In 1960, my father attended a political stump speech from a Democratic presidential candidate named John F. Kennedy. You may of heard of him. It was in the middle of the intense campaign season as Kennedy vied for the White House against Republican Richard Nixon. The speech was in Butler, Pennsylvania, a small city of 20,000 thirty miles north of Pittsburgh. For me, Butler was the place where I went grocery shopping with my parents on Friday evenings as a kid. On good days, we’d stop in Woolworth’s on Main Street and us kids would talk to the famed parrot in the animal section before having to decide which of the myriad candies would be ours for the ride home. But all this glory would have been nearly fifteen years after the speech my dad heard in 1960.
The speech was given on a platform in front of the magnificent courthouse in Butler. I must show you a picture. This is the building I marveled at weekly as a child.
There’s a reason I remember the Kennedy speech in Butler even though I wasn’t alive yet, and that’s because my father filmed it. He took his 8mm and recorded the live speech in that glorious home-movie kind of way – you know the kind: grainy, slow-motion, nostalgic. One of the highlights of my childhood would be when my dad would pull out the movie projector – once a year, perhaps – and show the old films of his army days in Germany in the 1950s, the years of us kids growing up, and the Kennedy speech. It was just a very cool glimpse of the historical past that I was able to live through my dad’s experience.
Now today, sixty years later, President Donald Trump will be appearing in Butler as part of his final week battle-ground state blitz leading up to election day just a few days away. I spoke with my parents yesterday and they asked, “Did you hear the big news? Trump is speaking at the Butler Airport tomorrow.” I hadn’t heard, at that point.
The Butler County Regional Airport is in Penn Township just a few miles from the house where I grew up. “It’s down route 8” is what the locals would say. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the Penn Township baseball fields, one of the visiting fields my Senior League Rams team would play at when I was in 9th and 10th grade.
I can picture the excitement and buzz that such a campaign event will create in my hometown. It’s a rural area – especially when I was still growing up in the region. But the southern part of Butler County has experienced a lot of growth as the Pittsburgh metropolitan area spread northward. A lot of former fields have housing developments. Butler has long been a blue collar area: steel mills, Pullman Standard rail cars, and other various industries. Now it’s in the center of the fracking renaissance which has provided income and jobs to many other the region. There’s even a fracking site just right down the road from my parents house.
This is a vital region for Trump if he expects to win Pennsylvania again as he did in 2016. His popularity in Butler and the surrounding counties – Allegheny County to the south notwithstanding – is tremendous as evidenced from the huge quantity of signs and memorabilia I saw firsthand this summer when driving through the region. The on-the-ground feel of the state bodes well for Trump. We’ll soon find out.
In the meantime, I am encouraged to see my hometown once again an important stop for presidential politics. I kind of wish I was able to attend the rally today, so I could have a common experience, spanning sixty years, with my dad.