Special Assignment: JFK Visits Tamaqua

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TAMAQUA -- All week, we've been taking you back in time to the 1960s, when then Senator John F. Kennedy campaigned in Pennsylvania just before he was elected president. Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

October 28, 1960 was probably not the most memorable day of John F. Kennedy's political career, but it's a day Marlin Tirpak will never forget. He shot a film on his new eight millimeter camera that day, when JFK visited Tamaqua.

"Right about there is where I, right there is where I got to shake his hand, and then I had to pull back my camera. I couldn`t shake his hand and take pictures at the same time," said Marlin Tirpak, of Tamaqua.

Marlin was just 21 years old when he shot this. While he was in downtown Tamaqua, his wife was giving birth to their first son at the hospital. When he saw his wife later, he had more to say about JFK than their new baby.

"I was so excited, of course we had a son, but I kept saying `I got video. I just shook the hand of the next President of the United States,'" said Tirpak.

Over the years, the businesses in downtown Tamaqua have changed, but the five points intersection hasn`t, and Marlin said JFK drove right through there back in 1960 to get from Pottsville to Hazleton for a rally.

Hazleton is where Standard Speaker reporter Tom Ragan saw Kennedy. He was only 14 at the time.

"He was going by in the motorcade, and I just waved and he was waving to all the people. I doubt if he even saw me. I just got a glimpse of him, really," said Tom Ragan of Hazleton.

Ragan said the excitement was palpable.

"When I heard he was coming into town, and the fact that I was in town, I wanted to see him. I just wanted to see JFK, you know?" said Ragan.

He said JFK is the man who got him interested in politics.

But there were other factors about JFK that intrigued those who were a little older at the time, like Richard Youngblood of Sugar Notch.

"We were sort of proud in our own way because we were Catholics, and that was the first Catholic president that they chose," said Richard Youngblood, of Sugar Notch.

Youngblood is now 90 years old. He saw JFK the same day, but a little farther north in Sugar Notch. He shot video of his visit to borough hall.

"You couldn`t hardly hear because they didn`t have any microphones or anything set up on the poles that you could hear, and the crowd was big. You couldn`t hear too much," said Youngblood.

Just three years after his visit to Sugar Notch, Tamaqua, and Hazleton, JFK was assassinated. It's a time Marlin Tirpak and his wife remember well. Their son born during the Tamaqua visit was three years old at the time of the assassination.

"We actually had to stop watching TV and watching this because he was up at nights, crying, and having nightmares," said Carolyn Tirpak.

"It was like a death in the family. We sat by the TV, and we couldn`t believe what was happening," said Marlin Tirpak.

It's a memory that 50 years later, feels like just yesterday for some.

"Can you believe it`s been 50 years since that day?" a reporter for Newswatch 16 asked.

"Only when I look in the mirror," said Tirpak.