By Sam Collings-Wells
On the morning of his assassination, John F. Kennedy was in Fort Worth, Texas, giving a speech at a breakfast gathering of the Chamber of Commerce. When the speech was over, Kennedy was handed a Stetson (pictured). Despite cries of “put it on!” emanating from the crowd, the visibly uncomfortable president refused, unconvincingly promising to put it on at the White House the following Monday.
But Kennedy himself was never entirely comfortable with the frontier mythology that suffused his administration’s rhetoric. In many ways, his own identity as a “Boston Brahmin” always made it a difficult fit. Many of Kennedy’s opponents picked up on this disjuncture. They turned the president’s rhetoric against him, arguing that he was failing to live up to the mythic archetypes he appealed to in his speeches. No-one did this better than Senator Barry Goldwater, who marketed himself as an authentic cowboy from Arizona who would return the United States to the genuine values of the old frontier.
Perhaps, then, Kennedy was aware that photographs of him wearing a cowboy hat would provide ammunition for his opponents – a chance once again for them point out the gulf that existed between the old frontier and the president’s “New” one.
Featured Image Source: Kennedy’s Stetson, now housed at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/texas-hat-john-f-kennedy-would-never-wear-flna2D11637673.