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MailTribune.com
  • Sanpshots of History

    JFK memorabilia includes polaroids of his turn as Pear Blossom Parade grand marshal
  • Harry McCracken couldn't pass up the old photographs he spotted in an antique mall on Dec. 30.
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  • Harry McCracken couldn't pass up the old photographs he spotted in an antique mall on Dec. 30.
    "My wife and I were on a short vacation to Portland when I saw this small bundle of JFK memorabilia way in the back," recalls McCracken, who originally hails from that fair city.
    Although he appreciates John F. Kennedy's legacy and was fascinated by the photographs of him visiting Medford to serve as grand marshal of the 1960 Pear Blossom Parade, it was the fact they were Polaroids that sold McCracken.
    He shelled out $150 for the bundle, which also included three campaign buttons, a program for the 1959 Roosevelt dinner in Medford where JFK was the guest speaker, and an illegible autograph that McCracken figures was not JFK's.
    "I'm very interested in the history of Polaroids," explained McCracken, 48, an editor at large for TIME magazine who writes about personal technology for the magazine and TIME.com.
    The former editor in chief of PC World magazine has talked technology on everything from the History Channel to "Dateline NBC" to NPR's "Science Friday." He and his wife live in the San Francisco Bay area.
    "These pictures aren't perfect," he observes. "There are thumbprints and other defects."
    But they reflect the personal side of history, he says.
    Indeed, someone working with an oftentimes challenging camera captured a moment in the life of a personality who would loom large in our nation's history.
    "Polaroids were quite difficult to use at that time," he says. "You had to focus, push a button, then pull out the picture and peel it back in a certain way. And they had to be within a few feet of JFK to get a decent photo."
    Incidentally, the fellow driving the Lincoln convertible on April 23, 1960, was Wally Watkins, now 88 and retired in Central Point. The other Polaroid shows Watkins and the future president standing inside a Medford building, likely the Medford Hotel.
    Watkins, a businessman and longtime Democrat, will tell you he was selected to drive Kennedy in 1960 by virtue of owning a 1959 Lincoln convertible.
    It also happened to be the opening day of trout fishing season. Watkins informed the senator from Massachusetts that he had originally planned to go fishing that day with his son, Mike.
    "I told him that every year my son and I go fishing on opening day," Watkins recalls. "He told me we could always stop at a fish store. We ended up talking quite a bit. He was so nice to me."
    Kennedy asked about his family and people in Southern Oregon, said Watkins, who later joined the candidate and his entourage for lunch at the Medford Hotel.
    Kennedy, then 43, was running for president in the primary that year. He would send Watkins a letter noting he felt bad the Oregonian had missed opening day with his son.
    JFK won the Oregon primary, although he lost the state to Republican Richard Nixon in the general election. But he won the national contest.
    JFK was assassinated while riding in a Lincoln convertible in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
    When his younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy, 42, was running for president in 1968, he stopped in Medford to campaign on May 27 of that year. Watkins met him and told RFK how much he respected his late brother.
    Like his brother before him, RFK would win the Oregon primary, giving him momentum going into the California primary. He was fatally shot on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles.
    McCracken, who is writing a piece on the two Polaroids for TIME.com, focusing on the technology of the times, would like to find out who the other folks were in his newly acquired photographs.
    Although McCracken was born shortly after JFK was killed, his family moved to Boston, where he was reared under the influence of the famous Kennedy name.
    "I grew up in that political atmosphere," he said. "It's interesting to me that JFK would visit Medford twice in two years."
    Yet, he observes, the hard-fought 1960 Democratic primary made every state — and many small towns — important political milestones on the road to the nomination.
    "I'm keeping the Polaroids," McCracken says. "I'm thinking about getting them framed."
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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