JFK in Leicester ?

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On the uppermost shelf behind the bar at The Musician Pub stands a Native American figurine. Nestled between two pewter tankards it goes largely unseen or ignored. Yet this little buffalo bone carving has a surprising tale to tell…

In June 1961 following a private meeting with The Queen and Harold Macmillan it was clear to the President’s Chief of Staff, Kenny O’Donnell, that John F. Kennedy was unwell. He was complaining of severe lower back pain, cold sweats and sleeplessness. It was clear he would be incapable of flying back on June 6th as scheduled.

As anxious telephone conversations ensued, the President’s condition reached the ear of his Naval Aide Tazewell Shepard. During the Battle of Guadalcanal back in ’42 Shepard had succumbed, along with a dozen or so of his crew, to a serious gastrointestinal sickness. None of the medics could find a remedy. In desperation a young rating named Joe was summoned. Rumour had it he possessed healing powers…

Joe was of the Nansemond Tribe. Following service in the Second World War and Korea he met and married Lucy, an English girl and former naval secretary, and moved to Leicester. With the death of her parents they took over the family business running The Bakers Arms pub, in Crafton Street.

While Lucy oversaw the running of the pub, Joe developed a growing reputation as someone who could ‘sort you out’ if the Doctor couldn’t. In a lean-to at the rear of the pub’s yard amidst an eye-stinging haze of noxious smoke, piles of animal furs and mumbled chants, miracles did seem to happen. Local folk understood and respected Joe’s wish for a peaceful life – his help was paid for in privacy. If Joe learned of your malady you would be summoned.

Admiral Shepard had enjoyed a correspondence with Joe since the war and, loathe though he was to impose upon him or expose him to potential publicity, felt a visit to the Nansemond healer was JFK’s best, most expeditious bet.

So it was that upon a drizzly June evening the President of the United States ended up recumbent upon coyote skins in the back yard of a Leicester pub. Hearty and in high spirits he returned to Washington the following day. Who knows – perhaps this shamanic shakedown was just what was needed to face the grave challenges the rest of ’61 would present.

Anyone who has performed or enjoyed a show at the old Bakers Arms, or The Musician as it is now known, will agree that there is a certain magic to it. And we are delighted that Danny Mayo has invited us once again. We may not be able to heal as Joe did, but we can certainly set your spirits aright.

The John Hackett Band performs at The Musician Pub, Leicester on Friday 21st April