Friday, November 22, 2013

Where was I?

Friday Questions coming later in the day, but on this, the 50th anniversary of day that changed America forever, I thought I would give my answer to the big question of the day: “Where was I when I heard about the JFK assassination?”

I was in Parkman Jr. High School in Woodland Hills, California. It was around 11:15, a Friday just like today. I was in science class half-asleep as usual. I started to hear people murmur in the hallways. I just caught fragments of their conversations, but phrases like “he’s been shot!” kept recurring. And there was urgency in their voices. At first I was confused. Was this a school incident they were talking about?

The teacher excused himself and went into the hall to find out what the commotion was all about. He re-entered a moment later clearly shaken. He held up his hands in anticipation of an uproar, assumed a calm demeanor, and told us that there were rumors (and he stressed the word rumors) that President Kennedy had been shot. I was beyond stunned. This seemed absolutely unfathomable to me.

He tried to resume his class lecture but like everyone in the room, was completely distracted.  Somehow the characteristics of unicellular and multicellular life didn't seem that important right then. Eventually he just stopped and said let’s all sit tight and wait for reports.

A few minutes later someone came over the p.a. system to confirm that the president had been shot. At the time, no one knew his status.

The next period was lunch. They now piped in a radio broadcast over the p.a. system. We all sat at the lunch tables completely numb. The only sounds were some people sobbing.

When the announcement was made that Kennedy was dead there was a loud shriek and audible gasp. Now the floodgates opened and everyone was crying. I’m getting misty just writing this.

I seem to recall they cancelled the rest of the school day. I rode my bike home. It was odd to be out of school at 1:00 in the afternoon.

My mother was home when I arrived, glued to the TV. She too had been crying. For the next four days all anybody did was watch the television coverage. Did restaurants close? Did movie theaters close? I have no idea. Like most people, I never left the house.

In LA we had seven television channels. 2,4,and 7 were the networks and 5,9,11, and 13 were independents. All the independents just took the coverage from one of the networks. So everywhere you turned it was the same thing.  Radio was either news coverage or somber music.  As some readers reminded me, NFL games were played that weekend and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said in retrospect it was the worst decision he ever made.  (Thanks to my readers for that update.)

We were pretty much a CBS family so watched Walter Cronkite anchor the coverage. He was uncharacteristically not wearing a jacket. I seem to recall Frank McGee shouldering most of the NBC load. I have no memory of ABC’s coverage. We never watched ABC news. From time to time I would switch around, hoping one of the other channels had an update. Needless to say, there were no commercials or promos.

It was four days of unrelenting sadness. Watching the same clips and hearing the same reports over and over. And then on Sunday, the insanity of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot and killed by Jack Ruby live on camera. This was almost surreal. You just couldn’t wrap your mind around these shocking events.

Monday morning was the funeral. And halfway through it I had had enough. I went to my room, closed the door, and started playing my 45 records. I just needed to hear music. I just needed relief. The songs sounded so good. “He’s a Rebel.” “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” “The Locomotion.” I felt a little guilty. Through my closed door I could still faintly hear the funeral broadcast in the other room. And here I was playing, “Surfin’ USA.”

School resumed the next day. Network shows began returning. KFWB went back to playing rock n’ roll although somewhat subdued for the first few days. We would all remain in a haze for several months, brought out of it by the Beatles in early ’64.

That’s my account? Where were you (if indeed there even was a “you” then)? Friday Questions will follow later in the day. Check back for them.

What I find interesting is that this year all the networks are making a big deal of the event because it’s the 50th anniversary. And on some other years it’s hardly mentioned at all. For those of us who lived through it, those events and that date is forever etched in our minds. We always remember. And always will.

84 comments:

Carol said...

I wasn't actually born yet, but my mom told me she had a date that night, and they went out anyway, but everything was closed.

I am, however, of the age where 'where were you when' came up amongst the slightly older generation, and I've seen enough photos and things that I can feel a sort of second-hand sadness. The photo of John Kennedy Junior saluting gets me every time.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I remember so little about it. I was 9, I came home from school, and was met by my mother, crying, somewhat wild-eyed. I think she said, "The president's been shot!" and rushed back to the TV in her den. I know I watched a bit of the coverage (and do remember seeing Oswald shot), but that's it. I probably lost interest and went off somewhere and read a book. It's been very interesting for me to re-experience that period through MAD MEN; in some cases I'm seeing the real footage of events I lived through for the first time. I was pretty much in my own fog as a child.

wg

benson said...

I was only five, so my memories are hazy. I was home after kindergarten. (Much more innocent time-I walked home myself after school everyday, folks were both at work. I remember watching a Man from Cochise rerun on Ch. 5 in Chicago, and then the bulletins started. We didn't have a color TV, so I have vague memories of a lot of Black and White TV coverage.

Balladeer said...

Sondheim wrote it best:

Something Just Broke

Linda said...

I have only a few memories of that weekend, but the ones I have are vivid.

I was in 6th grade. It was after lunch in the Midwest. My teacher told the class that Kennedy had been shot. My first and most outstanding memory was that my teacher had a smirk on his face when he delivered the news. I have no idea why, but he turned out to be a bad dude in his own way.

Like so many people, I remember coming home from church on Sunday to turn on the TV. Regular programming (I seem to remember it was boxing on this particular channel) was interrupted so we could see Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed on live TV. Nothing else I have ever seen on TV comes close to the impact of that moment.

On Monday, it felt weird and wrong somehow to be off school for the funeral. I diligently watched all of the TV coverage. That was school for me that day.

I never cried. None of my family members cried that I know of. We were just witnesses to history being made.

willie b said...

I was in Catholic school, fourth grade, when the principal, Sister Rita Ann, walked in and in a shaky voice said, "Boys and girls, the President has been shot. Please line up single file and we will go to church to pray for his soul." I remember that TVs were on everywhere, all the time, the first time I remember wall-to-wall coverage of any event. At the funeral on Monday, I remember cameras lingering for a long time on the horse with boots mounted backwards in the stirrups.
After seeing the recent shootings at schools and theaters, where one unhinged individual with a gun can cause so much grief, I've come around to the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald did just that to the United States in 1963.

john said...

I wasn't born yet, Ken, but my dad always talks about how he was in basic training for the Army at the time of the shooting. The whole base shut down for three days.

Whatsername said...

I wasn't born then, and I never understood what the big deal was with where you were when you heard the news. Until 9/11, when suddenly my generation experienced the mass shock of terrible news, and we all had it branded into our memories where we were, too.

Now I hear the "Where I was when I heard Kennedy was shot" stories totally differently. And my heart goes out to the future generation who'll suddenly find they too have a moment that will fix "Where I was when I heard the news" in their minds forever too.

Cliff Corcoran (Seattle) said...

Similar. Jr. High math class. First the announcement of a report by the math teacher, pretty much stopping any problem solving as the back and forth befuddlement spread. Then a crackle and the ancient PA system announced the death. School adjourned. 4 days in front of the black and white followed.

Chas said...

Pretty much the same as your experience, Ken, but at the other end of the Valley. Funny thing is, I don't remember how I got home. Probably got a ride from a friend's mom.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

I was baking Italian Christmas cookies with my mother-in-law and her two sisters. The TV was at the other end of the house from the kitchen, so we were running back and forth a lot to see what had happened. Everyone was in shock; this was the first time something like this had happened in my lifetime, and it just didn't seem possible. I especially remember Walter Cronkite being so emotional, which he never usually was. Funny how such little details are so indelible in your mind.

gottacook said...

I was 7 and learned about it walking home from school (eastern time). I remember much more clearly the killings of 1968 - among the 45s I bought that year was Dion's "Abraham, Martin and John," which also mentions Bobby.

A comment on the current state of journalism: Anniversary journalism is certainly easier than going out and reporting a fresh story, and such stories do seem to attract readers. But even with weeks or months of lead time, the fact that copy desks at papers all over the country have been decimated or worse (by layoffs as well as buyouts) has led to obvious errors anyone could see - or, in this case, anyone who'd ever used a film camera: In the Washington Post's current story about the life of Zapruder, emphasizing that he was the first to know for certain that Kennedy was dead, the initial version of the story made it seem as if his film could be viewed the next day without having been developed first. (A sentence was later added clarifying that it had been, Friday afternoon.) Only someone who'd only known a world of video home movies would have let that go.

norm said...

I too was in Jr. High,the 8th grade Mrs. Campbell's class,History at Eastern school. The weather was rainy and mild just like today here in Indiana and also in Washington DC. I remember Mrs. Campbell being called out of the class for a telephone call. When she returned, she told us our classmate who was sick that day called and the TV was saying that JFK had been shot. She was certainly shaken and then the PA broadcast the news to all the school. I can remember the row I sat in and that classroom today.
Just like Ken the 4 TV channels here were all covering the same thing for 4 days.

Rodger OBrien said...

I was in a class at Seton Hall U. when we heard the news. I'm not sure which class but we all left & I went to the Student Union Bldg to watch tv. Soon tho I walked the few miles home & stayed glued to the tv. We did go to Sunday mass so missed the live Oswald shooting. I will never forget the date but mostly because it was my sister's 16th birthday!

Matt said...

Hate to correct you, but the NFL did not cancel their games. Pete Rozelle said it was the worst decision he ever made to play the games.

Pamela Jaye said...

I was 4, so I really don't remember it (unlike the great northeast blackout of November 65 - which came to us without turning on s TV - not that we could - on the moon landing (I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, though))

However, somewhere there is a picture of the funeral playing on our old Zenith, and me standing beside it.
True to my father's photo taking, I'm not facing the TV. I guess I should feel lucky he didn't make me point to it.

I really don't remember and it's a tiny bit odd. As someone else said about themselves somewhere - I was in Boston. It was an even bigger deal there.

Hollywoodaholic said...

Fourth grade. Miss Booth’s class. Miss Booth wore glasses and had a big bun of white hair. She looked like George Washington, but she was also my favorite teacher in elementary school, and a very sweet person to have looking over you when the P.A. system came on and the principal announced that our President had just died after being shot. I was nine years old.

We were told to be silent and I can remember just putting my head down on the desk and trying to grasp what it meant that “Our President” had just been killed. Then they sent us home. I can’t remember if I ran or walked the mile or so home. Because of the Cold War and nearby Washington D.C. being a ground zero target for Soviet ICBMs, we often had Civil Defense drills where we were released from school and told to run home as fast as we could. This was no drill. I can only remember getting home and finding my mom red-eyed and crying on the couch in front of the television in our living room.

Rob said...

I was in the 4th grade, had just moved to L.A. and was the only person in our class who knew who the Vice President (and thus the new President) was.

I told the full story on my blog last nite, those interested can find it here:

http://robvegaspoker.blogspot.com/2013/11/remembering-november-22-1963.html

Mike said...

Great read. Thanks for posting. I wasn't even close to alive yet, but I always enjoy reading other people's accounts of that day. I just can't get over how much everything just....stopped. I really, really hope I never get to find out if I'm right or not, but the country is so divided these days, and in a lot of ways we're desensitized to so much, I just can't picture a massive shutdown of public life if a sitting president were assassinated today.

And when you wrote "we were all in a haze until the Beatles in early '64," I have read -- with complete seriousness -- the feeling in the country after the assassination may have been responsible for the incredibly high ratings of some Beverly Hillbillies episodes from that period. It's as if the whole country just needed some pure escapism, entertainment that you didn't need to think about at all....and BH offered that escape.

David said...

Whatsername, you're right about every generation having its own "where were you?" moment. Before 9/11, for many of us too young for JFK, Challenger in '86 was such a moment.

Ken, as Matt said, that weekend did have sports -- here's a great piece on the flack Pete Rozelle took for having NFL games go forward that Sunday: http://bit.ly/I2bsHd

RhondaGC said...

I wasn't born yet but I'm wondering, Ken, as someone who experienced it, what television shows/movies do you think have done the best job of portraying what things were like that day in terms of mood, public reaction, etc?

The first time I saw the Mad Men episode about the assassination I remember thinking, "Really? People just sat around watching TV and sobbing for 3 days?" But your first-hand account seems to indicate that is fairly accurate. What fictional accounts do you think have gotten it "right," or as close thereto as possible?

029d36ec-5391-11e3-bc9f-000bcdcb2996 said...

I wasn't far from you, Ken, on the day JFK died. Picture it: Canoga Park, California, November 22nd, 1963. I had just returned home from kindergarten and was ready to have lunch; my mother was watching her game shows and soaps when the first bulletin broke. It was a blow to my mom, who worked for Kennedy's campaign in 1960. I remember the rest of the weekend in a blur, spending most of the time at my grandparents' home in Woodland Hills. It was not until years later that the meaning of what happened that November day came to me. And yes, Rhonda, there was plenty of sobbing that weekend--at least in my family.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I was about three years old. We were moving to our new house during Thanksgiving weekend 1963 and I was sitting on the bench seat in the cab of a pick-up truck. The truck belonged to a friend of my dad, but my dad drove and I remembered his friend sitting to my right, just bawling and crying. I know that I had no idea what he was crying about at the time; years later I sort of put things together and asked my dad, who confirmed everything.

What I can't help noticing, seeing recollections here and elsewhere, is that 1963 was a time when people would openly weep if a president were shot. I think that's changed quite a bit. I was in college when Reagan was shot and I remember some other students expressing their glee. I wasn't a big Reagan fan, but, wow.

Danny said...

I didn't come along until 1968, but I've heard my mother talk about sitting glued to the radio, listening to coverage of the assassination. (I grew up in rural Kentucky and television sets were still a rarity around there in 1963.)

Helena said...

I wasn't born, and I'm Swedish. I'm too young to remember when Sweden's Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot and killed in 1986, but my generation unfortunately got a "where were we when we heard" event of our own when our Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed and killed in 2003. She was stabbed in a shopping mall on September 10th and the news didn't make it out as particularly serious. The next morning I had a bad feeling though and turned on the TV before school; it said she was stable. Later in the morning, when I was at school, they released the information that she'd actually died very early in that morning - September 11th. I was in-between classes when a classmate of mine was on the phone with her boyfriend. She turns to the rests of us and says "she's dead." I immediately burst into tears. We knock on a bunch of classroom doors and tell them the news. The televisions got turned on, the principal was informed, and her death was announced on the P.A. system.

Tim said...

9th grade Crespi High in Encino. Brother Francis English class; the P.A.told us to say a rosary. No early release. Had to stay all day, then take RTD back to Canoga Park...

Hamid said...

A wonderfully written and evocative account, Ken.

I'm one of those who didn't exist in 1963 but I'm endlessly fascinated by the event and the era.

Brent said...

We lived in San Jose so it happened before lunchtime. Six years old, in Mrs. Reed's 1st grade class. My memory tells me that an announcement was made on the loudspeaker that he'd been shot, then another when he died. Not a lot of teaching got done between the two announcements. Teachers were crying, after a time they sent us all home. My older brother (age 9, in 4th grade at the same school) walked me and our little sister (5 years old, in kindergarten) to the house of family friends who lived a block from the school where we stayed until mom could get home from the advertising agency where she worked part-time.

I've talked to my brother about that day. It's remarkable how different our memories of it are; that three year age difference changes many perspectives. Of course that applies to a lot of things that happened during our childhood, whether it was the Kennedy assassination, Armstrong walking on the moon or Woodstock and Vietnam.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Burbank High - walking back from geometry class.

Ma gave Pa hell for taking me to the game that weekend. I think Pop was just trying to help us return to a normal life. His was a stoic upbringing...and I understand his motivation now.

Anonymous said...

I was 8 years old, in Mr. Freese's third grade class at a Lutheran elementary school. I don't remember specifics of that day, just a vague recolection of a teacher coming in to tell us that we were leaving early because the President had been killed. I could hear some of the teachers quietly crying in the hall. They said later that they didn't want to announce it over the PA because the kindergarteners & first graders might get scared. We had the entire next week off for Thanksgiving and teacher's meetings so we were home to watch the funeral. My mother worked, but she took off that day. I remember my 16 year old sister crying and everything being subdued. But our big family Thanksgiving was just as loud and chaotic as it ever was. I didn't understand until later in life just how momentous this event was.

Pam aka sisterzip

Yah Shure said...

Fifth period in Miss Gulsvig's social studies class at Hopkins South Junior High. A classmate who'd arrived late from the school office mentioned news of the shooting. The school principal announced JFK's death and the cancellation of that evening's school dance over the P.A. There were two more periods before school let out at the usual 3:31 PM, with the next class (music) relegated to additional P.A. announcements and letting it all sink in. Seventh period science class became an impromptu current events/American history class. Having such a pivotal historical event unfolding before our very eyes and ears while in school was the ultimate educational experience.

I remember the huge "PRESIDENT ASSASSINATED" headline atop the Minneapolis Star that evening, but the following four days is nothing but a big blur. The TV must have been on constantly, as I have no recollection at all of listening to the usual WDGY and KDWB.

The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" had already created an instant local sensation, so once that record resurfaced on the airwaves, things returned to normal pretty quickly. KDWB's infamous Christmas cookie contest began to generate some excitement, "Louie, Louie" joined the fray... "I Want To Hold Your Hand" just added that much more fun to the pile.

I could only imagine what it must have felt like to those jocks who were on the air at the moment of JFK's assassination until I found myself wearing those headphones when John Lennon was shot.

Janet A said...

I was in college. We were preparing for opening night of a play, no idea what. Some of us after setting props were sitting on the apron of the stage. A friend came running in and said the President has been killed. We all thought it was the President of the college and then truth set in.

We were asked to still do the play so that students would have a place to be with others.

And yes we were glued to Walter Cronkite for days.

Powerhouse Salter said...

An older student walked into our third-grade classroom and silently handed a note to our teacher Miss Jones. She looked at the note and told us the president had been shot. I thought it sounded cool, since US presidents were clearly good guys and I'd seen enough TV Westerns to know that good guys only got shot in their shoulder and good guys recovered by getting to wear a sling for a few days.

AJS said...

Thanks for the story Ken.

I was a fetus when JFK died but can relate to the need to close your door to the sadness and then the pang of guilt.

On the Friday after 9/11, after being on the pile on the 12th and continuing to hear of friends lost, I went into Central Park to play tennis to escape a bit.

It was a lovely day and good to sweat. Until I randomly saw a colleague who inform me of another colleague lost.

We both lost the heart to play and went home.

Ray Barrington said...

I was in first grade when our principal came over the PA system and said "there's something I think you should hear..." He turned on the radio and there was a beer ad, and we chuckled ... and then the news came over. In first grade, we barely understood, but when it became clear he was dead...I remember feeling very ill. We got out of school early and I went to my babysitter's, who decided I didn't or shouldn't have to watch the TV.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was in the tenth grade, skipping school again. I slept late and when I got up I eventually switched on the TV and heard someone intoning the grim news. School, as it happened, was about 30 feet from the house. I considered running over there and announcing the news, but decided not to.

I don't remember what day of the week the assassination happened, but our bowling league met either Friday or Saturday night and we had a moment of silence before the games.

I was a big admirer of Kennedy in those days but more recent revelations about his life make me think that admiration was unwarrented.

Ron Rettig said...

50 Years ago today during a break in college classes I was sitting in my car listening to The Arthur Godfrey Show on the radio when CBS newscaster Douglas Edwards broke in to report President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas!
3 friends and I had reserved tickets to the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood to watch "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" for Saturday 11/23. We went to see the film. . .the Dome audience was sparse and the great slapstick comedy was difficult to appreciate.

Eric J said...

I was in the Army in a training class in New Jersey. It was after lunch and everyone was drowsy. Someone came in the room and announced the shooting. The instructor carried on as if nothing happened until 4:30. I doubt any of us heard a word.

My wife of 4 months and I had planned to drive to DC for the weekend in our new Fiat 1100D. We kept to that, figuring it was a good way to pay our respects. The entire city was closed down--dark and raining. We spent the whole weekend in a motel glued to the TV. I think she cried the entire time. Except for meals, we never left the room.

Howard Hoffman said...

On the school bus, this third grader was again thwarted from getting a seat upon leaving Airmont Elementary for the day. I was next-to-last on the bus, followed by Sharon Biffer. (All buses in the school district were always packed. They were completely caught off guard by the Baby Boomers.)

We were among 10 kids who had to stand in the aisle, hanging on to seat backs and hanging on to our books for dear life. The bus was on Montebello Road approaching the right turn on Mayer Drive. At that exact point, Sharon turned around to the kids after hearing the news on the ever-present transistor radio that "Happy" the bus driver had.

"President Kennedy was shot."

She said it so matter-of-factly, the response was "Huh?" "Was not," and "Yeah, right."

"No, he was shot. It was just on the radio. He's dead."

"Happy" confirmed it, looking in the mirror and looking ashen. Silence.

And everything from that moment until the funeral was a blur. People ask me what happened after that, and I draw a total blank. The TV was on sign-on to sign-off in our house, but for the life of me, I just don't remember anything - except for the very short and now misguided glee of hearing the news of the president's alleged sniper getting killed - until we were at a friend's house watching the funeral on their TV. That's when it finally sunk in.

I do remember it was right about then when I developed a hatred for guns. The events of 1968 sealed it for me. Today, I understand the desire for protecting families and hunting - but the extremely cavalier practice of gathering, carrying and flaunting weapons to prove a political point is still very troubling for me.

50 years ago today is why.

Mike Schryver said...

I was 4 years old, and don't remember the event. Funny, but I don't remember the 1965 blackout, either (although we must have been in it.) I have a much clearer memory of 1968, of Bobby Kennedy's and Dr. King's assassinations.

As people have mentioned other "Where were you" moments like the Challenger disaster, I recall being struck the same way upon hearing that John Lennon had been shot. I heard about it the same way a lot of others did - from Howard Cosell.

Sharone Rosen said...

was in the 5th grade. We were at lunchtime recess. My classmate Anna had gone home for lunch. She walked on to the playground and said to me, "Mr. Kennedy is dead." I thought, "she's not a bright girl. She must mean the father of the President. President Kennedy is too young to be dead." As other children returned to school from lunch at home, the news spread. Games stopped. Kick balls lay on the ground. Tetherballs hung listlessly at the end of their ropes. There was no laughing, no running, just a playground full of children standing in stunned silence. I looked around and saw all our teachers standing at the edge of the playground like statues. They were just watching us. The bell rang. We all went quietly back to our class rooms, and our poor, shocked, unprepared teachers tried to deal with our National shock. My idiot teacher thought the Kennedys had three children. A room full of 10 year olds yelled at her that their last baby died. What a day. What a week.
And then, there I was, 10 years old, and saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed live on TV. The image of the President's funeral caisson is seared in my mind too

Anonymous said...

I was at parkman jr high w/ you but I worked the cash register in the outside cafeteria during lunch. I was at the register..heard people say that didn't want Johnson as president and then the head cafeteria person came and told me the jfk was shot..the next four days was sitting in front of the TV set..today I still have a large box of orginial newppapers and magazines from that time as well as a reply from Jackie kennedy of a letter I sent her...hard to believe its been 50 years..just like yesterday. Barbara meyers

DwWashburn said...

I was ten and living in rural Tennessee. The principal would always end the day reading announcements and ended by matter of factly that the President had been killed. Several classmates cheered and were reprimanded by the teacher.

I had about a mile walk back home and had to pass an old timey hotel (the one that had a lobby where you had to ask the attendant for your key every time you went to your apartment). There were a couple of elderly men sitting in metal chairs out on the sidewalk talking about it. I just remember how quiet my little town of 10,000 was.

And Saturday morning, I was upset that the Three Stooges were being preemptied.

D. McEwan said...

I was in 7th grade at Willis H. Warner Intermediate School in Westminster, CA. This was deep into Republican Orange County. I was heading into 4th period gym class. They had a radio in the locker room, and the kids running out of 3rd period gym were all shouting: "They've shot Kennedy!" (Interesting how they immediately assumed it was plural assassins.)

The thing is, this was, as I noted, very, very Republican territory, and these were kids who heard their parents calling Kennedy "Satan" every day. The kids were not sad and were not shocked. They were GLEEFUL! I kid you not.

We were sent home after lunch. I lived two blocks away, so I walked home. My parents were at work, so my brothers and I had the house to ourselves.

My very Republican mother came home from the bank where she worked in a state of shock, not, however, shock a the murder of the president. She was shocked that her Republican cronies at the bank were saddened. She had opened her huge mouth and said, moments after the president's death was announced, "Well, this is the best thing that could have happened for the country." (Mother had voted for Nixon, and had repeatedly stated that Kennedy was taking his orders from the Pope. Big talk from a woman who took her orders from Mary Baker Eddy.) Mother was shocked that her crass statement had DEEPLY offended even the other members of her Republican coven. She lost some friends forever that day, and that shocked her. Get this and understand it is true: she genuinely expected folks to be jubilant, dancing in the streets, celebrating that "The Pope's Stooge" was out of the White House forever. (When she got the full measure of LBJ, she revised her opinion. Man, did she loathe LBJ.)

On Sunday, as always, she dragged us off to Christian Science Sunday School. We never got a reprieve. Even on vacation trips, on Sundays we were dragged into the nearest CS Sunday School. Consequently, I missed watching Ruby kill Oswald on live TV, as it occured while I was being brainwashed into Mother's compassionate church. (None of Mother's five kids took up her idiot religion as adults.)

On Tuesday, when we returned to school, in a shop class I was briefly in for long, boring reasons, the shop teacher announced that someone had stolen his chisel. He went through our shop lockers and found it in the locker of a boy who was absent. (Lots of absentees that day.) He began raving how this boy had robbed him and how he would have him expelled and arrested. We protested that he was a great kid and this was some sort of mix-up, and we needed to hear his expanation. Then he said: "Oh! So you think when a person is accused of something he should have a fair trial?"

He'd set it up. He'd gone through the absentee list for the day, and every period planted that chisel before class in some absent kid's locker and played out this charade. He'd been so outraged by Ruby's murder of Oswald that he'd decided to give his pupils a civics lesson on the importance of due process to Americans.

thomas tucker said...

In those days, there were CBS families, and NBC families when it came to the national news. Walter Cronkite versus Huntley and Brinkley. No one that I knew watche ABC for nes. Perhaps those were swingers, who had no children.

D. McEwan said...

Cap'n Bob, the dates-days of the week in 1963 were the same they are this year. It happened on a Friday. How anyone could go bowlng that weekend escapes me. (For that matter, how anyone who lived through it over the age of five could forget it was a Friday also escapes me.)

For the woman who, a year later, would become my high school drama teacher, on that day, a year before I began attending classes that day, was in a bind. It was opening night of their high school drama production of The Diary of Anne Frank. They decided to go ahead and open anyway, to a really tiny audience. At least it was a serious drama and not a farce. No one's heart was in it.

Jeffrey said...

Seven years old, 2nd grade at Steindorf Elementary, in San Jose. I clearly remember hearing our principal announcing on the PA that JFK was assassinated and that school was now canceled for the day.

Like so many other comments people have made, my mom was at home watching the developments on TV. I remember sitting in the den on our white faux leather couch and staying glued watching the event unfold before my very eyes. I remember turning on my transistor radio wanting to hear the latest songs, but there was nothing but live coverage on the radio. I was very disappointed because I needed some diversion from being glued to the TV.

Like everyone else our family was glued to the TV for four days. I remember that I kept turning on my transistor radio waiting for music but all KEWB and KLIV were playing was quiet, soothing instrumentals.

I remember watching on Sunday when Oswald was shot point blank. I was in disbelief that something like this was live on TV.

Finally, by Tuesday I was glad my radio stations returned to playing the hits of the day. Thank goodness The Beatles were only a few months away.


fred said...

I went to school in the eastern tz and was in 6th grade. By the time our school released us for the day, it only made a 20 minute difference. To this day, the only death I witnessed "live" was Oswald.
What a history lesson the "boomers" had in a short time period. President Kennedy,Beatles invasion, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Inner City Riots, Vietnam, Man on the Moon, Marijuana,and the band played on....

Don Jennett said...

I was but a year and a half old. My mother told me she and I were shopping at our local Safeway in Torrance, CA (Hollywood Riviera)when word came.

bruce said...

10 years old and in the 6th grade at Hunter College Elementary School. The school let out early and my mother met my brother and me. Instead of taking a cab home to the west side, she wanted to walk along Lexington Ave (I think). We passed a store which had a dozen tvs on and facing the street and they all turned to a somber picture of JFK. Then she said "He must have died."

Realsurf said...

I was at Coldwater Canyon Elem. in No. Hollywood. Mr. Kelseys class - 6th grade. A kid came to the fence (I guess he was "out sick") and started yelling about Kennedy being shot. All I remember is a stunned feeling. What happened the rest of the day is a blank.

Harry Vetch said...

I rode my bike home from 3rd grade at a school that didn't have an intercom. There had been a fire near the school and the school yard filled with smoke. Before I could tell my mother that exciting news, she told me the President was dead. She never watched daytime TV and was listening to the radio. I turned the TV on and we did watch the next 4 days. After Oswald was shot, the police chief announced Oswald expired. A reporter asked, 'Is he dead?' I was 7 years old and knew he was dead. That was the beginning of my cynicism about reporters. In South Carolina Kennedy meant integration. My brother told me people cheered on hearing the news in study hall.

joanneinjax said...

I was in last period junior high school math, with an uptight, sexless spinster teacher, who was obviously not a fan of Kennedy. There was much noise in the hall, and when she returned, told us that the president had been shot, but we were going to continue our lessons. Several of us were crying on our desks, and she admonished us. Soon his death was announced over the PA and school was dismissed. I rode the bus home to my sobbing mother, the first time I ever saw her cry.
The other vivid memory is that the following Sunday, after church, my parents took us to our former elementary school to get sugar cube inoculations for polio. We then returned home, and as my mother was preparing our supper (we live in the South), I sat down in front of our only television, which had been on since Friday, and I watched Jack Ruby shoot Oswald live. I ran into the kitchen screaming "He shot him!", whereas my parents tried to tell me that it was 'over', thinking I was talking about JFK. It took many minutes before they realized their middle child was not just reliving the earlier trauma, but had just witnessed live a totally new horror.
Besides the fact that I'm shocked that this is the 50 year anniversary, which means I'm incredibly old, but that I've read your comments and so many were not even born! Bravo to you for attracting the young and uninitiated. It is impossible to convey the feelings and incredible sorrow we all felt, regardless of one's political leanings.
I think it's impossible for the generation that has come to maturity in this century, to ever comprehend what it was like to watch the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, within such a short span of time. They were our hope.
Today, their leaders are easily disappointing them, if they are even paying attention. I'm afraid they are not.
This is from a liberal woman in a very conservative, entitled, enclave in north Florida. I'm so over the foibles of our elected officials. Our governor is a joke and this latest with the congressman from SW Florida and his coke arrest - which was obviously covered up for months - has made me totally lose faith in our government. If the rich in SW Florida can elect a radio personality just because he was a tea party candidate, they get what they deserve.
Keep writing. I need some sane dialog in these scary times.
Joanne

VP81955 said...

I was in third grade at Van Duyn Elementary in Syracuse, N.Y., when the principal, via the public address system, relayed the news of Kennedy's death. After school was let out (at the usual time), my younger brother and I took a bus to meet my mother at the barber shop, as previously scheduled. The two of us got our hair cut while the TV -- which normally aired game shows in the late afternoon -- aired the NBC coverage. It would be a somber weekend, and I recall our family went to a church (during a heavy Saturday afternoon rain) to pray silently.

Ken, I don't know if you know Johnny Holliday, a famed Top 40 jock in the '60s and a D.C. radio legend (longtime voice of University of Maryland sports), but he was at WHK in Cleveland in the early '60s, wound up as P.A. announcer for Browns games, and has a story to tell about working the game the weekend of the assassination: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-sports-bog/wp/2013/11/22/johnny-holliday-dallas-and-the-jfk-assassination/

Speaking of the Beatles, Nov. 22, 1963 marks an important anniversary for them -- the release in the UK of their second LP "With The Beatles" (in the U.S., Capitol appropriated nine of the 14 songs, along with the iconic Richard Avedon cover, for "Meet The Beatles"). And believe it or not, Ken, some folks in SoCal had heard the Beatles on the radio during the Kennedy presidency..."From Me To You" reached 32 on the KRLA charts in August, and in April, "Please Please Me" charted on KFXM in San Bernardino, peaking at 38. (In March, it spent two weeks in the lower reaches of the survey at WLS in Chicago -- remember, that city's Vee Jay had the first US pressing -- and the first DJ to play it in America, Dick Biondi, later worked at KRLA and introduced them at the Hollywood Bowl in 1965.) All the info is at http://forgottenhits.com/who_played_the_very_first_beatles_record_in_america and http://beatle.net/50-years-ago-while-the-beatles-on-vacation-singles-chart/

Eric J said...

"What a history lesson the "boomers" had in a short time period. President Kennedy,Beatles invasion, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Inner City Riots, Vietnam, Man on the Moon, Marijuana,and the band played on...." [fred]

But it wasn't history to us. It was real life unfolding in fast forward. Or felt like it. I have tried to convey to my kids how incredibly tumultuous it was then, and I can't. The best thing I could come up with to convey some of the feeling was Chuck Braverman's American Time Capsule which appeared on The Smother's Brothers Comedy Hour in the middle of that "history lesson". It covers a much broader period, but the timing feels right. It stops in 1968.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2XJA7IAGnY


RockGolf said...

I'm old enough (56) that I should remember hearing of the Kennedy assassination, but I don't. I do have vivid memories of two events in the succeeding days. The first was being told by my aunt that Oswald had been murdered live on TV. And this meek, sweet lady seemed to really take joy that the man who killed the great Irish Catholic president had also been killed.
The second is the Kennedy funeral. Kennedy's body was on a horse-drawn hearse slowly plodding it's way through the streets of Washington on its way to Arlington across the river. But 6-year-old me was upset that this funeral was being shown instead of the usual cartoon show which that station normally carried at that time. There could still be time to see a few cartoons, I thought, if only that horse would gallop...

Breadbaker said...

I was walking home from second grade and there was a kid lying on the back of the inside of a car, across the rear window, when I heard someone ask, "is he dead?" and I assumed it referred to the kid.

When I got home, no one in my family said a thing, although apparently they all (except my sister, who was six months old) knew. I was doing my Friday chore of setting the table for dinner. I had the knives in my hand (I can see their faux-wood handles now) when someone said that the president had been shot. I was in total disbelief. I dropped the knives and ran to my parents' bedroom and turned on the TV and of course there it all was.

Ted O'Hara said...

I don't remember the assassination itself, but I vaguely remember the coverage of the funeral, of it being on the TV all day. I was 4. It's the earliest event outside my family I can remember.

MartininAltadena said...

"Four days of unrelenting sadness," reflected largely in a black and white world. At least at my house, on a plastic-cased 19" Sears model. I was seven: seeing adults cry for strangers is something you never forget.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@ D. McEwan:

Kudos to your shop teacher for taking something that terrible and turning it into a decent object lesson. I wish I'd had a few teachers like that.

RCP said...

It's fascinating to read these accounts from those of you who can remember the day. During college, I met a woman who said that a number of teachers and kids in her elementary school cheered when Kennedy was shot, which shocked me. In that case, it had to do with his support of civil rights for "negroes." I've always been haunted by the photo of Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One with Jackie Kennedy standing beside him in her blood-splattered outfit - advisors had suggested she change, but she refused: "Let them see what they've done."

Liggie said...

My parents, who were a couple of years from meeting, told me their stories from vastly different settings. My mother was attending a Catholic college in the Philippines, and when word broke out they had a massive prayer service and Mass. My father was in the US Army, and, eerily, he was cleaning a gun at the time. Someone came into the room and said, "The President's been shot!" As the joy was a wiseacre, the responses were of the "Yeah, right" variety. But when he reiterated it, and they turned on the TV, no longer.

Now that the world is far more jaded and nasty, I wonder what the emotions would be if a sitting President of either party were killed.

VP8, Did you see the NBC Sports special on the Dallas Cowboys of the time, and the hatred they got just for being from "the city that killed the President"?

Liggie said...

"Guy", not "joy", in that last post. Bad timing for that particular autocorrect.

estiv said...

The day before, my father came and took me and my older brother out of school to see the president give a speech at Brooks Air Force Base. I remember being a bored ten-year-old leaning against a lamppost, watching the wind blowing Kennedy's hair while he spoke. The next day he was murdered. It's necessary for children to learn that the world can be an arbitrary and dangerous place, but it's a shitty thing to learn, no matter how the lesson is delivered.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@ Liggie:

In the current climate of hate, intolerance, and rabid partisanship, the only thing more horrible than a presidential assassination would be the absolute unabashed joy with which it would be greeted by a portion of the population. I don't think I would even turn on the TV for six months afterwards, just to avoid the images of idiots cackling with glee. That's not a partisan statement, as I'm sure the same thing would happen whether we had a Democrat or a Republican as President.

Mark H said...

Ken - glad I read this post of yours - took me right back. I was a "safety" at Parkman, watching the north gate at lunch time. My favorite teacher, I can't remember her name, blonde, bazoomish, English came walking up from the street and I goofed with her as I usually did and she snapped "Mark, not now!" and stormed by. Moments later I heard the deal, she apologized for being short, but yes, the next four days were spent watching endless news - LBJ being sworn in on the plane with a barely conscious Jackie by his side, the Jack Ruby dance, the caissons and drum rolls. There was nothing else happening in the world.

Anonymous said...

My memories are similar to every else's, of shock and disbelief, of being glued to the TV for 3 days, but let me add a couple of odd recollections.

Life went on. We didn't all curl up and go catatonic. Carol Labonte still had her 15-year birthday party at the skating rink. All the invitees went and I don't remember anyone thinking it odd that we could have fun on so such a day. Call it real life went on.

I might be off on this memory, but it seemed like the rock stations played sad, sad songs about dying--J Frank Wilson and Marty Robbins and such. It was a playlist they would keep and use twice in 1968.

DwWashburn said...

D. McEwan, Thank you for your remembrances. I read this to my wife with the preamble "I could believe this in 2013 with the polarization of parties by whack jobs in Congress and in the media, but not in 1963." Your comments were very thought provoking and I really appreciate you sharing them.

Cap'n Bob said...

Doug--Thanks for the info. I remember a lot about the JFK assassination, but not everything. The bowling was probably canceled and resumed the following weekend. I come from a Catholic background and I can assure you we wouldn't have headed to the lanes so close to the killing.

Famous! said...

[Retooled from the earlier comment I made (under my maiden name ) on FB. Perhaps you saw it already?]

7th grade, St. Joseph School, Bronxville, NY... our principal, Sister Ann Something, was a technology nonstarter, and almost never used our rather high tech (for 1954) PA system in the classrooms for announcements or anything. So when the news reached her, she came around on foot to each classroom, individually, and gave us the shocking 4-1-1.

After a period of frantic blessing ourselves and praying dutifully, the PA suddenly started humming. It kicked-in, in the middle of the reading of the first official news story off the wires. Which ended with: "Repeating... John F. Kennedy, the 35th President Of The United States, is dead. This is WMCA, the Voice Of New York".

No clue why the tuner she never used was set to 'MCA, and that is one aircheck that may not exist any longer, but it plays in my brain, for life.

Note: I'm fairly sure the announcer with the unhappy task of reading that was the late, great Dean Anthony. And that particular station... not having network affiliation or the world's largest team of dispatchable reporters, did what quite a few radio stations did that entire weekend: they segued directly into hushed, funereal music, wall-to-wall. If you heard all news... well, there was no all-news station in New York, yet. And if you were under 30, you were clearly listening to the big blaster from Lodi.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Harry Vetch: actually, the reporter asking "Is he dead?" was doing the right thing: confirming the facts and getting a quote. There are lots of reasons to be cynical about journalism as she is practiced, but IMO that's not one of them.

wg

Harry Vetch said...

wg: I enjoy your informed comments in this forum and don't want to get in a spitting context with you, but in this context 'expired' can only mean dead. Oswald was not a gallon of milk or an insurance policy.

thevidiot said...

I was in second grade in Columbus, OH. The principal came over the speaker system (up to that point never used so I was surprised that it worked at all!). He announced that the President had been shot and had passed away. School was closed and during the four block walk home a heated conversation ensued about who was now President. Something bad called a "Nixon" was presumed to be in charge now but I didn't know who was and frankly didn't care. I walked into the house and my mother was crying, something I will always remember. We (and our German neighbors who had no television) watched the coverage through the weekend. The world changed radically at that moment.

Southeast Mom said...

I was almost two months old, so I don't remember it! I am adopted and my parents had just gotten me at the beginning of November. Mama said she watched the coverage while holding me for days. She kept a "memorial" issue of TV Guide and I liked to look at it in later years.

Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk said...

As I noted somewhere else, I was born as 1961 was coming to a close, and so, though I was alive at the time, I wasn't aware of it, nor have any direct memory.

Yet, and I suspect this is true of others my age, I was close enough to the events--the 10th anniversary came when i was in the 6th grade--that I always had a sense of it as recent history. And I've always been fascinated by it

Anita Bonita said...

It's a little embarrassing, since I'm pretty well-known for my powers of recall ... but I can honestly say that I do not remember anything from the events of 11/22/63. Not being told the president was shot and killed, not being sent home from first grade after coming back from lunch. Nothing.

What I do remember is the funeral procession. My younger sister, with whom I shared a bedroom, must have been sick, because my parents' portable Zenith Space Command TV was in our room, and I remember laying there on her bed and watching the entire thing, riderless horse and all. And the look on Mrs. Kennedy's face, which haunts me still.

Fred said...

@Danny: Interesting about your mother listening to coverage on radio. Most people remember seeing it on TV, so it's ironic that radio coverage of the assassination has been more completely preserved than TV coverage.

D. McEwan said...

"Aaron Sheckley said...
@ D. McEwan:
Kudos to your shop teacher for taking something that terrible and turning it into a decent object lesson. I wish I'd had a few teachers like that."


I've always remained impressed with the choice he made about processing his outrage. He knew most of his students were never going on to college, that some of them would never even graduate high school, and so decided to teach them some civics in a vivid manner. (I was put in that class by mistake, and by end of term I was out of Shop and into accelerated arts programs where I belonged.)

I've never forgotten what he did, but for the life of me, I can not remember his name.

"DwWashburn said...
D. McEwan, Thank you for your remembrances. I read this to my wife with the preamble "I could believe this in 2013 with the polarization of parties by whack jobs in Congress and in the media, but not in 1963." Your comments were very thought provoking and I really appreciate you sharing them."


You're welcome. The political polarization of America is not a new phenomena. If you read out history, not the history of who won elections or won wars or passed legislation, but the history of how Americans have behaved regarding poltical polarization, you'll find it goes all the way back to 1789. We're actually are more civil than we were a century and a half ago. The Civil War was not a freak occurance; it was an inevitablility, nor did it end the internal conflicts it released. After all, JFK was not our first presidential assassination, it was our fourth.

We pass on ideals from generation to generation, and we also pass on the hypocracy that allows us not to live them, but only to declaim them.

Ed from SFV said...

Mu earliest conscious memory in my life was the funeral procession from the Capitol. I was deeply resentful and angry that all the TV stations (Boston) were showing this and that my cartoons had been pre-empted. I was 4.

I liked the horse and I thought John Jr. looked odd in his formal coat.

I've had a healthy mistrust of gatekeepers of all kinds all my life.

Mark said...

D McEwan is here as usual to spread his hatred and bile and generalizations. What a hateful, disturbed person he is.

Roger Owen Green said...

5th grade, Daniel Dickinson in Binghamton. Remember it well. Saw Oswald get shot too, on live TV. PROBABLY went to church on Sunday, but mostly remember watching a LOT of TV, mostly CBS.

D. McEwan said...

"Mark said...
D McEwan is here as usual to spread his hatred and bile and generalizations. What a hateful, disturbed person he is."


As opposed to your sweetness, kindness and joy? Name-calling the messenger doesn't even dent the Truth I've written about here. Maybe you live in a make-believe magical fairyland where Americans don't constantly pay lip-service to liberties they endlessly try to suppress other people from actually excerizing, but I live in the real world. It is not being "disturbed" to observe the reality of American Hypocracy.

D. McEwan said...

PS. We were founded in the most-revolting hypocracy: "All men are created equal" written by slave-holders.