Only In Indiana: The detour that brought JFK to Pendleton

Published:
Updated:

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — We have all taken a detour at some time in our lives. Some were good, and some were bad.

Kevin Rader and photographer Joe Fenton show us a detour from 58 years ago that some in Pendleton will never forget.

You can find a detour sign in every town in America, but only Pendleton has a story to go with it.

It was October 1960 and then Senator John F Kennedy's motorcade was bound for Indianapolis from Anderson.

"The first shot is Pendleton Avenue where my dad’s truck was parked, and they built a stage on the back of it," Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger narrated.

City leaders got wind of the presidential campaign swing by so they devised a detour.

"So dad and other town board members got together and decided they would divert traffic through town instead of around town," Sheriff Mellinger said.

"That was the sneaky part," Jane Rayner remembered with a chuckle.

Then Twin Board President and father of Sheriff Mellinger, Jack Mellinger, began spreading the word.

"I just remember we had to get dressed up in red, white and blue," Rayner’s daughter Shirley Spall said.

About 150 people gathered to see if the detour would work. It did.

"Here comes the motorcade," Sheriff Mellinger said as he watched the video in his office.

It rolled right up Pendleton Avenue just north of the town’s main intersection on State Street

"I knew that I would vote, and I knew there was a possibility that this man who I am looking at drive by could have a big impact on my family," Sherry Boram, who watched the even from afar with her children added.

"Here's Kennedy coming up and people coming up to greet him," the sheriff's narration continues.

"My mother, she got to ask him to speak … to get out of the car and speak," Rayner said.

JFK spoke for only about two minutes. This 8-millimeter movie captured the historic event but there is no audio.

"My dad was not a very emotional guy but you could tell by the pictures that was a big deal for him to be on the back of his 1959 pickup truck with JFK," Jack said with pride.

He is not alone.

"That is when I got emotional thinking you know what? He may be our president here. It was an electrifying day," Rayner said.

That is why Rayner made her daughter dress up in red, white and blue and why Jack made sure his son Scott now Sheriff of Madison County and his two daughters were also there. To share the stage with history.

"It was electrifying. You know when you meet someone and all you feel is the tingle," Rayner shared.

Nearly three years later the assassination hit Jack hard. As Sheriff Mellinger remembers, his father didn't leave the family home for two days.

"It was a very emotional time," he said wiping a tear from his eye as he remembered his father's reaction.

Now some 58 years later there is no plaque marking the event. It's just a detour a few people will never forget.

"The 150 people who were there, they were just so blessed,” Sheriff Mellinger said. “Here is a little town one pays attention to and JFK stops. It would have been great to have the whole town out there and all the kids out of school but on the other hand those 150 people were so blessed to see and feel something that was very special back then.”

Thanks to the detour.

As an aside people tried to get all the schools to let the kids out to see JFK that day but that was denied.

Three years later when after he was assassinated school was let out for three days.

Filed under: