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Project seeks memories of Kennedy’s visit to Tampa

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Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2013 at 07:00 AM

On Nov. 18, 1963, then-President John F. Kennedy made a historic visit to Tampa.

Thousands of thrilled spectators turned out to catch a glimpse of the 35th president of the United States when he appeared at Tampa’s International Inn, Al Lopez Field, Fort Homer Hesterly Armory and during his motorcade through the streets of Tampa.

Almost five decades later, personal accounts from Kennedy’s visit are being gathered for a documentary, museum exhibit and coffee table book to be released in November.

“We want this documentary to be a people’s documentary,” said Lynn Marvin Dingfelder, the writer and producer leading the project. “I want people to have this avenue to share their special memories of that visit.”

Dingfelder said the project began as a way to honor Kennedy and his visit to the area.

The project isn’t, however, about that fateful day in Dallas, four days after the Tampa visit, when Kennedy was assassinated.

“I want this to be about the joyous time he spent in our city,” Dingfelder added. “I don’t want this to be about mourning and conspiracy theories.”

Since the project was announced, Dingfelder has been overwhelmed with the response.

So far, she has interviewed about 25 people who met the president, spoke to him or saw him during his visit here. She also is looking for anyone with memorabilia from the visit, such as photographs, press passes, home movies or other artifacts related to his stop in Tampa.

Throughout the process, Dingfelder said she’s been struck by how much Kennedy’s visit meant to so many people, whether they skipped school to hear him speak or stood barefoot along the parade route.

“It was really a magical time for everyone,” she said. “Every story is better than the next.”

One of the stories she most cherishes is from former Congressman Sam Gibbons, who managed Kennedy’s presidential campaign in Florida. Three months before Gibbons passed away, he shared photographs and stories of conversations with the president and riding alongside him in an open convertible, Dingfelder said.

A casting call for the documentary will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St., Tampa.

Dingfelder is asking anyone who has an interesting story or memorabilia to share to send their name and contact information to her via the project’s website, at www.jfkintampa.org, before coming to the casting call. She will contact you with an appointment time.

Even if your story isn’t used in the documentary, it may still wind up as part of the project; a companion coffee table book with photographs, a DVD and an exhibit also are planned.

The museum exhibit is scheduled Nov. 1 at the Tampa Bay History Center. She hopes to premiere the one-hour documentary Nov. 14 at Tampa Theatre.

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