The Day My Grandpa Les Singleton Met JFK on Superior Street in Duluth, Minnesota
All this week, we’ve seen a lot of specials on the assassination of JFK as we mark the 50th anniversary of that fateful day in Dallas. About two months before his trip to Dallas, he visited Duluth. He was in the Northland on September 24th, 1963 and spent a night at the Hotel Duluth, now the Greysolon Plaza. He was scheduled to give a speech at UMD and there was to be a motorcade in Downtown Duluth. That’s when my Grandpa Les Singleton, a firefighter at the time, came up with his plan.
He was getting off from a shift at the fire hall at 7am on September 24th, when he called my Grandma Lorraine telling her he wouldn’t be home for breakfast that morning. When she asked why, he told her that he was going to go downtown to shake President Kennedy’s hand. A very skeptical grandma laughed it off with my mom and their other daughters. Yeah right, you go ahead and meet the president. They figured he was full of it and most likely just going out for coffee with his buddies, which he enjoyed doing on countless occasions.
In fact, Grandpa Les did get off work at 7am that morning and he kept his fireman uniform on as he made his way downtown where the motorcade was to take place. A very excited city watched as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade made it’s way down Superior Street, with JFK on foot. My grandpa ended up in a very good spot on the street that morning, which in hindsight isn’t a surprise as he always loved parades and would park a car a day early to ensure a good spot and easy way out for the Christmas City Of The North Parade.
As the motorcade approached, my grandpa followed through on his promise. He stepped out towards President Kennedy, extended his hand and confidently said “Good morning, Mr. President!”. The Secret Service didn’t intervene, they saw grandpa’s uniform and perhaps assumed he was a police officer. President Kennedy extended his hand, looked him in the eye and returned his greeting, wishing him a good morning in a brief conversation. Right then, flash, a moment in time.
Grandpa Les eventually made his way home and told the family about his encounter and they still didn’t fully believe him. There were no camera phones, Facebook, or other social media to prove it and he was unaware of any picture being taken.
It wasn’t until the Duluth News Tribune came out with the story on JFK’s visit that the family, including my grandpa, saw the picture for the first time. I’m still not sure if it was taken by Duluth News Tribune staff photographer Karl Jaros or someone else. My grandpa did track the photo down and received it as a gift so that he and our family would have it and be able to share it.
Less than two months after shaking my grandpa’s hand, the nation would lose President Kennedy to an assassin, or assassins, bullets. Several decades later we’d lose Grandpa Les Singleton to heart disease.
But for one moment in time they locked hands, smiled, looked each other in the eye and exchanged a hearty greeting. That moment we will all have forever.