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History, History Is Cool

An amazing historical picture: two presidents meet.

clinton jfk

The picture above is one of the most amazing photographs taken in the history of the United States. On the left is Bill Clinton, age 16, shaking hands with John F. Kennedy, President of the United States. The picture was taken in 1962, thirty years before Clinton himself was elected to the office Kennedy held at the time this picture was taken.

This is the only photograph I know of showing a future president, as a child, meeting a current president, excluding presidents related by blood. (You have to admit, a photograph of George H.W. Bush with his son George W. wouldn’t be that impressive). I’m told there’s a photograph of the Lincoln funeral procession passing through New York City, and the window of the bedroom belonging to the young Theodore Roosevelt is visible in the picture, but Roosevelt himself is not, and in any event that’s a little different. Here’s a real live meeting between Presidents no. 35 and no. 42, while the latter could still have taken any path in his life.

The story behind this picture is thus: Clinton, then a student at Hot Springs High School in Arkansas, was a “senator” for the organization Boys Nation, a civics group dedicated to educating young men in public service. Tom Brokaw and Michael Jordan were also in the Boys Nation. In 1962, the Boys Nation senate got to meet JFK at a public function. The photographer snapped this photo. Voila–history was made.

Think about this picture for a moment. Bill was 16. Yes, he wanted to be a politician, but not many people wind up having the careers as adults that they thought they wanted to have at age 16. Here in that young face is the future of an entire era–the tumultuous 1990s, Oklahoma City, the Internet, scandals, the contested election, Hillary–that he as yet has no inkling of. Conversely, JFK, so young and proud–though secretly a very ill man–is in the last year of his life. His time on the world stage is almost over, but Clinton’s hasn’t yet begun.

I wonder if a time traveler present at this scene could have taken JFK aside the moment after the picture was taken. “Hey, Mr. President, you know that kid you just shook hands with? In thirty years he will be the President of the United States. What do you think of that?” I wonder what Kennedy would have said.

Pretty amazing.

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