Southcentral Kentucky Democrats were waiting on the morning of Saturday, October 8, 1960, when presidential candidate John F. Kennedy arrived in Bowling Green for a highly anticipated campaign appearance. After landing at the airport, Kennedy traveled by motorcade to City Hall, where he spoke before a platform of dignitaries that included Governor Bert Combs, Lieutenant Governor Wilson Wyatt, Congressman William Natcher and Bowling Green mayor Robert D. “Bob” Graham.
After the speech, Mayor Graham presented Kennedy with a token of his visit: a two-year-old “Kentucky country ham,” courtesy of Jimmy Siddens’ market. Many remember Kennedy’s reaction as he looked at the ham, then ran his hand over its coating of greenish mold — a proper but, to a New Englander, perhaps unappetizing byproduct of the aging process. One onlooker interpreted his expression as “What in the *** do I do with this?”
But Kennedy, a clever and witty politician, recovered quickly. Drawing on the skills he had employed the previous evening in his second debate with Republican opponent Richard Nixon, Kennedy joked that back in Massachusetts, “it took a brave man to eat the first oyster,” so “I’m going to take your word for this. If you say it’s good, I’ll eat it.”
Back at the airport, before boarding the plane for his next stop in Paducah, Kennedy asked Mayor Graham to send instructions for cooking the ham to his wife, Jackie, in Washington, and scrawled the address on a slip of paper. Graham taped the souvenir into his scrapbook, then quickly obliged — sending two recipes, in fact, so that Jackie would “have a choice. Just like in politics.” The story of the country ham was reported both locally and in newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and, ironically, the Dallas Morning News.
As part of the JFK Memory Project at WKU, those who witnessed Kennedy’s Bowling Green appearance and/or experienced the shock of his assassination three years later have added their own recollections to the historical record. Click here for a finding aid to the JFK Memory Project at WKU.