "ask what you can do for your country," exuded dynamism that connected with the young and dispossessed, Bose said, by inviting poets, scientists, scholars and athletes to the White House, starting the Peace Corps and vowing to send American astronauts to the moon. A televised speech five months before his assassination squarely addressed white supremacy, referring to racial discrimination as a "moral crisis" and "an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure."
"We could relate to him," said Mary DeLuca. "He stood for what we believed in, things like freedom for the black population and support for the little people.
"I think he would have done a great job," she said. "But he died too young."