Editor’s note: Jack Feller (1922-2013), noted historian, wrote this article for the April 30, 1990 issue of The Wyoming County Report — the 30th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s campaign swing through Mullens. It is reprinted here in observance of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. Feller would have been 91 years old Thursday, Nov. 21.
In the spring of 1960, John F. “Jack” Kennedy was running for President of the United States against Hubert H. Humphrey in the West Virginia Presidential Primary.
Young Senator Kennedy had almost been nominated for vice president at the Democratic Convention four years before. He wanted to see if an Irish Catholic, a Yankee at that, could get enough votes in a Protestant, southern state to carry him at the Democratic Convention that summer.
Our state senator, Dr. Ward Wylie, was the state chairman of the “Kennedy for President” organization. He asked me to take care of the drum-beating in Mullens for the Kennedy campaign visit.
On April 26, 1960, Jack Kennedy, along with Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., paraded behind the Mullens High School band in an open convertible from the south end of town to the city square parking lot. A special bus had about 30 reporters and there was a caravan of a couple of dozen cars that passed eight blocks of streets lined with people.
The high school principal gave the students a lunch hour that lasted from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Most of the businesses closed or let their clerks have the time off.
I was master of ceremonies.
About 4,000 people heard a few words from Roosevelt who was speaking from the back of a pickup truck we had decorated with Kennedy posters.
A woman called out, “I voted for your daddy four times and I’ll vote for you.”
FDR Jr. replied, “Thank you, but please vote for my friend Jack Kennedy.”
I showed the crowd two envelopes. One from the Hubert Humphrey campaign headquarters that spelled the city name “Mullins” and one from the Kennedy headquarters that spelled the name “Mullens.” I remarked that Senator Kennedy knew how to spell the name of our town with an “e” and his opponent did not. So that should tell you who to vote for.
In his speech, Senator Kennedy pointed to his war record. After all, he was in clear view of the new American Legion Hall. He pointed out that he was a Catholic, his mother was, his father was, his sisters and brothers were Catholic and he did not think anyone would consider changing.
After the speeches, our plan was to walk up the main street, about three blocks, to the hotel where lunch was waiting for us. Our walk took about an hour as Senator Kennedy shook hands and signed autographs. The press and local politicians finally finished lunch, behind schedule, before we went on to the Itmann Coal Company mine for the 3 o’clock shift change. Senator Kennedy was almost killed accidentally there, but that’s another story.
About two weeks later, Robert Kennedy, the father of the new young Congressman Joe Kennedy II, and I spent a day shaking hands at the country stores, post offices and coal mines in our end of the county.
His line was, “Hello, my name is Bobby Kennedy. My brother is running for President. I wish you would vote for him.”
We were scheduled to go to a large, countywide Democratic banquet that evening. It was necessary to stop at my mother’s house for a shower and change. My mother insisted he have some milk and cookies. He wanted to use the telephone first.
His end of the conversation went something like this:
“Operator, collect call to Washington DC, number NC2-8870.
“Hello, Jack there?
“Jack, yes. Mullens, West Virginia.
“Yes, a good day. Charleston tonight.
“Say, Jack, have Mrs. Lincoln send 5,000 paperbacks of your book, ‘PT 109,’ to the headquarters in West Virginia and have them all autographed.”
Bobby knew a good campaign item. The next day, the 5,000 books, all autographed, were flown in to be given away.
So, today, many people in West Virginia have a cherished paperback book with the author’s autograph. So they think.