In 1960 a Retired Postal Worker Almost Killed JFK

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In November of 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States. Three years later, he was assassinated in Dallas. But Richard Paul Pavlick had gotten close enough to kill JFK first.

On December 11, 1960, JFK was the President-Elect and Richard Paul Pavlick was a 73-year-old retired postal worker. Both were in Palm Beach, Florida. JFK was there on a vacation of sorts, taking a trip to warmer climates as he prepared to assume the office of the President. Pavlick had followed Kennedy down there with the intention of blowing himself up and taking JFK with him.

His plan was simple. He lined his car with dynamite -- "enough to blow up a small mountain," according to a CNN report -- and outfitted it with a detonation switch. Then, he parked outside the Kennedy Palm Beach compound and waited for the President-Elect to leave his house to go to Sunday Mass. Pavlick's aim was to ram his car into JFK's limo as he left his home, blowing both assassin and politician to smithereens.

But JFK did not leave his house alone that morning. He made his way to his limo with his wife, Jacqueline, and children, Caroline and newborn John, Jr., with him. While Pavlick was willing to kill their husband and father, he did not want to kill them, so he resigned himself to trying again another day.

He would not get a second chance at murderous infamy. On December 15th, he was arrested by a Palm Beach police officer working off a tip from the Secret Service.

Pavlick's undoing was the result of deranged postcards he sent to Thomas Murphy, then the Postmaster of Pavlick's home town of Belmont, New Hampshire. Murphy was put off by the strange tone of the postcards and his curiosity led him to do what Postmasters do -- look at the postmarks. He noticed a pattern: Pavlick happened to be in the same general area as JFK, dotting the landscape as Kennedy traveled. Murphy called the local police department who in turn called the Secret Service, and from there, Pavlick's plan unraveled.

The would-be assassin was committed to a mental institution in January 1961, a week after Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States, pending charges. These charges were eventually dropped as it became increasingly clear that Pavlick acted out of an inability to distinguish between right and wrong (i.e. he was legally insane). Pavlick remained in institutions until December of 1966, nearly six years after being apprehended. He died in 1975.

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11 People You Didn't Know Worked for the Post Office
Vecchio, Three Lions/Getty Images
Vecchio, Three Lions/Getty Images

These famous faces once braved rain, sleet, snow, and disgruntled customers as employees of the United States Postal Service.


Walt Disney circa 1952.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In the summer of 1918—when he was just 16—the man behind Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, and all those iconic feature films was a postal carrier in his native Chicago. Disney was originally rejected for the job due to his young age, but the crafty teen went home, put on a disguise and makeup to appear older, and got the job when he returned. He even worked two shifts, operating as a letter carrier during the day and a route collector at night.

Disney left the job to go to Europe as a Red Cross ambulance driver (again lying about his age), and when he returned home a year later, he took his first art job. But he was laid off after the holiday rush, so he returned to the post office. It was at this point in his life that he resolved to go into business for himself as a commercial artist.


Painting of Charles Bukowski
Thierry Ehrmann, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The famous author worked at the post office for over a decade. He spent three years in the early '50s as a substitute mail carrier, and most of the '60s as a mail clerk. In 1969, he accepted an offer from Black Sparrow Press and quit the post office to dedicate his time to writing. He finished his first novel, Post Office, a month later; it was about a barfly who works as a substitute mail carrier, quits, and later becomes a mail clerk.

He wrote of his career change, "I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve."


William Faulkner in 1939.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

He may be one of the great American writers, but he was also one of the worst postmasters of his time. Starting in the spring of 1922, Faulkner worked as the postmaster at the University of Mississippi. He found the job tedious, boring, and uninspiring—an attitude he didn't even try to hide while at work.

Most of his time as a postmaster was spent playing cards, writing poems, or drinking. He closed the post office whenever he felt like leaving and opened it when he felt like showing up. He was notorious for losing letters, even throwing mail away, and not being at the desk when customers came to buy stamps—and he'd give them an attitude like they were interrupting his work by asking him to do his job.

When a postal inspector came to investigate the complaints against Faulkner in 1924, the budding author agreed to resign, but only after writing a resignation letter that read, "As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp."

Ironically, despite his wretched record as a postal employee, the USPS released a 22 cent stamp commemorating William Faulkner in 1987.


Abraham Lincoln
Rischgitz, Getty Images

On the other end of the postal spectrum, Abraham Lincoln was Honest Abe long before he became president. In fact, when the 24-year-old became postmaster in New Salem, Illinois, he was known for personally delivering mail to people's houses when they failed to pick it up at the post office. He kept the job for three years, until the post office was closed.

When the office closed, there was a remaining cash balance of $16 or so, which Lincoln took with him when he closed up shop. Though he was in financial straits at the time, Lincoln didn't touch a cent of the money until a postal agent came to collect the balance.


Harry S Truman in 1945.
Keystone, Getty Images

Technically, Lincoln wasn't the only president who was a postmaster in his youth. Harry S. Truman was the official postmaster of Grandview, Missouri, but he held the title in name only [PDF]. He used the position to help a widow, Ella Hall, who actually did the daily duties and took home the $530 annual salary.


Portrait of William McKinley.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

McKinley was yet another president who worked at the post office, but he wasn't a postmaster. Instead, he was a mail clerk near Poland, Ohio while he helped his family pay off its debts before he found a job teaching at a local school.


First portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Feke.
Robert Feke, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The first Postmaster General of the Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin was originally the British postmaster of the colonies, which helped him streamline communications when it came time to rebel against the English. His position also helped him recognize that some ships could travel between England and the U.S. faster than others, which is what helped him chart and name the Gulf Stream current.

There are stories that Franklin gave all of the money he earned as postmaster of the newly formed U.S. to soldiers who were wounded in the Revolution, but there doesn't seem to be any conclusive proof of this. In part because of his role in the post office history, Benjamin Franklin has since been featured on U.S. postage more than any other person with the exception of George Washington.


Portrait of Will Hays.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You probably recognize his name from the Hays Code, but before Will Hays started cracking down on obscenity as the first president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, he served as the Postmaster General of the U.S. He was awarded the position after serving as the manager for Warren G. Harding's successful presidential campaign.


Sherman Hemsley
Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

Before he was movin' on up on The Jeffersons, Sherman Hemsley was a postal clerk, first working in Philadelphia after he got out of the Air Force, and then in New York after he moved to the big city hoping to become an actor. He kept working the day shift in the post office while taking small acting jobs at night until he got a big enough break to pay the bills.


Charles Lindbergh
General Photographic Agency, Getty Images

Before he became world-famous, Charles Lindbergh spent much of his flight time working as an airmail pilot. In a time when flying was hardly considered a safe, reliable means of transport, he achieved 99 percent airmail delivery efficiency, despite lacking proper equipment and runways. His famous Spirit of St. Louis was only used to carry mail once, and that happened to be on his final trip in the plane between Washington and Mexico City. After this flight, the plane was retired and sent to the Smithsonian.


Steve Carell in 2007.
Mark Davis, Getty Images

Before moving to Chicago to pursue acting, funnyman Steve Carell worked a rural mail route in Littleton, Massachusetts. "It was pre-Internet, so lots of big, thick, heavy catalogues,” Carell said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He was admittedly terrible at it—he had to drive his own car along the route, and said he later found undelivered mail underneath the seat. “That was the hardest job I ever had,” he told 60 Minutes.

A version of this story first ran in 2014.

You Need to Wear a Wet Suit to Use This Underwater Mailbox in Japan

Susami, Japan is one of the few places on earth that people travel to just to send a post card. But there’s a good reason the town’s postal service has been attracting tourists since 1999: That’s the year former postmaster Toshihiko Matsumoto came up with the idea of installing the world’s first underwater mailbox just offshore.

Great Big Story takes a deeper look at this unusual destination in a recent video. To use the mailbox, senders must purchase a waterproof postcard from the local dive shop and write with oil-based markers. Once their parcel is ready, they have to slip into their diving gear and make the trek to the post box 30 feet beneath the ocean surface. Every day the dive shop manager collects whatever cards have been left in the box and delivers them to the post office on land.

Matsumoto originally saw the mailbox as a way to bring tourists to his small town, and his plan paid off: Nearly 38,000 letters have been sent via the undersea system to date. (The postal service in Vanuatu expanded the concept and opened an undersea branch in 2003, complete with attendant.) To see the mailing process at work, check out the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]


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