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History supported the judge’s pledge.

Kennedy was most aware of the messianic reception then-Sen. John Kennedy received when he campaigned for president in Scranton in October 1960. A crowd estimated at 16,000 - several times capacity - packed the Watres Armory to hear him speak, and a throng estimated at 30,000 gathered outside to hear the speech through loudspeakers.

Nealon credits former Gov. David Lawrence, a Democrat from Pittsburgh who finished his term in 1963, with convincing Kennedy to make the trip.

“Lawrence told him, ‘If you are going anywhere, go to Scranton,’” Nealon said.

On March 4, he agreed to come.

When the attorney general and his entourage arrived at the local airport aboard the Kennedy family’s airplane, 2,500 people mobbed him. The crowd surged past police lines and swarmed the attorney general as he stepped off the plane.

“He expected a small committee at the airport,” said Nealon, who greeted Kennedy at the airport. “He could hardly get off the plane. He was overwhelmed.”

Police had to intervene to enable Kennedy to step off a passenger loading ramp and they established another line to separate the crowd as he was driven off the tarmac.

Kennedy traveled to South Scranton to turn the ceremonial first spade at the John F. Kennedy Elementary School and 5,000 people packed the event. It was the first school in the nation to be named after the late president.

He told the students at the ceremony: “Remember who got you out of school.”

As he arrived at the Hotel Casey afterward to freshen up, Kennedy was encircled in the lobby by 300 well-wishers, straining to see or touch him.

After a short break, he traveled to Yatesville for brief remarks to the Pittston Area Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. It was before the construction of Interstate 81 and thousands stood along the route in a snow shower to catch a glimpse as he passed.

When he walked into the ballroom at the Hotel Casey for his first formal address after the assassination, he had transformed.

For most of his adult life, he had promoted his brother’s political career.

Now, he was on his own.

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