Mike Jahn

UserpicThe Kennedy Family and Me
Posted by Mike Jahn

I took a picture of JFK when I was 17 and working as a photographer for the Suffolk County News. That's Suffolk County in New York and not the one in Boston, though the latter might be more appropriate.

It was the end of the 1960 campaign when he flew into McArthur Airport and addressed a small rally by climbing atop a car. You could climb atop cars in 1960. You also could be an unknown teenage photographer with no press credentials and walk up to the future President carrying a large metal box, specifically a Crown Graphic camera of the sort stereotypically associated with the press photographers of the time.

Crown Graphics and their larger brethren, Speed Graphics, were on their way out, being replaced by single lens reflexes. But not entirely replaced. My fellow photographer Carl used one to get through crowds and police lines at murders, using the thing to bully people out of the way. He did this shouting "press!" And when he got to the scene of the crime he would put down the Graphic and whip a Leica out of his shirt pocket and get the shot of the corpse.

I couldn't afford a Leica or a SLR, but I had a hand-me-down Graphic. I climbed onto the car next to JFK's, and all of seven or eight feet away from him took that shot. Soon after, I processed it in the darkroom I had built into my bedroom closet and brought the print to my dad, who was editor of the Suffolk County News. He paid me $2. That's about the equivalent of $20 today.

I could have killed Kennedy. Three years later someone else did just that, and from much further away. I didn't even shake his hand, though he thrust it in my direction later on when we both were down off our car roofs and he was walking down a reception line of sorts. "Shake his hand, shake his hand," my father yelled. But I was working. And carrying a Graphic, which wasn't easily put down in the middle of a crowd. I was afraid that someone would trip over it. My father shook JFK's hand. He was accustomed to presidential familiarity. Four years earlier he drank bourbon with Harry Truman See "Jimi, Harry, and Me"

Thus developed my special bond with the Kennedy dynasty. In 1967 and in my first year in Manhattan I became press guy for a tiny organization called Citizens for Kennedy and Fulbright. We entered Bobby's name in the 1968 New Hampshire, starting the full-tilt phase of his presidential campaign. Six months later he was dead, shot by a disaffected nobody as was his brother. 

You know, maybe if I had kicked JFK off that Ford instead of just taking his picture he would have broken a leg and had to drop out if the presidential race and would still be alive. Lee Harvey Oswald would have shot Njxon instead, saving the world a lot of aggravation. If I dad skipped politics and spent 1967 smoking weed and listening to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with my friends Bobby would still  be here. 

I am a terrorist.

I just now shed a tear over Teddy. He was special, he outlived the rest by decades. 


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