Column: Worthington has never seen anything like RFK visit

WORTHINGTON -- Don Hewitt, the man who created television's "60 Minutes," died two weeks ago. C-SPAN broadcast a tape of Brian Lamb interviewing Hewitt half-a-dozen years ago.

WORTHINGTON -- Don Hewitt, the man who created television's "60 Minutes," died two weeks ago. C-SPAN broadcast a tape of Brian Lamb interviewing Hewitt half-a-dozen years ago.

Hewitt said, "I saw Richard Nixon in that week John Kennedy was killed. I said to Nixon, 'If you had been elected (in 1960), we'd still have a president.'

"Nixon said to me, 'No. If I had been elected, I'd be dead now!'" 

Richard Nixon believed Lee Harvey Oswald shot not at John Kennedy but at the President of the United States. Nixon believed, in those times, Oswald or someone like him would have shot the President of the United States no matter who he was.

I am inclined to agree with Richard Nixon. I don't think people along our streets and avenues and country roads generally hated the Kennedys. Oh, people opposed them. Most certainly. People by the millions resisted things which Kennedys proposed. But people recognized and appreciated there never was a family of American political leaders to equal the Kennedys, not even the John Adams/John Quincy Adams family.


These thoughts came to mind with the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy on Tuesday night. The Kennedys -- President John, Senator Robert, Senator Edward, sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver -- have been prominent in the news all week.

In New England, where Edward Kennedy lived and died, there is a joke that is 200 years old. The joke is, "George Washington slept here." It appears there is scarcely an old house or old bed in all New England where the claim is not made. "George Washington slept here."

Realtors will tell you, if you look at a house, "George Washington slept here."

I think we may see something of the same with the Kennedys. My -- it has been four decades, precisely 42 years, since Robert Kennedy visited Worthington on Turkey Day 1967. Edward Kennedy was 37 years old at that time, still only the Kennedys' kid brother. For those who were there, for those who saw Robert Kennedy that Turkey Day, they still will tell you, "There never was anything like it here." 

The Kennedys are gone now but people still will tell the story of, "Robert Kennedy was here one time."

Harry Sowles, manager of the long-gone Silverberg's Department Store at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, was a veteran Turkey Day General Chairman. Harry said of that Robert Kennedy Turkey Day, "There were 80,000 people here." This may be. Worthington never before or since saw such a crush of men, women and children. If Harry's estimate is off by 100 percent, if the crowd was but 40,000, it was a throng beyond anything this region has ever seen.

Turkey Day parades of that time went along 11th Street and then made the turn to 10th Street at the Silverberg/Harper's corner. Kennedy rode in a convertible beside Sen. Walter Mondale until they came to the 10th Street turn. Sen. Kennedy then left his car and began walking, crossing back and forth, shaking outstretched hands along both curbs. Worthington never had seen anything like that.

Another thing Worthington had never seen: people waving handlettered signs nailed to lathes and stakes. Signs said, "Hi, Bobby!" "Welcome, Bobby," "You're the Greatest," or simply, "Kennedy!"


Excitement became electric. People could barely be restrained. 

Kennedy and Mondale stood together on the reviewing stand, which was along the 10th Street curb, in front of the 1894, red brick Nobles County courthouse. There were two parades by then, the Turkey Day parade and the parade of people pressing by only to see RFK close-up, to shake his hand, to ask for an autograph. Film clips from that extraordinary day were used by the Kennedy campaign in Robert Kennedy's bid for the White House the next year.

Newsmen had scripts of Kennedy's speech. Some of what he said was spontaneous, unwritten. He looked about from the speakers platform on the courthouse steps and he talked of "this green and pleasant place."

I would not be surprised if one day Worthington places a plaque on the lawn of the Nobles County government center which will tell visitors -- as with George Washington slept here:

"Robert Kennedy spoke here. He called this a green and pleasant place."

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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