A few months back, while working to clear out some clutter from our basement, I came across an old, worn briefcase packed in a moving box we’d never opened when we came to live here five years ago.
I knew immediately what it was and that it would not be part of my decluttering effort.
Inside the case were yellowed newspaper pages and old Life and Look magazines that reported and followed up on the Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
Sunday is the 57th anniversary of that fatal day. I have thought about it on this date pretty much every year since.
And so for a few moments, I thought I’d step away from the present and look back at the first huge news event I ever experienced.
I was all of 8 years old and just two months into the third grade at St. Sylvester’s School in Brooklyn at the time of that tragic day. Still, for some reason, I decided to cut out and save these clips. My parents always encouraged me to read, and I had already created a scrapbook with newspaper stories from the space program. Plus, I’d begun to love both newspapers and history, and this was history.
According to the JFK Presidential Library website, the president’s motorcade car turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza in Dallas around 12:30 p.m. Central Time — 1:30 pm. our time.
“As it was passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberated in the plaza.” the website details. “Bullets struck the president’s neck and head and he slumped over toward Mrs. Kennedy. The governor (John Connally, who survived) was shot in his back.” Kennedy was pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital at 1 p.m. Central.
Sometime around 2:30 p.m., a sudden announcement came over the loudspeaker in Sister Theresa Florence’s 3rd-grade classroom. We were all to line up and go across the street to the church. When we got there, the pastor told us the news.
Kennedy being Catholic — the first Catholic president (Joe Biden will be the second) — was a big deal in those days. I remember my friend Brian’s mother having two photos side by side hanging on the wall of their kitchen — one of Jesus, the other of JFK.
Soon after, I walked home with some classmates in sort of an eerie quiet. My mother had been watching her favorite soap opera. “As the World Turns,” when CBS broke in with the news. She still had the TV on when I got home. I instantly became glued to it. Outside of when we went to sleep, I don’t remember the TV being off more than for meals and Sunday church the next few days.
Our TV was still on — at my request — on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 24, and my mom, dad and sister all watched live in disbelief as Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby somehow got into the basement of the Dallas police headquarters and killed suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald with a single shot from a revolver.
Incredible and forever unforgettable!
The assassination of President Kennedy is one of those seminal events for which people know exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.
Even though I was only 8, it remains that kind of event for me. I suspect it does for some of you as well.