[Editors’ Note: Nov. 22, 1963: 12:39 p.m., CST. That is nine minutes after a bullet shattered young President John F. Kennedy’s brain as he rode in a motorcade through Dallas, Texas.
Here, 41 writers recall the how and when they heard the devastating news of the assassination.]
Mike Foster, Metamora, Illinois:
“I was in Fr. Lund, CSV’s French II class at Spalding Institute [in Peoria, Illinois] when Br. Schoffman aka “Bugsy” came in and whispered into Pere Lund’s ear.
That good priest laid his head down on his folded arms at his desk and wept.
And with that I understood at that moment that things would never be the same as they had been before.
I had secured the rare privilege of the family Dodge for a date that cold, rainy Friday night. But all of the theaters were closed except for the Bellevue Drive-In southwest of the city.
So my Academy of Our Lady girl friend and I went there and huddled under our coats and watched “A Summer Place,” which was wholly antithetical to the events of that fatal day.
I’ve always thought that The Beatles’ coming to America so soon afterwards was God’s healing gift to we wounded ones.
“His killin’ had no purpose / No reason or rhyme / He was a friend of mine.” –The Byrds”
Jim Davis, San Diego, California:
“I was home [in LaCrosse, Wisconsin] with the measles curled up on the couch watching television while my dad worked from home in the front sun porch. Walter Cronkite broke into the regular programming to announce the assassination. I got up to tell my father. At first he didn’t believe me. but he did come and watch the news and then it was a new reality for him as well. It was terribly sad as JFK was a bellwether of hope for the nation in those days of the Cold War.”
Billy Hayes, Manhattan, New York City, New York:
“Kennedy was killed on a Friday. I took off from school getting ready to go on a hunting trip with my dad and uncles. We heard the news but they still wanted to go upstate New York for that weekend.
It was so weird to sit in the woods (I didn’t hunt but loved to be out in the deep woods) with the ongoing news swirling about us. The impact of the tragedy didn’t really hit me until I was sitting alone on a log among the pines with the snow sifting down around me and I started to feel the loss and tears flowed down my face…
I wiped them off and pulled myself together before going back to the cabin. As far as I knew I was only one who cried.”
I was in Babylon, out on Long Island. I’m now in Manhattan finishing the last two weeks of a ten-week run at the Barrow Street Theatre doing my one-man show “Riding The Midnight Express Withy Billy Hayes.” Then I’m off to Rochester for two weeks at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, then an Australia/New Zealand tour is lining up for March and April with Ireland in May,”
[Editor’s note; Billy “Crazy” Hayes is the hashish smuggler caught by Turkish police and imprisoned there until his daring escape chronicled in the book and film “Midnight Express” and the book’s two sequels, “Midnight Return: Escaping Midnight Express,” and “The Midnight Express Letters: From A Turkish Prison 1970-75.” He studied journalism at Marquette University with editor Mile Foster from 1964 until 1968.]
David Cofield, LaFayette, Georgia:
“I was six years old, walking up Duke Street in LaFayette, Georgia, on my way home from first grade at North LaFayette Elementary.
I looked up the street and saw my mother driving towards me, which was very unusual since I walked home on warm, sunny days like this one. She pulled up to the curb and I opened the door and got in. My two-year-old sister was hanging over the seat sucking her thumb. Mama said “President Kennedy has been shot, the President is dead, and we need to tell Daddy.”
We drove back to the school and I went in and found my father, who was teaching 7th and 8th graders. I told him the news and he walked quickly down the hall to the principal’s office where there was a radio, and turned it on.
I saw my first-grade teacher in the hall and told her as well. That was the first anyone at the school had heard the news. When I got back to the car, Mama said ‘Think about poor Caroline and John-John. Their Daddy’s dead.’”
Steve Alvin, Henry, Illinois:
“I was in first grade at Lincoln School in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. While I was leaving the school, a fifth grader came up to me and asked if I wanted to be the President. I said, ‘Sure,’ and he replied ‘I’m a crazy Texan and bang, you are dead.’ I had no idea what he meant until I reached home. It turned out that the school made an announcement to the higher grades, but not to us.”
Jo Weslowski Foster, Metamora, Illinois:
“I was a senior at St. Mary’s Academy in Milwaukee and had gone to the office with a friend after lunch to drop off something or get something. The nun on duty there was listening to the report of the shooting. I remember saying “Oh, don’t worry. He’ll be okay” because the thought of the President actually being killed was beyond my comprehension.
In the first class after lunch, the announcement of Kennedy’s death was made and we all prayed.”
Dolores Hill Sierra, East Moline, Illinois:
“I was nine when it happened. Friday was library day at Dunlap Grade School. The library was across the street from school, so as we came back we saw the janitors and the cooks were huddled around a radio. They were all crying. We asked why and they said our teacher Doris Streitmatter would tell us.
When I went home, my mom was sitting on the couch watching TV with piles of tissues around her and a box on her lap. He was the first Irish Catholic President, as you know, and our family is Irish Catholic, so he was something of a hero to my parents and grandparents. We had a 40 hours devotion weekend scheduled at our parish, so we were in church that night. I remember hearing lots of sniffles. My impression is just one of overwhelming grief in the adults around me.”
Wanda Klein Davis, Dunlap, Illinois:
”I was in fifth grade in Orange City Christian School in Orange City, Iowa. The principal came to the door and asked to talk to the teacher in the hallway. She came back into the room and told us. A prayer was said and the entire class was silent for several minutes so we could each pray in our own way.”
Davy Beam, Minneapolis, Minnesota:
“i was in utero at that moment in Englewood, New Jersey. I didn’t make my debut until June 13 of the following year. My mom was teaching her English or Science classes at her middle school No announcement was made there. My dad was at work in midtown Manhattan. He said the entire city got very quiet as the news came across the wires and waves-cars and cabs stopped in the streets, people clustered around transistor radios held by strangers, clustered in front of electronics stores where there were televisions in the display windows. Most of the people in his “Mad Men” mid-century offices, like him, sat at their desks and wept. He, like many others too, sat underneath them to do so. Both my parents repeatedly have mentioned that the culpable fear amongst their peers was real, enormous, earth- shattering. Much worse than it was on 9.11.01.”
Gary Davis, Lincoln, Illinois:
“ It was a Friday and after lunch Mike Rickert and I returned to our adjoining dorm rooms to cram for a German 101 exam in Sioux City, Iowa.. Just as we were ready to walk to our class we heard that Kennedy had been shot. When we got to the classroom, the professor told us that there was nothing any of us could do so we started working on the written exam. Ten minutes into the exam, he walked out of the classroom and then quickly returned with the news. “Well, he’s dead.”
We finished the exam in a daze and then went off to our next class. For me, it was Sociology 101. The professor gave a spontaneous and very speculative analysis. He was sure the shooter was a crazed right- winger intent on bringing down a liberal president. The next day I attended my first Catholic mass after Mike Rickert invited me to a vigil at the local Roman Catholic church. I attended services at the Methodist church on Sunday and came back to my dorm room to hear that Oswald had been shot. The world seemed to be going crazy.”
Mary Zulu, Germantown Hills, Illinois:
“I was a sophomore and in English class at Central Catholic High School in Lafayette, Indiana. Fr. Donald Gross was my teacher. The news came over the school’s PA system. My mom was at home preparing for my youngest sister, Roberta’s, birthday party. Her birthday is Nov. 22. She turned nine that day. “
Dan Sutton, Peoria, Illinois:
“At Loucks Grade School, we had a one-hour lunch break. If you lived close enough you could go home. Our house was a half block away. I was at home when the news came across the television at 12:30. When class resumed at 1, the teacher brought in a tv and we watched it for the remainder of the afternoon.
The most vivid memory of the weekend is the live broadcast of Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. It was a little after 11 a.m. on Sunday the 24th. My entire family was watching. My father, the wisest man I ever knew, said “There’s something fishy going on there.” Right he was.
Fast forward to 1975. ABC featured Geraldo Rivera’s show “Goodnight America”, a late-night talk show. One night two of his guests were Dick Gregory and Robert Groden, who brought a copy of the Zapruder film with them. It was the first widely seen public broadcast of the film that eventually led to a new investigation.”
Tom Burson, Rochester, Minnesota:
“I was on the quad at Bradley University [in Peoria, Illinois] with Rodger Himmel. Mitchell Pasternak came out of the Student Center Building and told us,”Kennedy has been shot.” Rodger and Mitchell were both freshman music majors.
That evening I played on the country show with George Hamilton IV and some other lesser-known stars. This was at the gym of Spalding Institute in Peoria, Illinois. The top star was Skeeter Davis who did not show up because of JFK’s death. I believe I saw also Bugsy Schoffman there. An unforgettably sad night.”
David Doughan, London, England, UK:
“In 1963, I was a junior teacher at Rothwell Grammar School in Yorkshire (six hours ahead of Dallas time). We had a parent-teacher evening in the school hall on Nov 22; at about 7:30 we were discussing pupils when I became aware of a bit of a buzz and apparent worry; the headmaster got up on the stage and announced that the President of the USA had been assassinated.
Gasps of shock and horror; we carried on, but nobody had much heart to continue, and we ended the session early. I remember saying afterwards, when being driven to a pub by a colleague “Perhaps the worst of this is Lyndon Baines Johnson” (I think I was wrong). We all immediately assumed that the assassin was a white supremacist from Dixie, and were disconcerted when we heard of Oswald’s arrest, and deeply suspicious when Jack Ruby “intervened”. I can understand why conspiracy theories sprang up immediately.
The trauma lasted a couple of weeks in Britain; almost comparable to 9/11, for similar reasons: we didn’t think that sort of thing would happen.”
John Moffatt, Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada:
“After being in Peoria during the 1962-63 school term and seeing much of President Kennedy on television, the shock of this incident really hit home. During the noon hour at my high school back here in Edmonton, Alberta the tone of the place seemed to change quickly as our afternoon classes began, teachers quickly exiting the staff room with shocked/sad expressions as they moved to their classes. We students were wondering what was going on.
As soon as the classes began, the principal of the school made a general announcement regarding what had occurred just moments before. There was a huge sound of…nothing…as everyone took in the news. For the rest of the day, it was a very quiet place No laughing and running in the halls. Everyone was in shock. We just walked around without a word spoken. What could be said?”
Patty Sieks Filzen, Mesa, Arizona:
“I got off of work at noon and rushed home to watch “As The World Turns” as I did every weekday. I turned on the TV, sat back to wrap my mind around this soap opera. It began…and it was suddenly interrupted for a special announcement.
I cursed silently as I saw my “soap” getting interrupted and possibly canceled for the day. The announcement came: “President John F Kennedy had been shot by an unknown person.”
I wept with the horrible news. I was ashamed of myself for putting a silly soap opera ahead of so many other things and now my president may be dying. I swore I would never watch a soap opera again. I have not.”
Patrick Carroll, Highlands Ranch, Colorado:
“I was in typing class in the basement of Spalding Institute in Peoria. They put the radio broadcast on the PA. Total shock! The disappointment was and still is the most I have ever felt for someone I did not know personally.”
Patrick Boyer, East Peoria, Illinois:
“I was at St Bernard’s Grade School [in Peoria, Illinois]. I remember most of the students, teachers and nuns were in shock. It was a feeling I will never forget.”
Ed Monroe, Peoria, Illinois:
“I was at a gas station in Marshalltown, Iowa. I’d just had gotten off from work. I was supposed to have draft physical the day of his burial. Got to Fort Des Moines and it was empty. Big mess to get physical but base commander was big help that day and later on. My bad back kept me from serving.”
John Darling, Peoria, Illinois:
“I was in Mrs. Piatt’s English class, Lincoln Jr. High, Ferndale, Michigan.”
Guy Aylward, Mount Vernon, Illinois:
“The challenge put to us is to record as best we can and in as much detail as we can where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was ten years old, having just recently turned, so my actual memory isn’t great of that day.
Here’s what I can actually remember filtered by what my constructive memory has developed over time. It was November 1963 and I have no memory of what day, athough I now know it was the 22nd. I was in grade school, third grade, at St. Marks Grade School, Peoria, Illinois. I remember that a nun (I don’t know who) came into my class room and talked to our teacher/nun. We were told that we were all to meet with other students and faculty in the gymnasium/cafeteria/theatre.
Off we went; assembly could be fun. No crying yet. We arrived to total silence, not a peep from a bunch of grade schoolers. Remember that back then schools were 1 – 8. Not a pee gymnasium continued to fill until every student and employee of St. Mark’s parish was present. Students were loaded into the bleachers far from the stage across the gym floor. Faculty and staff stood and milled around the gym floor and a tiny black and white television rested on the stage where probably none of us could see or hear it. I couldn’t.
My best memory is that some of the nuns started crying as did some of the lay teachers. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know if anybody else did.
I guess I understood what was going on after the murmur made its way up the stairs of the bleachers and got to my row near the top. We probably talked more about it in my class but I wasn’t listening. I was ten. My parents, I’m sure, would have given us kids a more practical lesson when we got home.”
Margaret Rozga, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
“I was in the cafeteria at Alverno College [in Milwaukee, Wisconsin].”
Diane Kemper Kirk, Clive, Iowa:
“I was six years old and in the first grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Sterling, Illinois, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. My teacher’s name was Miss Alice Paver. She was “really old” (or seemed that way). I remember that after we heard the news on the loud speaker at school, we grabbed our coats from the “cloak room” (mine had a fluffy, brownish-orange surface), walked outside, and silently watched the flag be lowered from full staff to half-mast. I remember feeling very sad even though I probably did not totally understand what had happened.
I also remember watching the funeral on TV (in black and white)–probably at home. I do remember seeing the horses pulling the wagon that held President Kennedy’s flag-draped casket. I’m not sure how my parents felt about President Kennedy’s death. Mom grew up in a Republican household of farmers near Sparland in Marshall County, Illinois, and Dad was raised by a Democrat in Havana, Illinois; his dad died when he was 8.”
Edward Smith, Washington, Illinois:
“Nov. 22, 1963. Sixth-period junior history class at South Hills Catholic High School in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Br. James, FSC, is yammering away about the Missouri Compromise or some such thing in American History class. I am trying my best to stay awake because Br. James, FSC will kick your butt PDQ if he senses your attention has lagged. And he will do it literally; it is 1963.
The loudspeaker above the chalkboard at the front of the room crackled and came to life. This was quite unusual. Classes were never interrupted by announcements. We heard the bass monotone of Br. Bernard who we called, “The Fly” because he was always buzzing around the locker room at the end of gym classes.
In a matter-of-fact fashion, he said the President had been shot and then the where and the when. Br. Bernard never did master the art of delicate delivery. The first thought that rushed through my wee mind was, “Who would want to shoot Mike Gannon?” Mike was our student body president and to this day serves to remind me of what a tiny world view I had.
All the boys in the room — and there were only boys in this school — saw Br. James close his eyes and put his head in his hands. Several seconds passed. Had a pin dropped it would have had the aural impact of an anvil because Br. James was one tough cookie and this behavior was very much out of character. And then we realized what had happened and to whom.
We were dismissed. Every other school in the city and the suburbs and, I guess, the nation was dismissed. We shook off the bad news. We were sixteen. We went home, changed clothes, went up to the St. Pius X Grade School playground area and had our usual game of touch football.
We didn’t understand. We were sixteen. We just didn’t understand at all.”
Frank J. Hoerdeman, Peoria, Illinois:
“JFK: easy for me to never forget. After a grueling twelve weeks of USMC boot camp, I was in my last four weeks of becoming a man controlled by the man at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California.
The news was given to us young “men” with orders that we are on alert for possible deployment of some kind, not sure what, since the rumors flew as to who was involved, from Cuba to Russia, and we were ready for revenge. A very sad day for us and our country, but just a beginning for what was to come for us. God bless America.
Frank Hoerdemann, Spalding class of 1964, almost anyway, but at least in my heart.”
Marilyn Voss Leyland, East Peoria, Illinois:
“The rain was falling, enough to need my umbrella, as I crossed the Bradley campus [in Peoria, Illinois] between my freshman classes. A fellow ducked beside me, getting out of the rain, and shared his quick bit of news.
“The President has been shot,” he said.
“He’s in Texas today,” I replied.
I didn’t know the fellow and we soon parted. But with relatives in Texas, I’d been aware of the president’s plans.
The news of his death then traveled quickly.
The rest of that day and through the weekend, everyone stayed fixated on the television screens. Teachers even forgave homework, knowing that we couldn’t concentrate on anything else.”
David Hoose, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
“When Kennedy was shot: Word came from another student in my post-lunch study hall at St. Joe [Joseph’s] High School in South Bend, Indiana. But he reported only that the President was shot and no other information. Many didn’t take it seriously.
We had no official word from the teacher or the principal’s office. I think all the guys around me felt confused. It couldn’t be true.
But in the next period, Br. Viator’s government class, official word came over the school’s PA that Pres. Kennedy had not only been shot but he was dead. Talk about being stunned. I can’t remember if we continued with the class, the last of the day, or if we talked about the killing. I just remember leaving class and leaving the building feeling dazed.
The five-minute ride, in Ron Swick’s Studebaker Lark from the parking lot to the downtown area passed mostly in silence. What could we say? It couldn’t be real. Downtown, I caught a city bus to ride home. On the way, I stopped at St. Joseph Hospital to visit with my dad who was in for an extended stay. I don’t remember what we talked about but I do remember watching TV with him. All in Dallas and in the network newsrooms seemed to be in confusion—like the rest of us.
I don’t remember the ride home but I do remember going to work that night at my dad’s bowling alley. The Friday night men’s league was a big one and it went on as usual. I wish I could remember the comments from that night.
I do remember watching lots of TV that weekend. The assassination was the only show. It was probably shortly after Sunday morning mass that we put our home TV on just in time to see Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. “Why’d he want to do that?” we repeated over and over. Confusion reigned supreme that weekend.”
Jim Burson, Tampa, Florida:
“I was in my junior year at Spalding Institute high school in Peoria. I was taking a chemistry test in Fr. [James] Klemp’s class. The announcement was given over the PA system. We finished our test. They may have had a brief assembly in the gym. I don’t remember. Anyway, we were all dismissed and sent home. Of course, everyone was in a state of shock. The national reaction was similar to that of 9/11.”
Judy Howard, Hopedale, Illinois:
“I lived in Hopedale, Illinois, and I worked at State Farm on Oakland avenue in Bloomington. It was a large facility. There were hundreds of typewriters and various office equipment noises as well as the drone of conversations.
Early afternoon, I noticed the noise level started going down until there was an eerie kind of silence. I guess some people were hearing the news via phone calls.
A few minutes later, someone announced on the intercom that the President had been assassinated in Dallas.”
Mary Geick, Peoria, Illinois:
“I was living in Denver, Colorado, and had just had my second baby on Sept 4, 1963. We were in the living room and I was watching “As The World Turns” when Walter Cronkite broke in and announced the President had been shot and later he had passed away. I sat in utter dismay and shock. As a sidenote, my first time to vote was for JFK.”
Edith Crowe, Redwood City, California:
Becky Kraut, Metamora, Illinois:
“I was in my 6th grade math class at Lincoln School in East Peoria, Illinois, when the principal came over the PA to announce Kennedy’s death. We all just sat there silently, adolescents not knowing what to say, wondering how it would impact us.”
Diane Burdge, Coin, Iowa.
“I was in 12th year Advanced Placement English with Mr. Marty at West Islip High School, West Islip, New York, on Long Island.
He was trying to teach us something about one of Shakespeare’s plays. No memory of which one. The PA system came on, and the principal, Mr O’Donnell, told us [that] the President had been shot in Dallas. The class went into an uproar.
One of the guys in the class went to the office to see if he could get any more information. By the time the period was over, and we were all at our lockers getting ready to leave, the word was that everyone was dead: JFK, LBJ. Governor [John] Connally.
We were convinced that John McCormack, the 94-year-old Speaker of the House, was now President. As I began to walk home, I passed a house with an open window and the radio on. I stopped to listen to the broadcast. The announcer said “The President has died in Dallas.” Just then, the lady turned the radio off and closed the window.”
Pete Colgan, Peoria, Illinois:
”I hated being in school on days like this. Rain was pouring down outside and it was dark to the point it felt like evening. Not a time to be in school. On this gloomy day, in my fourth-grade classroom a short time after returning from St. Bernard’s Hall and gymnasium, which doubled as a lunchroom, the school principal Sister Elvira appeared at Sister Pierre’s classroom door to personally deliver a message “Please pray for President Kennedy. He has been shot”, she said, and off she went.
I was one of about thirty five-students, who, along with Sister Pierre, immediately began to try and process the just delivered news. Who shot President Kennedy? Why would anybody do this? The Russians? Where did this happen? For all we knew, somebody had walked in the White House and opened fire.
Sister Pierre asked for a volunteer to run home to fetch a radio. Anyone who lived close to school would do. A boy, I no longer remember who, raised his hand to volunteer. Off he went, but the sad update came before he returned to school. The fifth-grade teacher, Miss Stenger with transistor radio in hand, poked her head in our classroom door and announced “The President is dead”
Details of the motorcade in Dallas soon followed. I remember an early dismissal and a wait at my grandparents’ house a block from school until Mom picked us up. Dad was out of town until Saturday.
The strangest part of the day occurred later in the afternoon. We were in Dr. Sarge Howard’s office in the Jefferson Building in downtown Peoria for an appointment. Dr. Howard, an ear, eye, nose and throat doctor, who had given me my first prescription eyeglasses just a couple weeks prior to this day, was attending to one of my siblings on this still dreary afternoon.
I remember a long wait in a crowded office with no contact with the outside world. There was no radio, no television and no conversation among those of us in that waiting room about the events that unfolded just a few hours before. It was an eerily strange hour, or so. Finally home, at around seven in the evening the Journal Star arrived at our door with a “Extra” edition, and the bold print headline, “JFK Slain By Sniper” I believe it was the last extra edition of the local paper ever.
I still have that paper.”
Steve Crady, Chillicothe, Illinois:
” I was in fifth hour class in the library at Westmer High School in Joy, Illinois. It was my first teaching position. The library housed the only television in the school and the social studies teacher came in and said the President had been shot.”
Chris Shay, Peoria, Illinois:
“I was 11 and in sixth grade at Sipp Grade School the day JFK was assassinated. I was in Mr. Taylor’s class. I remember them bringing in a TV that we watched! What an unusual thing that was in 1963 – a TV in a classroom!
I saved the Peoria Journal Star from that day — still have it, old and yellowed, in a trunk in my basement. I still remember the funeral on television and watching his children, so young — his son saluting. This happening two days after my birthday meant that my birthday week would alway be heralded with news stories on JFK and the assassination. In this way, I will always share the anniversary of my birth with the anniversary of his death.
Interestingly, after I read the fourth [Robert] Caro biography of Lyndon Johnson, “The Passage of Power”, I had a very different picture of JFK. I really expected this installation to say that Johnson was involved in his death – but it didn’t. But it did paint a picture of JFK as a philosophically iconic man who was inspirational, but ineffectual when it came to passing legislation.
Johnson was the flip side of that coin. And it appeared that much of JFK’s mandate would never have come to be without his death, and Johnson’s ability to maneuver these bills out of committee and arm wrestle them into reality. So without his death, JFK’s vision might have died.”
Pam Tomka, Washington, Illinois:
“I was in seventh grade in Sylvania, Ohio when the news came that our President had been shot. The teachers gathered us in the school library, while administrators waited for further instructions.
As we sat there, some crying, our young minds wondered what was going to happen to us. While we watched it play out on television, we thought our country might be going to war or taken over by someone. Who would lead us now that our President wasn’t able to?
Eventually they put us on buses and sent us home to our parents who also worried about the whole state of affairs. It was a very scary and anxious time for many.
I now live in Washington, Illinois, a town very similar to the one I grew up in. I hope our children never have to experience a day like Nov. 22, 1963.”
Sherry Poehls Salna, Streamwood, Illinois:
“I was a senior at Richwoods High School in Peoria. It was just before lunch and I was in my algebra class. The intercom broke in and said that Pres. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. More information would follow. At that time, the seriousness of the event was not felt.
After lunch, as I was preparing to go to my next class, the intercom broke in again and gave us the news that Pres. Kennedy had died. We all were advised to go directly to our home rooms and to prepare to go home. Everyone was in shock.
In my home room, it was almost silent, or some of the students were whispering. The intercom was now providing live coverage of the event as it unfolded in Dallas.
Many of us were crying. One of the guys in the room stood up and asked if he could read aloud Kennedy’s inaugural speech. This guy was Mike Baumann and he was our German foreign exchange student.
He stood there and started reading with his German accent. It was apparent that he was also very distressed.
Everyone was fairly silent later, as we boarded our busses to go home.
The rest of the day, weeks and years to follow remained full of these memories for me. .
At our graduation ceremonies the following spring, Mike Baumann would comment that he would always remember that day in November.
Mike went on to become a physician in Germany and has since passed away.”
Tom Connor, San Carlos, California:
I was going to help him that night with the spot lights for a show, and I thought Johnny Cash was the headliner. Free admission for “crew.” I really don’t have a memory of promotional posters.
But when I went down to Spalding that night the Auditorium was dark and the doors were locked. Maybe I had the wrong time. I hope that in my absence the lighting was okay.
When JFK was killed, men and women in this country who were of the age we are today, had lived through World War I, possibly even taken part in battles, fought, killed, and seen a lot of death first hand.
Our parents had come of age during World War II, many men experiencing the same horrors on battlefields around the world. Older brothers, uncles and guys not all that much older we were had fought in the Korean Police Action, and in the early 1960’s slightly older peers were beginning to “see action” in Vietnam.
But though this killing and dying was familiar in a general sense, and in a personal sense to many, I don’t think that the very public murder of a very public national figure on a street in an American city was expected.
Looking back, I don’t think that were really conditioned by our experiences how to act or feel in this situation. I don’t think I did. I don’t remember any candlelight vigil gatherings that are now a common way for communities to come together in the wake of a tragedy. So much of what I remember of the public events that I witnessed on television, has been colored by repeated exposure, the retelling of the story, commentary and such, that it is difficult for me to know what I really “remember.”
It is only the few private events, like where was I when I first I heard the news, what did I think, that were not a communal experience. And frankly, I remember very little. I don’t remember going home that afternoon. I don’t remember my mom’s reaction or that of other family members. I remember that we watched a lot of television that weekend.
But this type of public killing soon became commonplace.
Janalee Sutton Croegaert, Evanston, Illinois:
“I was in Ms. Sargent’s freshman English class at Peoria High School. The entire school was informed over the public address system that the President had been shot.
Shocked & stunned is what I recall feeling and the mood throughout.
It must have come just before the end of class or else they dismissed us soon afterward because I do remember being in the hallway and hearing the piercing wail of a female classmate down the hall. I cannot remember any of the rest of that afternoon.
My year book’s “In Memoriam” section dedicated to the President shows a photo of our auditorium – our principal at the podium on stage and a television set next to him. We must have been called to assembly before being dismissed for the day, but I have no recollection.
I do remember our family being gathered at the television set that evening and for what seemed liked days on end.
My year book, CREST 1964, still holds the 8 1/2 X 11 archive quality, detachable, color photo of President J.F.K. included in every copy that year.”
Jim Croegaert, Evanston, Illinois:
“I was in Mr. [Jay]Swearingen’s typing class when the life-changing announcement came; I believe Mr. S. was one of our few lay, non-Catholic teachers (Mr. [Ralph] Brasmer was another) who was out of his element whenever needing to address anything beyond the particulars of his teaching focus. I think Fr. Gilgallon came into the room soon thereafter and effectively assumed control, leading us in prayer for the President, who had been wounded but it was still hoped, not fatally. The prayer may actually have come over the loudspeaker.
The message, of course, soon changed. The President was dead.
Our band, The Tempests, was scheduled to play at a bar in Canton the next night, I think. We were back and forth (especially Bird [Paul Burson] and I, as I recall) as to, first, whether the place would be open, and if it was, then second, should we then play? They were, and we felt we should play, although it was all surreal and strange, as we and most of the patrons were in a state not far from shock. Events still run together in my mind. I hope one day we find out what really happened–that is, who was really behind it, and Ruby, etc.
It would be hard to overstate the importance JFK had for Catholic young people at that time. From the hopefulness of those years leading up to the assassination, with Pope John XXIII and Vatican II, and JFK, to the nightmare of Vietnam, the King and RFK assassinations, Nixon, Watergate, etc.
“…and wasn’t it a long way down/and wasn’t it a strange way down” as Judy Collins sang Leonard Cohen’s “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” her beautiful voice such an ironic vessel for the dark water of the song.
And yes, it was, and it was. And that was the beginning of the descent.”
Elizabeth Holmes, Washington D.C.:
“I was a senior in my Catholic high school, Nerinx Hall, in Webster Grove, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and we were at lunch. The cook had the radio on in the kitchen, and it suddenly went silent. So did we. But now I can’t remember if we heard then that the President was shot, or that he had died.
I’m thinking the latter, because we went weeping to our after-lunch classes. I’m pretty sure we were dismissed after that class–who can learn anything when you’re crying so much–but it is fuzzy in my memory. We were in shock–we’d experienced nothing like this in our young lives, nothing like this in our safe and peaceful country. Our TV was on when I got home, and stayed on that whole weekend, except when we finally went to bed at night.
I don’t think I have ever cried so much my life. Even now, there is a space of sorrow in me that this hopeful life was cut short.”
Doug Day, Spring Bay, Illinois:
“I was in Miss Hedstrom’s French class sophomore year at Woodruff [High School in Peoria] when principal L.R. McDonald announced the shooting on the PA system. I stared blankly around the room at my classmates and then started writing an account of the moment in my notebook; it is around here somewhere. It was the most dramatic moment of my young life and I wanted to take it in and remember it.”