John F. Kennedy’s Gettysburg Visit Part 1: Presented by LBG Richard Goedkoop
February 19, 2009
President John F. Kennedy visited Gettysburg National Military Park on Sunday, March 31, 1963. One of the most famous pictures from the tour is when the President’s party arrived at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial on Oak Hill. This view was taken facing southwest at approximately 1:15 PM on Sunday, March 31, 1963.
On March 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy with some friends and members of his family drove from a church service at Camp David, Maryland, to tour the Gettysburg Battlefield. Their guide was Jacob Melchior Sheads, a longtime Gettysburg High School History Teacher and seasonal historian with the National Park Service. Licensed Battlefield Guide Richard Goedkoop follows what we know of the route that the Kennedy party took around the battlefield.
This map shows the locations of the videos that we have shot during the Kennedy segments. Videos #s 1-3 were taken at Edgewood Bowling Lanes on the Emmitsburg Road. Video #4 was taken near “the Loop” area. This map was created facing north at approximately 7:00 PM on Monday, February 16, 2009.
Dr. Richard J. Goedkoop is standing at the Edgewood Bowling Lanes on the Emmitsburg Road because this is where President Kennedy’s tour of the battlefield began. Richard Goedkoop is a professor of Communication at LaSalle University. Rich began his professional career in education as a Graduate Assistant at Central Michigan University. He received his Master’s there in 1977 and went on to Pennsylvania State University to receive his Doctorate in 1980. Rich joined La Salle that same year. Throughout his career, Rich has taken an active interest in news and public affairs television programming which inspired his book, Inside Local Television News (1988). His numerous reviews and articles have appeared in such publications as Journalism Quarterly, The Journal of Broadcasting, Feedback, and Critical Studies in Mass Communication. This view was taken facing northwest at approximately 3:30 PM on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
In Video #1, Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Richard Goedkoop introduces himself and our subject today, the Kennedy visit. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 3:30 PM on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
In video #2 Rich explains some events that occurred during the era when Kennedy was President. We are still at the Edgewood Bowling Center on the Emmitsburg Road. This view was taken facing west at approximately 3:30 PM on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
“Colonel” Jacob Sheads (1910-2002), who was chosen to give the tour to President Kennedy, was a valedictorian of the Gettysburg High School class of 1928. He was the salutatorian for Gettysburg College’s class of 1932 and also received his Masters in History from Gettysburg. He taught English and American History at Gettysburg High School from 1936 to 1971 and except for his service during World War II and Korea, never missed a day. He served in the United States Army as an officer in World War II’s European Theater. During the Korean Conflict he was a training and a historical officer. He was awarded the Bronze Star and retired from the United States Army Reserves as a Lieutenant-Colonel. Sheads was a Licensed Battlefield Guide and a seasonal National Park Service Historian. According to the Sheads’ children, this view was taken as Kennedy was preparing to get on a helicopter and leave Gettysburg at approximately 1:26 PM on Sunday, March 31, 1963.
Jacob Sheads would sometimes say that he was surprised that the Secret Service showed up unannounced at his home at 115 North Stratton Street. However, as Rich Goedkoop explains in Video #3, Sheads’ children said that President Kennedy called Sheads first. Sheads would later say that one of his former female students was dating one of the members of President Eisenhower’s Secret Service detail. When the members of the Kennedy Secret Service contingent asked the Eisenhower contingent who was the best person to give the President a tour of Gettysburg, Colonel Sheads’ name was presented. The National Park Service did not know that Sheads was giving this tour until after it was finished. This view was taken facing southeast at approximately 1:30 PM on Tuesday, February 17, 2009.
The Secret Service showed up at Colonel Sheads’ house on the afternoon of March 30, 1963, and he gave them a quick tour around the battlefield. They rehearsed a tour beginning on the first day’s (July 1, 1863) field. They were then to progress down Seminary Ridge, concentrating on the second day, and driving down to Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, and the Wheatfield. They were to end the tour at the High Water Mark, where Pickett’s Charge did not succeed on July 3, 1863. Sheads and his family were told not to let anyone know about the Kennedy visit. Sheads was also told by the Secret Service to not let the President out of the car, and to tell reporters that the President was very knowledgeable. This view was taken facing northeast at approximately 1:30 PM on Tuesday, February 17, 2009.
According to the schedule for March 31, 1963, the Kennedy party drove from Camp David to Gettysburg. The Sheads’ children believed that they arrived by helicopter. There were three cars in the party. One car held White House reporters and photographers. One car was the Secret Service, and the lead car was President Kennedy’s vehicle, with the President behind the wheel. Waiting here at Edgewood lanes, Colonel Sheads expected a Secret Service Agent to be driving the car, as he had been told on the previous day. When they pulled into this parking lot from right to left or south to north, however, Kennedy was behind the wheel. This view was taken facing east at approximately 3:30 PM on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
Here is the official schedule for President Kennedy on Sunday March 31, 1963. You might notice on the schedule that they took 28 minutes to drive from Camp David to Gettysburg. That seems awfully fast. However, Sheads said that when he was waiting for the Presidential party at the Edgewood Bowling Lanes, he saw the President’s car approaching very fast. “He’s coming the hell up the Emmitsburg Road the Secret Service are trying to catch up to him…” The schedule is from the John F. Kennedy Library.
In Video #3, Rich Goedkoop explains how the tour was setup, and how the party arrived at the Edgewood Bowling Lanes to start the tour. This view was taken facing south to north at approximately 3:30 PM on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
In Video #4, shot near the Stony Hill or “Loop” area, Rich Goedkoop explains how President Kennedy ended up driving on the tour instead of his guide, Jacob Sheads. This view was taken facing west at approximately 3:30 PM on Saturday, February 14, 2009.
The black and white photographs of the Kennedy visit were graciously supplied to us by one of Jacob Sheads’ sons, Tim Sheads. Tim and his wife Debbie own the Carrie Sheads House on Buford Avenue (the old Chambersburg Pike).
Please visit their store, S & S Sutler of Gettysburg, located behind the Carrie Sheads House at 331 Buford Ave Gettysburg, PA 17325. Their telephone number is 717-338-1990.
S & S Sutler of Gettysburg is filled with items for reenactors and others who are interested in Civil War history. This photograph was taken facing northeast at approximately 2:00 PM on Sunday, February 15, 2009.
See our previous posts on the Carrie Sheads House: