Remembering President JFK’s Trip to Northern California Just Weeks Before His Assassination

On November 22, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade drove through Dallas, Texas. Less than two months prior, JFK partook in a 5-day Conservation Tour from Pennsylvania to California, which included 11 states and 15 speeches aimed at the environment and promotion of conservation.

His conservation tour ended in Northern California, where he visited two beloved destinations, met with the locals and discussed the beauty of the area. Let’s remember President JFK’s tour through NorCal during the final months of his life:

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Kennedy came to Lassen Volcanic National Park on September 27, 1963, accompanied by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger and California’s Governor Pat Brown. They arrived via helicopter from the Redding Airport and landed at Devastated Area, where they promptly hopped in a car and drove through the park to Manzanita Lake.

To ensure Kennedy’s safety throughout his short visit, the Park Service sent a total of 34 uniformed personnel from seven other units of the National Park System to assist the rangers at Lassen.

It was a short stop to Lassen on a busy trip for the president, as he quickly retired to the Manzanita Lake Lodge manager’s residence (present-day Discovery Center) for some much-needed rest. But the next morning gave the president, and nearby photographers, an exhilarating wildlife experience.

Kennedy had become obsessed with feeding deer outside the cabin, telling his aides to scour the cabin for food to feed the animals.

When a deer presented itself outside the cabin in the morning, Kennedy ran outside to feed it bread, wearing only his pajamas and red slippers. After spending some time feeding the deer outside, he came back inside to announce that there would be no toast for breakfast, because the deer had eaten it all.

Although feeding the wildlife is strictly prohibited in Lassen, the National Park Service employees made an exception for the 35th President of the United States, and the photo remains a golden remembrance of JFK and his important conservation tour. Along with the perfect photo op that morning, he mentioned that the Lassen superintendent had “the best job in the world.”

After feeding the deer, JFK and his associates hopped aboard their helicopter to head further west to another beloved NorCal destination:

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

On September 28th, 1963, following his trip to Lassen, JFK flew to the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area for the dedication of the Whiskeytown Dam, in which he delivered a speech to nearly 10,000 onlookers.

“This dam stands for the realization of an old and cherished dream,” said Kennedy. “As a general rule, every time we bet on the future of the country, we win.”

Here is an excerpt from the speech:

JFK went on to cement the name Whiskeytown onto the list of great American names.

“I was reminded when I read my itinerary of a poem by Stephen Vincent Benoit called American Names,” said Kennedy. “And he started it off ‘I’ve fallen in love with American names, the sharp names that never get fat.’ Then he goes on to talk about famous American names, not Whiskeytown, but I think you could add it to the roster.”

See the full video of the Whiskeytown Dam dedication:

Remembering JFK’s trip to Northern California is a great walk through memory lane, through a much simpler time in American history. Unfortunately, 7 weeks and 6 days later, Kennedy would meet his fate in assassination, a sad day for the United States of America.

With President Kennedy’s trip to NorCal, we can remember a time of American prosperity and pride, and although he would meet his end just weeks later, we’re glad he got to spend some of his final days in the beauty of Northern California.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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