Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK's 1963 Visit to Naples, Italy

JFK's visit to Bella Napoli, 1963 - greeted by throngs of people along the Naples shoreline

Here is a bit of JFK history most Americans probably have never heard about. The article below is from multitalented American expat, Jeff Matthews' endlessly fascinating "Naples: Life, Death, and Miracles... a personal encyclopedia"  Jeff lives in Naples, Italy with his wife and is a long time friend and associate who has taught at The University of Naples and other schools and colleges for more than 30 years.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, various Neapolitan newspapers today recalled JFK's visit to Naples on July 2, 1963. It was the last stop of a European tour that had included, one week earlier, the president's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in Berlin. 

The visit to Naples was the first time that a US president had ever visited the city and the people went crazy. (I have spoken to many who remember the visit and they are as crazy about it now as they were then.)

The president landed at Capodichino airport and went by helicopter to the NATO base in Bagnoli; he arrived there at 4:39 on a fine summer afternoon, accompanied by US secretary of State Dean Rusk, Italian president Antonio Segni and Italian prime minister Giovanni Leone. He gave a short speech reaffirming US commitment to the defense of Europe. He quoted Shelly's lines that "Italy is a paradise of exiles" and said how greatly he appreciated this paradise in his own brief exile from Washington.

He then returned to the airport by car, a black Lincoln convertible with the top-down. This photo (from il Mattino) is one of the classic shots of the president's car moving through the city. (The other person standing is Italian president, Segni.) It shows the president's car moving through a dense throng of onlookers along via Caracciolo, the seaside road between Mergellina harbor and the city. In terms of security, it was a nightmare.

Delirious Neapolitans crowded around the car. One man actually tried to leap into the car to hug the president. At one point, someone threw a bouquet of flowers that landed in front of the vehicle. Kennedy had the driver stop so the flowers could be retrieved and so he could wave them at the crowd. He was all smiles and so was the city. It was a fine summer afternoon.

And this nice update: A reader sent me this archive video of JFK's speech. It is wonderful to hear his cadence and emphasis . . . and NO teleprompter either. Just the printed speech before him.

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