The Day I Met Jack Kennedy

Ken Hesselbacher in 1960

By Ken Hesselbacher

May 11, 2022:  It happened many many years ago. Over the years I have recounted the story, this is the first written account of our brief encounter.

Before I begin, there is a quote by Leif Enger in his novel “Virgil Walender” that “The oldest trick of memory is convincing us of its accuracy.” My memory of this meeting remains accurate sixty plus years later!

It was either late April or early May 1960. I was a senior at Cardinal Hayes High School, a prestigious secondary school located on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, just below the shadow of the old Yankee Stadium. To subsidize the expense of my expanding social life, I had a part- time job after school. The company was Don Marshall Millinery Ltd, located on 18 East 53rd Street in Manhattan. Mr. Marshall was a renowned hat designer catering to famous, wealthy and glamorous women. He created the wedding vail worn by Princess Grace Kelly now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also designed the pill box hat ironically made famous by Jacqueline Kennedy.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I crossed the street at Madison and 53rd Street. On the corner I noticed a large group of attractive young women excitedly surrounding someone. I decided to investigate further and approached the crowd. And there he was - this good looking charming man in a blue suit, white shirt and tie. ( I have no memory of the color of the tie.). I asked one of the young ladies who this fellow was. She exclaimed, “ That’s Jack Kennedy. He is running for President!”

Now I must confess at this time in my life my primary focus was graduating from Cardinal Hayes and my expanding social life, not necessarily in that order. Political Science was not really a priority. Never the less, since this Jack Kennedy seemed to be charming the ladies, I thought perhaps I could pick up some pointers. Then one of them asked Jack for his autograph. Jack explained that he did not have a pen. And this was when I made my move! As a Hayesman I always had a pen and notebook handy because you never know when you are going to need a pen and notebook. I offered my pen and a few pages to Jack and he started signing autographs. Suddenly a black limousine pulled up to the curb and Jack said he had to go. I decided to get an autograph and since I had provided the pen to Jack, he autographed my notebook page and stepped into the back of the limousine. Before the door could close I said,“Jack, I need my pen!” When he realized that he still had the pen, he apologized and gave me his great Jack Kennedy smile. I took the pen, wished him good luck and gave him my great Kenny Hesselbacher wink.

That was the first and last time we were together. I have no idea what became of the autograph but I still have the memory of that day. I have often wondered what he was doing on the corner of Madison and 53rd that day. I decided that he was probably meeting with some Madison Avenue “advertising guys” who were creating a campaign strategy for the upcoming presidential election. Over the years I have told this story many times. It just seemed, whether during a social or business situation, there would always be a perfect moment for “ my Jack Kennedy story”. Still, I always wondered what exactly he was doing that day. And then I found out!

Ken Hesselbacher today

Jill Lepore is the New York Times best selling author of “These Truths”. Her most recent book is titled “ If Then—-How Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future”. Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, believed they could predict and manipulate the future by computer simulation of human behavior. One of their early clients was the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign. Their address was 501 Madison Avenue on the corner of Madison and 52nd Street. That had to be where he was that day! I must add what I believe to be an ironic twist of fate in light of the present political condition.

As outlined in the book, although Kennedy’s electoral victory was 303 to 219, the popular vote was close enough that the Republican National Committee requested two recounts. These recounts were not endorsed by Richard Nixon, who said privately, “ Our country can’t afford the agony of a constitutional crisis—and I damm well will not be a party to creating one just to become President or anything else.” Jack, thanks for the Memory. Ken Hesselbacher Bronxville, NY


Photos courtesy Ken Hesselbacher

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Bronxville is a quaint village (one square mile) located just 16 miles north of midtown Manhattan (roughly 30 minutes on the train) and has a population of approximately 6,500. It is known as a premier community with an excellent public school (K-12) and easy access to Manhattan. Bronxville offers many amenities including an attractive business district, a hospital (Lawrence Hospital), public paddle and tennis courts, fine dining at local restaurants, two private country clubs and a community library.

While the earliest settlers of Bronxville date back to the first half of the 18th century, the history of the modern suburb of Bronxville began in 1890 when William Van Duzer Lawrence purchased a farm and commissioned the architect, William A. Bates, to design a planned community of houses for well-known artists and professionals that became a thriving art colony. This community, now called Lawrence Park, is listed on the National register of Historic Places and many of the homes still have artists’ studios. A neighborhood association within Lawrence Park called “The Hilltop Association” keeps this heritage alive with art shows and other events for neighbors.

Bronxville offers many charming neighborhoods as well as a variety of living options for residents including single family homes, town houses, cooperatives and condominiums. One of the chief benefits of living in “the village” is that your children can attend the Bronxville School.

The Bronxville postal zone (10708, known as “Bronxville PO”) includes the village of Bronxville as well as the Chester Heights section of Eastchester, parts of Tuckahoe and the Lawrence Park West, Cedar Knolls, Armour Villa and Longvale sections of Yonkers. Many of these areas have their own distinct character. For instance, the Armour Villa section has many historic homes and even has its own newsletter called “The Villa Voice” which reports on neighborhood news.

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