Up in my office there is an unfinished crossword puzzle that is only nine spaces tall and over 21-feet wide. Billed as the “world’s longest,” it is based around the inauguration address of President John F. Kennedy, which was delivered 50 years ago today.
Just as actors are known for how they enter and leave the stage, the landmark events of Kennedy’s abbreviated presidency – the Cuban Missile Crisis, the space program, the Peace Corps, and America’s increased involvement in Vietnam – are being forgotten by the general public, and Kennedy’s administration is increasingly remembered only for the assassination in 1963, and for the speech that got everything going in 1961.
The “ask not” speech is one of the most famous in American history, but if you read the entire text of the address (which you will several times if you ever try to solve the aforementioned puzzle), you will notice an overlooked section that was tragically prescient.
Kennedy, like all presidents, sets the tone for his administration in his address, listing all the things he wants to accomplish during his presidency in vague platitudes. He sums everything up by saying:
“All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1000 days, nor in the life of this administration …”
It’s eerie that he mentioned “1000 days” followed by “the life of this administration,” because the life of his administration ended just over 1000 days later (1,037 to be precise) on November 22, 1963.
January 20, 1961 not only marked the beginning of the Kennedy presidency, but many believe it also can be pinpointed as the day that businessmen in America stopped wearing hats.
The youthful Kennedy donned a top hat as he approached the Capitol building, but later that day he became the first president in history to deliver his address sans lid. Before long, the practice of men wearing hats disappeared.