President Kennedy Murdered, Fifty-three Years Ago

Source

More Than Fifty Years , But the Memory is Still Fresh.

"Shot AT? Was he hit?" I wondered.

Everything seemed normal on the second floor of the university library. Outside the soundproof windows of the listening booth, people went about their business as usual.

Despite the open history book in front of me and the familiar strains of "Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor" coming through the speakers, the overheard news kept popping back into my head.

"Probably just a rumor," I thought, "a mistake."

Friday was my free day with no classes. Normally, I would not have been on campus at all, but I had hopped on the bus and come to spend some study time at the library, where I could do some research. (This was long before the days of Google.)

It was drizzly and overcast that late November morning.

Later, it seemed especially gray and cold, a feeling that still returns with the memory of these events.

As I had walked into the wide lobby area, a tall girl with an armload of books was telling a librarian that somebody had shot at President Kennedy in Texas.

The comment had grabbed my attention, but I continued on my usual way to the second floor where I often studied in the music listening carrels. It was a comfortable and familiar space, but troubling thoughts about what I had heard kept interrupting my concentration.

The Nagging Questions

I was trying to prepare for an impending test, but couldn't focus on study. Questions kept popping into my head.

"Could it be true?

"What if he was wounded?

"If he had been badly hurt, would he be able to continue as president?"

I did not allow the impossible idea that he could have been killed into my mind.

I returned the LP record to the clerk, checked out a couple of books and went back downstairs, glancing around the main lobby to see if the person I had overheard was still there. She wasn't.

Where could I find out something?

I started back to the bus stop, when I remembered that the college newspaper office had recently installed an Associated Press wire service machine that constantly typed out the latest news.

This wondrous device, usually only available in city newspaper offices was of great fascination to us journalism students, as we got "instant" access to breaking national stories.

This was, of course, before the days of 24 hour news stations and internet. If there was anything true in this unlikely rumor, it certainly would appear on the AP machine. Morning classes were in mid-session so very few people were walking about the campus.

As I headed for the journalism department, I studied faces of passing students to see if anything seemed to be amiss. Everything was normal.

Hurrying up the stairs to newspaper office, I was amazed to find the room jammed with people. Not just the usual staff, but lots of people I had never seen before.

In fact, there was hardly room for another person inside. More students and faculty members began to gather outside the open doors.

Someone up close to the AP machine was reading aloud as stories came clattering across, punctuated by bells that signaled the transmission of a major story.

JFK Inaguration video

The Shocking News Reports

"Dateline, Dallas. Shots rang out in Deley Plaza as President Kennedy's Motorcade traveled past the welcoming throngs of Texans gathered along the route...." STOP."

Dateline, Dallas. President Kennedy was hit by a sniper's bullet as his open limousine... " STOP."

Dateline, Dallas. President John F. Kennedy, apparently seriously wounded, ...."

The lead of the story kept changing for the worse through the next several minutes as updates and details were added.

We heard that the president's car had sped to the hospital, that police had cornered a suspect, that the Texas governor was wounded and that others had been hit.

We stood there looking at each other in sickened shock waiting to hear that he was all right. Things like this didn't happen. It could not be happening.

After some time the newspaper adviser, Professor Dixon Gayer, came out of his small office holding up a transistor radio, which promised an official statement. The announcement was brief and stunning from Parkland Hospital.

JFK was dead.

It was as if the air had been sucked out of the room. Everyone stood there silent and motionless for about ten seconds. Then, suddenly -- something I still don't understand -- everyone rushed out of the room as if they were all late for appointments.

Where was everyone was going in such a hurry? Did they all think of something they needed to do right away? What could anyone do, after all? I was one of the last two people in the room, as about 50 or 60 others suddenly disappeared.

Source

A Sudden Exit

Professor Gayer was still standing in the doorway of his office looking at the radio in his hand with a pained expression on his face.

A Christian hymn was playing on the local news station. Everything seemed abnormal.

The AP machine had stopped its clattering typewriter noises and bells. I sank down on a newsroom chair resting my head in my hands.

It was disbelief and shock, not yet evolved into grief, as I thought back to the time a little more than three years before when I had gone with a few friends to the jam-packed L.A. Coliseum to see JFK accept his party's nomination for president.

The young senator and his wife had been driven into the arena in an open car as thousands cheered their arrival for the acceptance speech that would be quoted for years to come. He had challenged us to think of what we could do for our country.

As a college freshman in that presidential election year, I had carpooled to the campus with three other girls.

There was an ongoing political debate during our daily commute, with different fidelities. It had been a time of innocence and optimism, idealism and hope.

For, despite the cold war exchanges of rhetoric and the communist threat, we had an expectation that a new generation of young, idealistic leaders would build on postwar prosperity to make the world even better.

After a while, I got up and walked over the the wire service machine. The awful news was really there; it had not been just a fearful dream.

After a moment or two, the machine started to transmit again. Someone was slowly and deliberately typing out The Lord's Prayer.

I caught the bus for home, and as I looked around at the other riders I thought they looked very tired and sad. Did they know? Or did they always look that way? An old man sitting across from me caught my eye. "Did you hear...?" he said.

"Yes," I answered quietly, before he finished his question. Neither of us said any more.

The bus was passing my stop, but I didn't feel like being alone at home, so I rode all the way downtown and got off on Pine St. near Buffum's Department store in Downtown Long Beach. There were the usual shoppers and traffic on the street.

Men with ladders were climbing up to the street lights, hauling up glittery tinsel Christmas decorations, and swagging them across the busy street on a tightly drawn wire.

It seemed disrespectful and incongruous that festive holiday decorations should be going up at such a time, though the workers probably hadn't even heard the news yet.

At the base of one lamppost was a woman wearing a heavy brown coat and a silk scarf with red flowers on it. She was seated on a folding chair at a card table, with a neat stack of forms in front of her. The taped-on sign said "Register to Vote".

Since I had turned 21 a few months before, the legal voting age at the time, I sat down on the empty folding chair and asked for a form.

JFK funeral

What Could We Do?

Perhaps registering to vote was the only positive thing I could do, though I had no idea of whom I would vote for.

An assassin's bullet had taken away my choice, because the impossible had somehow happened. The innocence, optimism and idealism of the previous decade had been suddenly shattered in a way which might compare to the the later attacks on the World Trade Center.

Back then, it was only one man instead of thousands of people, but he represented all of us. We felt that we knew him personally, and this event had a similar effect on the country. There was no way of striking back, except by resolving to go on.

A piece of silver tinsel fluttered down and landed on the registration form as I signed my name.

More by this Author


Comments 42 comments

DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

A powerful piece. I was in my high school sophamore English class.


dineane profile image

dineane 8 years ago from North Carolina

Very moving, Rochelle. I couldn't help but think of when I heard that the space shuttle exploded in much the same way. I overheard it on my way to Journalism class but dismissed it, thinking it just couldn't be true. The AP feed in my classroom just ran the lead of that story over and over and over. I can't remember if we actually had class, I just remember that stunned shattering of disbelief.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you Donna and Dineane..

It remains a vivid memory, perhaps because I have thought of it so many times through the years. When unthinkable things happen-- you can't help thinking about them.


robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Well done, Rochelle. Absolutely, the assasination of JFK was our generation's 9/11 and every one of us who was alive at the time remembers exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. That moment in Dallas marked us all, I think and for just a short while we came together emotionally as one people--whoever and wherever we were. It is a powerful memory that still resonates. Thank you for bringing it back in such a beautiful,personal way.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks Robie--- I remenber so well the half-staff flags and he sound of muffled drums that came later during the funeral time-- you could hear them from the radios and TV's through the neighborhoods.

I think that one thing younger people do not understand--- there was not all that much news on radio or TV, on a regular basis. There were half-hour news programs. It increased at this time. and now we have hundreds of hour per day.


DonnaCSmith profile image

DonnaCSmith 8 years ago from Central North Carolina

The last page in our high school yearbook is a photo of our flag at half mast, looking from inside the school hallway out through the front door.


Pam Pounds profile image

Pam Pounds 8 years ago from So Cal Girl in the Midwest!

I was in the fourth grade, and I also remember like it was yesterday. My parents cried and were in disbelief, along with the rest of a very sad nation. How long ago that was, but how our memories of that day remain clear. What a poignant reminder, Rochelle...which make us wonder...what if he had lived on? What a different turn this country might have taken?


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Every November 22 I remember that day.  I remember it as clearly as I can see a glass of pure water. 

We had loudspeakers in our school.  The announcement that President Kennedy was shot came over that sound system as I was on my way from my music to my math class.  I stopped in the girls' room to relieve myself.  My friend Peggy got there before me, and was in one of the little enclosed stalls.  I heard crying, but I didn't know at that instant that it was her.  So I said, over the partition, what's wrong.  She said, the President is dead.  Then I knew it was Peggy.  I did my business, she did hers, and we came out of our stalls and hugged each other and cried. 

Two days later, my uncle and aunt and cousin drove down from New York to pick up me and my mother and take us to Washington DC, where another aunt and uncle lived.  Our family stood in line for 12 hours on a bitter night so that we could join the mourners in the Rotunda, where the President lay.  I wore a gray wool suit (which I had made for myself), white gloves, beret, camel hair coat, stockings, and low heals.  At some point, all I wanted to do was pee, but I didn't.

When the moment came on that bitter night to enter the Rotunda and view the coffin of our President, it all happened so fast.  The solumn guards, the sweet smell of lilies, the pass-through at lightening speed.  There had been thousands before me, and thousands yet to come.

Thank you, Rochelle.

Sally


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Wow! An historical experience for sure. In some way, all of us who were old enough to remember, all felt we were there.

WWII ended when I was to young to know. The fifties were a time of prosperity and good changes. Despite the occasional 'under the desk' drills at school, it was a happy time. The events in Dallas, I suppose, was an end of innocence for my generation.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Rochelle - this is very well written. I can see it so clearly. I was at home with my brother when it happened. Our parents were out with friends. We were old enough not to need a babysitter, and these were different times. We saw it reported on BBC news, in black & white. Oddly enough, I remember I was wearing a dressing gown. We new it was momentous from the gravity of the reporting, though we were too young really to understand.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country Author

The impact was hard to measure, but somehow it did seem to change the world.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Hard to believe it was almost 45 years ago. The memories are clearer than many says since then.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 7 years ago from Texas

I would have been there, but my father would not allow my aunt (who was my babysitter) to take me, so she and my 2 cousins and I stayed home that day. I wasn't in school yet. I was sitting on the couch watching the TV through the legs of an ironing board when it happened. I can still see it. I was too young to understand everything that happened and everthing that followed, but I remember thinking it all seemed so wrong and sinister - even the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Very strange times.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Even those of us who were old enough to "understand", could not quite comprehend. I think no one really does, to this day. Thanks for reading.


compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 7 years ago from London UK

Wonderful story Rochelle,

This was well b4 i was born, but the Kennedys history , and the assination has always had an impact on me,


sunforged profile image

sunforged 7 years ago from Sunforged.com

I enjoyed this piece and decided to link it to my assassination attempts hub

http://hubpages.com/politics/3-800-000-hits-for-As...


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Rochelle,

This is beautifully written. I was only a tot when Kennedy was assassinated, and I don't remember it at all. But I do know that feeling of a moment crystallizing in my consciousness. I was at home, doing some early morning ironing in my dressing gown when I heard the news of Princess Diana's accident in Paris on the radio. A few years later I remember coming into the house with my chidren, and the phone ringing. It was my husband telling me to turn on the news because there had been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. The tv was full of it, and all I could do was watch in horrified fascination as the tale unfolded.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanky you all for reading and commenting.

@compusmart: It dashed the hopes of many people.

@sunforged: I appreciate the link

@Amanda:Yes, it was one of those moments As with Princess Diana and the twin towers, where you can't quite get your mind around the possibility of such a thing happening.


ralwus 6 years ago

What a tragic memory we share. I am still pained by it. Last fall I was going through some things for an attorney friend, deciding what was to go to the trash and what would be saved for a client of hers that had died. I found pictures she had taken in 1960 of the young Senator at his home, a whole pack of them, black and white. I was stunned and tears came to my eyes. I had come very close to pitching that treasure and we made sure her only relative got them. I wish now I would have at least scanned them. Nice work Rochelle. Glad you posted this in that thread.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, Ralwus. I didn't know if I should put the link in, but it was a response to a question.

In the days after the assassination I can remember walking down the street and hearing, from inside houses, the sounds of muffled funeral drums coming from TVs and radios. It did change this country.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Seems like a long time ago, but some of us remember it in person. It is as memorable as yesterday.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America

I'll be linking this firsthand account to my historical Hubs, if you don't mind. Rated Up and more.


Hollie Thomas profile image

Hollie Thomas 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Hi Rochelle,

This happened just a couple of years before I was born. I do remember my dad talking about it though, and he always said JFK was a great man. A very sad event, and this piece seems to capture the mood very well. Hollie.


cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 4 years ago from northeastern US

we were sent home early from second grade without knowing why. our parents told us when we got home. school was cancelled for the days through the funeral and we all watched on TV.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you, Patty Inglish. I am pleased for the link. it is forever linked in my memory to November events.


blondepoet profile image

blondepoet 4 years ago from australia

Wow your story held my attention I held on to every word xx


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 4 years ago from Cape Cod

A riveting piece Rochelle. Thankyou. I marvel at your detailed recollection of the tragedy.

I had just turned 20 on November 7th of '63' and was joyfully planning on giving my first Presidential vote to JFK when he stood for re-election.

I can't remember much of what I did on the day of the killing. I guess I worked. Perhaps I was in Boston at school.

I do recall that Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL decreed that his league would play their regularly scheduled weekend games, though everything else had come to a halt. The American Football League, home of the Boston Patriots and the New York Jets, DID NOT PLAY its schedule. It's ironic that I can retrieve these facts, but can't even remember what city I was in when the shooting occurred.

I was very angry at the NFL for not cancelling...and still am.

Kennedy was our hope, as much as he was our President. When he died, we were forced to complete the task of growing up. The last traces of childhood faded that damned, doomed day in Dallas.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you all for your comments. The event changed the way we thought about a lot of things in America. It will never again be like the Happy Days of the 1950's.


Jeff Hileman profile image

Jeff Hileman 4 years ago

Born in 1969 around the Apollo mission, did not lessen the impact of our presidents passing upon me. It was one of those world events that in-fact began my awakening.

A powerful hub. Look forwards to your newest. You may enjoy a cruise through my hubs.

Jeff


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

It did change our country in many ways. Thank you for reading and commenting, Jeff.


Cagsil profile image

Cagsil 4 years ago from USA or America

An absolutely awesome account of your day. I wasn't even born yet when it happened. I've asked my mother her story of where was she and what was she doing at the time. Thank you for sharing such details. :) Voted up. :)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, Cagsil, for you very kind comments.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country Author

This year, the 49th anniversary of the JFK assassination, falls on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Very interesting write here. I think we all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing at the time he was shot. I was in school also. I'm a bit younger than you so I wasn't at college, but I remember that day almost as if it was yesterday. So good that you put this down in writing - part of our shared history. Awesome! I don't think there was a more definitive moment in our nation's history (other than 9/11) that made such an impact for change in our country. This was fascinating to read and thank you for sharing this with us. Voted up and shared!


heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

I still hadn't started kindergarten yet when this happened. But I remember my mom telling me that I'd be reading about this in school one day. Got that right! With it being the 50th anniversary this year, I think we'll be seeing a lot more of the "where were you when..." stories popping up. Thanks for sharing yours!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you for commenting,suzdttenaples. After the horrors and economic challenges of WWII, America settled into an era of growth and comfort. There was still a threat, but people mostly went about thinking that things could only get better, as America led the way to peace and prosperity. This event was a worldwide shocker.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I know it must seem like ancient history to young people, but in the grand scheme it was not so long. Times have changed a lot since then. Who would even think, these days, a president would ride in an open car?


Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

How strange that we two would publish a hub so similarly titled; yours long before I came to this site and mine just a day or so ago. We each have strong memories of the day though yours are much more formed and clear than mine. Excellent job on this work and far superior to mine.

I can say this: I think most people would welcome him back with open arms to take charge of our country once again.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I don't think it is so much of a coincidence-- many people are thinking about the event, and those of us who actually remember it can't believe it has been 50 years. In one way my memories may seem "clearer", but I think that is because of our age difference. What a letdown to have your birthday party interrupted in that way. It was a tragedy for the whole country, even the whole world. After several years of growing prosperity and optimism, think we all felt like our party had been ruined.

Thank you for commenting so kindly.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Looking at some of he documentaries today, I saw a few new details. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were barely on speaking terms. I am not a LBJ fan, but he did do some good and I think he handled the transition brilliantly. \Johnson was a penultimate politico who DID want to be in control, and was very much against RFK, but Americans wanted some sort of continuity and normalcy after such a shocking event.

I seem to remember that Johnson assured the nation that things would continue under the policies that JFK had established, and that's what we all wanted to hear. He also showed admirable respect for the feelings of Jacquie Kennedy and her family.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 13 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids

It was a day o remember for most of us. The election of Kennedy seemed to herald a new era in politics. That dream was shattered with his death.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 13 months ago from California Gold Country Author

It was a huge psychological jolt that spread across the country and the world. We had grown up in the good postwar times, and were looking forward optimistically to a greater future.

I appreciate your comment, as one who remembers the shock.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working