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The Legend of JFK Still Lives in Lackawanna County

Anybody above a certain age can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news about the death of President John F. Kennedy.

This Friday will mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

In October of 1960 before he was president, Kennedy received warm receptions in several communities in our area including Scranton.

A census map from 2000 labeled each county in the United States by what ethnicity its citizens identify with most.

Lackawanna County stands alone as the only county in Pennsylvania that calls itself Irish.

To understand why Lackawanna County citizens said that in 2000 you may want to go back to 1960.

This country’s first Irish Catholic President was just a Senator then and stumping in Pennsylvania. His second to last stop was in Scranton on October 28th.

“He had come all the way up through Taylor, Dupont, and Duryea, and all those towns and the crowds were enormous. And the crowd in front of The Casey, we literally had a hard time getting him out of the car,” remembered Federal Judge Richard P. Conaboy.

Conaboy was 38 and the chairman of the Democratic Party in Lackawanna County then. He rode with would-be President Kennedy to the Hotel Casey. Mobs broke down the hotel doors and J.F.K. was rushed inside.

That’s where Federal Judge William Nealon was waiting to meet him.

“It was a spellbinding moment. He lit up the room, with that big smile and tan face. I can still visualize it, really because you just stand there in awe,” Judge Nealon said.

Nealon is one of only three living federal judges appointed by John F. Kennedy, but the meeting in Scranton is the one he remembers most.

The next stop for Kennedy was campaign speech in front of thousands at the Watres Armory.

“The people of Northeastern Pennsylvania, all the people of Pennsylvania, who had worked so hard all their lives, they kind of saw him as one of their own,” added Judge Conaboy.

If you look closely, you’ll find J.F.K.’s legacy throughout Lackawanna County. From a quote on the County Courthouse in Scranton, to a bust outside the Fell Township VFW near Carbondale. To the halls of the Archbald Borough Building where J.F.K. is the only President who has ever hung on the wall.

“He`s a larger than life personality, and probably because that life was cut short. We esteem and revere him more than probably others who accomplished more,” said Archbald Mayor Ed Fairbrother.

Self-proclaimed J.F.K. fan Bill King, Superintendent of the Scranton School District, showed Newswatch 16 pictures from five months after Kennedy’s death. His brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy came to Scranton to dedicate the nation’s first J.F.K. named school, John F. Kennedy Elementary in Scranton’s south side.

“Kind of interesting that it was built in the Minooka section of Scranton which is heavily populated with Irish citizens of the city,” King said.

Bobby Kennedy also made his first speech since J.F.K.’s assassination at Scranton’s annual Friendly Son’s of St. Patrick dinner in 1964.

“I know after my brother visited here in 1960 that he was overwhelmed with your hospitality and the reception he received here in Scranton and this whole area. In fact, he used to discuss it frequently. He felt that when he went to Dublin he was going to get the same reception that he got in Scranton,” Kennedy said in his speech.

R.F.K. got a reception in Scranton very similar to the one his brother received less than four years earlier. Those close to him later wrote that his trip to Lackawanna County, and maybe the luck of the Irish, is what convinced Bobby Kennedy to run for president himself.


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