JFK survived assassination attempt one month before inauguration
HO/AFP/Getty ImagesPresident John F. Kennedy in a 1963 file photo
The election of JFK was the final straw for Richard Pavlick.
A longtime resident of Belmont, N.H., Pavlick had built a contempt for local officials, not to mention Roman Catholics, that was well-known around town. when a Catholic named John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected to the White House in 1960, Pavlick embarked upon an elaborate assassination scheme, which nearly succeeded.
Though Nov. 22, 1963 — 48 years ago this Tuesday — is remembered as the fateful day JFK was killed, Pavlick’s nearly successful attempt on Kennedy’s life three years earlier is all but forgotten.
“The closeness of the call was appalling,” Secret Service chief U.E. Baughman recalled years later. The assassination attempt was barely reported in its immediate aftermath and would eventually be overshadowed by Oswald, Dealey Plaza, the Kennedy myth and competing conspiracy theories.
Indeed, the actual Kennedy assassination continues to haunt us. Horror master Stephen King has just released a new tome simply titled “11/22/63.” The book imagines characters traveling back in time to prevent Kennedy’s murder.
If not, however, for a quick-thinking postal worker in Belmont, Pavlick’s “human bomb plot” may well have put an end to Camelot before it even began.
Postal worker Thomas Murphy was very familiar with Pavlick, a local rabble rouser in New Hampshire. But the messages Pavlick sent to the post office in December 1960 took an ominous turn.
Pavlick implied that something big was about to happen. he had already fled town. His anti-Catholicism was familiar and he’d had several run-ins with the law, including an incident during which he pulled a gun.
Upon reading Pavlick’s latest screeds, Murphy spoke with his superiors, who noted that Pavlick’s postmarks all matched areas where the president-elect was staying.
The Secret Service was notified. Agents tracked Pavlick’s movements and discovered he had recently purchased dynamite.
None of this fine detective work meant anything, however, on the morning of Dec. 11, 1960. It was on that day that Pavlick sat in front of the Kennedy mansion on North Ocean Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Pavlick’s 1950 Buick was filled with enough dynamite to “level a small mountain,” the Secret Service would later report.
Pavlick was waiting for Kennedy to get into his car and head off to Mass. he would then ram the president-elect’s car and blow everyone to smithereens.
It troubled Pavlick, however, that the president-elect’s wife, Jackie, was often by his side, as were their young daughter and newborn son. Pavlick may have been a bitter old man, a bigot with a violent streak. But he didn’t want to hurt JFK’s wife and children, only the president-elect himself.
So the would-be assassin remained outside the Kennedy home for several days, at times just a few feet from Kennedy.
Once Pavlick was taken into custody, he was unapologetic, believing he was more than justified because he was convinced that Joseph P. Kennedy had used his ill-gotten wealth to purchase the presidency for his son.
The Secret Service did its best to keep Pavlick’s aborted mission quiet, downplaying just how close he had gotten to the young president-elect. The associated Press did a modest story on Pavlick, but details were hard to come by.
A month after Pavlick’s failed assassination attempt, on a frigid January morning, Kennedy was inaugurated. The first Catholic to sit in the Oval Office, Kennedy sent out a clarion call: “Ask not what your country can do for you. ask what you can do for your country.”
Only later did Secret Service agents admit that, had Pavlick attempted the assassination, he would — in all likelihood — have succeeded.
“President Kennedy may have been saved from assassination last December only because Mrs. Kennedy unexpectedly appeared with their two children to bid him goodbye on his way to Mass,” the New York Times noted in August 1961.
As for Pavlick, he was ruled unfit to stand trial and was committed to a mental hospital in January 1961 — just days after the very inauguration he’d hoped to stop. because of his mental state, Pavlick remained in the hospital and charges against him were dropped in the days after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Pavlick was eventually released from the hospital and lived until the age of 88, dying in a veterans hospital in 1975.
Tom Deignan, author of “Coming to America: Irish Americans,” is a columnist with the Irish Voice.