On Nov. 14, 1963, more than 5,000 people gathered at the Mason Dixon Line to watch President John F. Kennedy, Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes and Delaware Governor Elbert N Carvel dedicate the Northeastern Expressway, the area’s first modern day toll road. A helicopter brought the nation’s leader to the famous old line where a speakers stand was set-up for the ceremony. The Delaware National Guard played “Hail to the Chief” while the president walked to the stand to offer remarks.
After snipping the ribbon and unveiling a marker on the state line, the president shook hands while returning to the helicopter. At the door of the craft he waved to the crowd before disappearing inside. While the bird faded into the eastern horizon, the area was bathed in a dramatic sunset as people headed back to their cars on this chilly Thursday afternoon, the Morning News reported. The chopper’s flight took him to the Wilmington Airport where he climbed aboard a DC 8 for a trip to New York. Our 35th president’s 62 minutes visit to the region was over.
As traffic began zipping along the superhighway for a fast trip through the county, people realized that the dream of many years was a reality. For years plans had been underway to provide a second thoroughfare to absorb some of the increased traffic on Pulaski Highway (Route 40). Economic development experts talked with great excitement about the opportunities the new road would bring to the county. Motorists were excited for they could rush along without one traffic light halting a journey between Baltimore and Wilmington, papers noted. On Route 40, which ran parallel to the new Interstate and had served as the main route for auto travel along the northeast corridor, service stations, motels, and restaurants reported that business was off nearly half the weekend after the fast road opened.
There was such optimism in the nation as the morning of November 22, 1963, dawned on the Chesapeake Bay. At 7:00 a.m. on that quiet morning in Elkton, Patrolman Jerry Secor signed on duty, noting in the police blotter that a thick fog blanketed the town. On this Friday shift things were subdued as he responded to two unremarkable calls, duly chronicling them in the official record book.
Then abruptly at 1:30 p.m. everything changed on the Eastern Shore town, the nation, and the town. Officer Secor, in a careful hand, wrote on the Elkton Police docket: “President Kennedy shot and killed in Dallas Texas.” For the remainder of that heartbreaking day, there is something about the unsettling quiet reflected in the complaint log as a deep dark, sadness penetrates the town and no calls come in for the remainder of the overnight shift. Law-breaking had apparently come to a standstill as everyone stayed glued to television sets, trying to comprehend the terrible event in Texas.
In the schools the children were generally informed about the tragedy shortly before dismissal. Of course the children were all talking about it, trying to comprehend the meaning of it all. Throughout the county, it was particularly quiet as that unusually dark night got underway, perhaps not unlike the evening of 9/11, as people rushed home to learn more details of the tragedy in Dallas from broadcasters. Activities throughout the county quickly ground to a near halt as bewilderment and disbelief paralyzed Cecil and the nation.
Practically everyone recalled that only eight day earlier the president had visited the county to open the northeastern expressway. In 1964 I-95 was officially renamed the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway.
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(NOTE: Be sure to click on the links to hear some interesting audio from Wilmington Radio Station, WDEL’s broadcasts in Nov. 1963. The audio is courtesy of www.oldwilmington.net, a fascinating site containing photographs, ephemera, sounds, and much more about Wilmington Delaware. We’ve mentioned them before and thank them for permission to use a partial segment of their audio. Check out the web site for it contains more audio and lots of other things we find fascinating.)