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History Center recreates Tampa's 'magical moment' with JFK

As the nation prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, a new exhibit recalls his visit to Tampa just days before his death.

“JFK in Tampa: The Exhibition,” opening Nov. 8 at the Tampa History Center, looks back on November 18, 1963 when Kennedy became the first sitting president to visit the city. Four days later he was fatally wounded in Dallas.

The exhibit includes rare photographs of Kennedy's day in Tampa as well as film of his speeches here and video memories from Tampa residents who saw him that day.

Kennedy arrived at MacDill Air Force Base that morning. Before he departed, he gave three speeches — at the International Inn, the Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa and Al Lopez Field in Tampa.

He rode in a long motorcade, traveling 28 miles in the same convertible that would be used in Dallas.

Schools were let out and most roads leading into Tampa were clogged with traffic.

“There were tens of thousands of people who wanted to see him, and our intent with the exhibit is to recreate the excitement of that magical moment in Tampa history,” says Lynn Marvin Dingfelder, a Tampa filmmaker who has produced a documentary that recounts Kennedy's visit.

Her film, “JFK in Tampa: The 50th Anniversary,” is the inspiration for the exhibit which she helped coordinate.

“Tampa will always be linked to President Kennedy's last days; it's an important historical event that changed the country and changed all of us,” says Dingfelder, who will be screening her film and leading a panel discussion at the History Center on Nov. 21.

The documentary will air several times on PBS outlet WUSF-TV, Channel 16, beginning Sunday at 8 p.m. and continuing through Nov. 19.

“I couldn't have done it without the support of WUSF which is also marking its 50th anniversary,” says Dingfelder, a former TV news reporter who has her own production company.

For two years, Dingfelder, editor/director Larry Wiezycki and photography director Colin Kelly have been collecting stories from more than 50 Tampa residents who saw Kennedy when he came to town.

“I had more material that I could fit into the 56-minute documentary so some of it will be used in the exhibit,” she says.

“Some of those interviews that were not in the documentary will be projected on a wall at the exhibit,” says Tampa History Center Curator Rodney Kite-Powell.

He says the center already had some Kennedy-in-Tampa photographs from previous donations.

“With the additional photos from Lynn's project we can show people what happened that day,” he says. “Included are some great photos from Tony Zappone, who was just 16 when Kennedy came here.”

Zappone, a longtime Tampa resident, already was selling photographs and news stories to Tampa TV stations and newspapers while in high school. He managed to get a press pass and followed Kennedy all day.

Kite-Powell says Dingfelder also found some other artifacts from that day, such as the rented podium that Kennedy had used at Al Lopez Field. “The rental company continued to use for years, even at the Harbor Island dedication,” he says.

“I also found a 1963 vintage TV on which we will show the Kennedy speeches,” Dingfelder says. “We recreate a family living room from 1963. We also will have a telephone on which visitors who have memories of that day can leave their stories.” Those will be transcribed for an oral history of Tampa.

The exhibit also includes uniforms and badges from the Tampa Police Museum and notes from the Secret Service “Kennedy detail” which were used while escorting the president around the city.

And there will be a cutout of Kennedy, allowing visitors to be photographed with his likeness.



When: Nov. 8 through Dec. 8

Where: Tampa History Center, 801 Old Water St., Tampa

Tickets: 12.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors and youth age 13 to 17, $7.95 children age 4 to 12; free younger than 4; (813) 228-0097 and www.tampabayhistorycenter.org

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