John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass. and worked in Washington, D.C., but he and New York City engaged in a mutual, life-long love affair.
"He was a man cosmopolitan New York could be proud of," said historian David Nasaw, author of "The Patriarch," a biography of Kennedy's father, tycoon and first SEC chairman Joseph P. Kennedy.
"You know I'm from the Bronx -- albeit Riverdale, but it's still the Bronx!" Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan recalls Kennedy telling a crowd on the Grand Concourse during a 1960 presidential campaign stop.
The Kennedy family moved to Riverdale in September 1927 when John was 10 years old, and he attended Riverdale Country School, a posh private school for boys, for two years. Two years later the family moved to Bronxville (where they lived for nine more years), although Kennedy wound up attending, and then graduating, from Choate, a private boarding school in Wallingford, Ct., in 1935 Nasaw noted.
What is less known is that his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, "also lived in the Bronx, though in a completely different neighborhood," and at a later time, recalled Ultan. Oswald, who came from a troubled family, lived in the Morrisania section and was enrolled in P.S. 117, a junior high school, for 64 days "out of which he had been present on 15 full and two half days," in the early 1950s, according to a Warren Commission report. After Oswald and his mother moved, he refused to attend school in the P.S. 44 school district. According to a PBS documentary, Oswald was a neglected adolescent who spent his weekdays at the Bronx Zoo, the public library, and learning the intricacies of thesubway system. Kennedy, at the time, was serving his first term as a senator in Massachusetts.
As a young man, John and his brother, Joe Kennedy Jr., patronized NYC hot spots and enjoyed its better restaurants -- so much so that their father once lectured them to be mindful of their position as public figures because "people are watching," and intemperate, tabloid-worthy behavior could hurt their careers, Nasaw recounted. The Stork Club and Copacabana were among JFK's watering holes, Nasaw said, and the president stayed so often at The Carlyle hotel on East 76h St. it became known as "The New York White House."
Many red-letter events occurred for Kennedy in NYC: His daughter Caroline was baptized in St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1957. He and his wife, Jacqueline, were feted in a ticker tape parade up Broadway in 1960. Marilyn Monroe famously serenaded the president with a va-va-voom rendition of "Happy Birthday" at a Democraticfund raiser in the old Madison Square Garden III, on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in May, 1962. (The actress was reportedly sewn into her glittery, skin-tight dress for the performance.)
But the mutual affection derived from a simpatico sensibility and a mutual appreciation of shared ideals. Kennedy was our "first celebrity political figure" and New Yorkers loved JFK's youthful idealism and the progressive politics he managed to deliver with glamour and panache, said Jonathan Rosenberg, a professor of U.S. history at Hunter College.
New York state delivered one of the biggest blocs of electoral votes to Kennedy in 1960, helping to catapult him into the White House. And multi-ethnic, multi-cultural NYC, Nasaw noted, "went over the top to support him."