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Torn shirt leads to chance meeting between John F. Kennedy, Berks family in 1960

Published On: Nov 19 2013 05:40:55 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 19 2013 06:23:48 PM EST

Three years before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he made a historic stop in Berks County.


Three years before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he made a historic stop in Berks County.

"It was instant chaos, I would call it," said Claude P. Mervine, who remembered the day like it was yesterday.

JFK, a promising politician on a quest to become the 35th president of the United States, brought his campaign to Berks on Fri., Sept. 16, 1960.


"Things got real exciting in a real short time as the motorcade pulled up here," said Mervine.

After some 30,000 people packed Penn Square in downtown Reading to hear JFK speak, his motorcade pulled into Claude J. Mervine and Sons garage in Cumru Township. The cars refueled, and JFK needed to make an unexpected stop on his way to Lancaster.

"He had a white shirt on and his shirt had been torn in Reading and they were looking for a place to change his shirt," recalled Mervine, who added the shirt was ripped by a group of excited young ladies in the crowd.

The bathroom inside the shop wasn't working at the time. A plumber was doing work on it, so Mervine's brother, David, offered Kennedy the use of the bathroom inside his house, which sits only a few feet from their business.

Mervine was 30-years-old at the time, and didn't get a chance to talk to the then-senator of Massachusetts. He said a mob of people caught wind he made the unexpected stop, and they showed up at his family's business.

"It was kind of hard to move around because people were everywhere," he said.

A neighbor, Bill Brown, snapped two photos of JFK. The colored pictures of the presidential candidate sitting in his car have been hanging inside the business on Lancaster Pike for more than 50 years.

Mervine said JFK wrote his brother a thank you note for inviting him into his home.


Earlier that day, JFK was also captured driving past Conrad Weiser High School in Heidelberg Township. His historic stop has been documented, and you can have the chance to see some of it this weekend at the Berks History Center.

"You'll see the recounts of 2-3 individuals who were actually at that stop on the campaign trail," said Sime Bertolet, executive director of the history center.

The exhibit opens on Saturday at the center in Reading. You will also hear reaction from people about when the president was shot in Dallas.

"We have a long, storied history, and it's great to have a segment with one of our nation's greatest leaders," said Bertolet.

JFK's visit to Berks may have only lasted a few hours, but it has left an impact for more than 50 years.