The Salem News
---- — In remembrance of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, The Salem News asked readers to share where they were 50 years ago today. For more of your memories, visit www.salemnews.com.
He represented life’s possibilities
The other day, I received a letter from an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t heard from for a very long time. He wanted to remind me that we were together on the early afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. He needn’t have. I knew. Some things you don’t forget.
I was an 18-year-old college freshman who had just returned from class to my family’s apartment with my friend. Just after we entered the door, there was our black-and-white TV giving us the news that JFK had been shot to death in Dallas. To say that we were stunned is understatement. We just stood there in disbelief. It was as if time was suspended. And I remained that way all through the seemingly surreal next few days, glued to the television. Not only were the funeral and the massive national grief right in front of you, so was the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald in the instant when it happened. Once, I had even been within 50 feet of Kennedy when he was campaigning. I remembered his fabulous smile and seeming youthful vigor.
At my then-age, life is full of nothing so much as possibilities. Kennedy represented that to my generation. His being snuffed out so suddenly and utterly was, although unknown at the time, a harbinger of those tumultuous years known as “The Sixties.” Urban riots, My Lai, Tet and the fall of Saigon, the Six-Day War in the Middle East, the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy and more were yet to come. We started the decade with JFK and so much promise for a new era. After his death, we were dazed and adrift. It took us a long time to recover our balance. We used to say that for our parents it was Pearl Harbor, for us the assassination, indelibly imprinted on our consciousness forever.
‘All still so vivid’
I was 7 years old and sitting in my second-grade classroom at St. Joseph’s School on Lafayette Street in Salem. I still can picture the scene: the principal coming into the class to tell the sister, her crying and telling us, and me looking at the clock, seeming to want to register the time I witnessed all this.
The next few days were also very memorable; everyone and everything was so somber. People were in shock at what had happened. Everyone was glued to the television, watching the events unfolding in Washington and Dallas. I even remember seeing Oswald shot on TV. All businesses were closed on Monday, the day of the state funeral. I remember all my family, including my grandparents, gathered in the living room to watch the funeral. It is all still so vivid in my mind; it’s hard to believe that it happened 50 years ago.
Gisele L. Deschenes
‘He had raised the hopes of people’
I had just been interviewed and had accepted my first position as a social worker in Lynn, Mass.
The joy of the occasion as I drove by Richardson’s Ice Cream ended with the news flash on the car radio.
It had been just a few years earlier on 1-20-1961 that my wife, Shirley, and I, as American University students, had attended the inauguration of John F. Kennedy at the Capitol Building in Washington. We sat just behind Eleanor Roosevelt.
As they played “Hail to the Chief,” we and others saw a new era of peace and justice ahead. He raised the hopes of people. That all ended in a tragic afternoon shooting. I thought then that the country would heal very slowly. Sadly, it was true.
High alert at sea
Some of the most important events in my life up to President Kennedy’s assassination took place while I was at sea. Family births, family deaths, almost all the major holidays and, of course, President Kennedy’s death.
It was a life I had chosen. The Navy is the one branch of the military that can keep its personnel from getting the news. This applies only to those who are at sea. So it was for me and all aboard our ship in the North Atlantic.
No radio, we were completely cut off from the outside world. The only news we received was that which our Skipper provided. We suspected something was going on because we went into a full alert status. At sea, that’s a big deal. ...
It was not until sometime later that we learned the truth. It was March before we put back into port, when we could finally ferret out some of the particulars.
Should our commander-in-chief ever die due to an act of violence, the military automatically goes on full alert. We may not know who the enemy is, where they are or what their plan might be, but we are ready, come what may!
I have always found it interesting that Oct. 22, 1962, marked the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis and 13 months later, to the day, President Kennedy was assassinated. All on the 22nd of the month.
Started with a playground rumor
It was my first year of teaching seventh grade at Briscoe Junior High School in Beverly (now Briscoe Middle School). Our class had been outposted to the Upton School for that year due to overcrowding at the main building.
Shortly after dismissing my homeroom for the day, one of my young students returned from the playground excitedly exclaiming, “Mr. Rand, President Kennedy has been shot, President Kennedy’s been shot.” Mustering up my best “teacher talk” (with three months’ experience), I said to her, “Now, Sharon, it is not nice to spread playground rumors. Now run along.”
It was only moments later that students and teachers began gathering in the halls, dispelling the “rumor” and launching what would become one of the most traumatic periods in not only my teaching career, but for the nation as a whole.
Mark W. Rand
In wake of tragedy, studies continued
I was a second-year medical student in Boston on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. Many of us were finishing lunch when word flashed from Dallas: “The president has been shot.” We walked from the dining hall across Longwood Avenue to the classroom buildings at the quadrangle, stunned.
There had been a lot of civil rights activity in the nation, and we thought, “Oh, no, some racist has shot the president.” That turned out to be wrong.
The afternoon bacteriology lecture was given by a full professor and chair of the department. As our class of medical students gathered, many were listening to portable radios. Our teacher asked us to turn off the radios. He said that there probably would be a lot of conflicting reports but not much factual news in the next hour. That turned out to be wrong also. Halfway through the lecture, another professor entered the amphitheater and quietly conferred with our teacher.
We guessed what the message was and wondered if our class would end immediately. But the professor resumed his lecture. At the end of the hour, he sadly said, “I have to report that our president is dead.”
Some went to the afternoon laboratory session, and some did not. I truly cannot recall what I did — a reflection of numbing confusion, I suppose. Later in the day, the dean of the medical school posted a notice on the bulletin board in the lobby of the dormitory where many of us lived. It said that there would be no classes for students in the basic sciences, but those in clinical work would continue on “in the highest traditions of medicine.” I do recall that plan — and I liked it.
Richard J. Hannah, M.D.
Dr. Hannah is a general internist who maintained an office in Salem from 1972 to 2011. He has served on the medical staffs of Salem Hospital since 1972 and the Shaughnessey-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital since it opened.
‘A sad, sad day for the entire world’
I had just left my last class at Salem High and got into my car when the radio announced that the president had just been shot and was dead. I ran back into the school to tell my teacher, Mr. Flaherty, and everyone was stunned. The following week, everyone was stuck to their TVs watching what had happened; we were like zombies watching a horror show. My dad was working for The Salem News at that time and said the atmosphere was so quiet, nobody spoke and the only noise was coming from the presses. A sad, sad day for the entire world.
Lakeland, Fl. (formerly of Salem)
Cynthia Zimmerman’s father, Joe Beote, retired from The Salem News in 1974.
Packed subway car was quiet
I was a commuting college freshman in Philadelphia, about to start a chemistry exam when bizarre rumors started circulating. I thought of them just as rumors, but after the exam, people on campus were huddled in small knots talking quietly, the flag at half-staff, and it was apparent something awful had happened. I got on the subway to go home — understand, this was a weekday rush hour — and the train was the usual packed sardine can with one stark difference: no chatter; hear-a-pin-drop, dead silence. When I got home, I turned on the television and learned for sure what I think by then I already knew.
A ‘bright light for the future’ gone
We had been married for just over one year. It was early on a Friday evening, and my wife, Patricia, was helping me hang curtains in the dining room of our little terraced home situated in the district of St. George, Bristol, England.
Our best man, Paul, had always popped in on Friday nights after work, but today was different. ... He came into the room and just stood there looking totally gray and shaken and saying, “President Kennedy has been shot.”
I was frozen to the spot. President Kennedy was the foundation of all that was good after the generations of wars that we had suffered in England, and he was the bright light for the future.
We just stood and wondered, “Where does this lead?” The wallpaper, the furniture, the faces and every feeling that we felt that day will always be remembered.
A few years later, we left England and settled in Beverly, but that day will live with us forever.
‘The switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree’
On that day, I was 18 years old and working for New England Telephone on Norman Street in Salem.
I was a telephone operator. Our switchboard was a mile long.
When the news broke, the whole mile of the switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.
We were told by our supervisors to just tell people that called to turn on their televisions or radio and not say anything more.
I left work that day very sad and at the same time mad that this happened.
We all stayed at home and listened to the television. This went on for days.
That is how I remember where and what I was doing.
Finding comfort in prayer
I was a student at St. John The Baptist School on St. Peter Street in Salem. We had returned from our lunch recess. Upon returning to my classroom, we found Sister Joseph on her knees praying the rosary. She was using the large wooden rosary on the side of her habit. The shades were pulled down. We prayed with her for the president and went home. My grandmother was in the same state as the Sister. We as children felt at comfort with the elders and prayer.
‘It seemed like everything stood still’
President Kennedy, although a Democrat, transcended party lines. I think we were all proud to have him as our president. My family and I had visited Washington, D.C., for Easter in 1963, excited and proud in the knowledge that our “hometown boy” was the president of the United States! My mother collected plates, and we returned home with one of President Kennedy, which was proudly displayed in our home, along with his picture.
I had just turned 10 years old in November of that year, and every Friday after school, my friends and I walked from school to Calvary Episcopal Church for choir practice. When we arrived, our choir director gave us the horrible news that President Kennedy had been shot, and she took us all into the sanctuary to pray for him. We didn’t know that he had died until we arrived home. It seemed like everything stood still and the entire country was in a state of shock. For the next several days, we were all glued to our little black-and-white television sets as the dramatic events of the next few days played out.
‘A stunning but surreal moment’
I was a seventh-grader at Annunciation School in Danvers during the last class of the day — fixated on the second hand of the clock, as was my routine every Friday. At the strike of 2 p.m. our principal, a woman normally in full control, announced over the intercom with a quivering voice that our president had been shot and called us to pray for his recovery.
It was a stunning but surreal moment. At the age of 12, it is difficult to immediately reconcile harsh reality with imagination, so I opted to suppress any feelings of upset — until the irreversible news came out 20 minutes later.
The bus ride home was subdued. My mother remained in silent grief as my father returned home from work early with a somber face I’d not seen before or since. The entire family found itself transfixed before the television for the next three days.
We took a break after Sunday Mass to visit my paternal grandmother in Lawrence. There we watched in stunned horror as live images of Oswald’s murder assaulted us all the more.
There has never been a series of days in my life until 9/11 anywhere near comparable.
Toms Brook, Va. (formerly of Danvers)
‘My generation’s Pearl Harbor’
I was sitting with some classmates in the dining hall at Salem State College in the early afternoon between classes, enjoying a newly discovered food — a bagel with cream cheese — when an announcement came over the all-call that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I rushed home, turned on the TV to CBS and Walter Cronkite and proceeded to audiotape the next six hours of CBS News on my Wollensak audio tape recorder. I have never been able to listen to the programming but realize that this event was my generation’s Pearl Harbor, Challenger disaster or New York Trade Towers.
William H. (Bill) Clark Jr.
Bill Clark is a Danvers selectman.
Hearing the news in Turkey
November 22, 1963, I found myself in the U.S. military theater in Ankara, Turkey. I was working at U.S. Agency for International Development and lived kitty-corner to the rear of our embassy there. There were three of us from that building. All of a sudden, the movie stopped and Kennedy’s death was announced. Shocked, we were directed out of the theater, and we headed to the embassy where one of us worked in the communications section. She went inside while we waited and then returned to us with the horrible news.
Priscilla Andrews Ulutas
‘The defining moment of our generation’
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was 12 years old and enrolled in seventh grade at Garfield Heights Junior High School in Garfield Heights, Ohio. Garfield Heights was founded in 1904 and named for President James Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881.
At eighth period, a teacher from across the hall, Miss Lang, interrupted our class briefly to whisper something to our teacher, Mr. Albers. Interruptions never happened, so it was clear that something was wrong. When we changed classes, the buzz in the hallway was that the president had been shot. I didn’t believe it, but when we arrived at our eighth-grade science class, Mrs. Baldwin told us that this terrible news had been reported. A short time later, an announcement came on the PA system that made it official. School was dismissed, and we all went home in shock.
I remember needing so much to meet my father when he came home from work that day. My brother and sister and I ran out to his car as soon as it pulled into the driveway. My parents were Democrats, and we were Catholic and Irish on my mother’s side, so we all felt especially devastated by the news. I remember watching the television nonstop all weekend, and I believe that I saw Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination live. My memories of the funeral include the contrast between the incredible military precision of the procession and the friskiness of the riderless horse, which seemed to embody how much we all wanted to break away, run away, from the reality of JFK’s death.
Years later, my husband and I visited the Sixth Floor Museum and took a tour of the sites in Dallas associated with the assassination, James Tippett’s murder, Oswald’s escape and capture, and Jack Ruby’s murder of Oswald. It was a comprehensive tour, and the tour guide had huge binders of reference books to answer every trivial question that the conspiracy buffs and other obsessives had to offer. It brought back the dreadful power of that day in 1963.
There is no question that JFK’s assassination was the defining moment of our generation, as are Pearl Harbor and 9/11 for those young and alive then.
A memorable drive
On the day of JFK’s death, I was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, N.M. I was driving home from my outlying weather station at Tijeras Canyon (eight miles from Albuquerque) on Route 66. I was listening to the radio and heard the infamous news. I relived that moment many times.
Arthur A. Francis
Arthur A. Francis writes monthly Salem weather reports for The Salem News.
A classroom in shock
I was just leaving Mr. Smith’s seventh-grade English class at Shore Country Day School in Beverly. I was just stepping down from the schoolroom to the sidewalk outside with one foot on either surface when my classmate Lisa Burrage came rushing back into the classroom, knocking me back into the room. She was about my size, and as she was running in, screaming that “they shot President Kennedy”, she ran into me and knocked me to the floor. Everyone who was left in the room began to scream and cry. ... I remember that like it was yesterday.
The school building was knocked down a few years ago to make room for the new science center, but I plan to visit Shore at 2 p.m. on Friday and stand at the same place for a few minutes, where I first found out about that tragic event.
An interesting sidebar, my dad, Cmdr. J. Alex Michaud, knew JFK during his Navy command days during WWII and said that he was an incredibly smart young officer. He read so fast that he could read a book in a matter of a single sitting. My dad told us many stories of his time with JFK.
Biff Michaud is CEO of the Salem Witch Museum.
Army-Navy game a constant reminder
On Nov. 22, 1963, as I was entering the old Salem High School auditorium, I was told of the President Kennedy assassination. A definite shock to me and the rest of the world, it altered some of my future events.
Because of the killing, the Salem-Beverly Thanksgiving game was canceled and played on Saturday, Nov. 24. Unfortunately for myself and Al (Butch) Giardi, it also canceled our trip to the Army-Navy game on Saturday, Nov. 24, 1963.
Al and I were being recruited by the West Point football staff and were scheduled to attend the game. My father, Ted Sadoski, and uncle Brud Monson were also scheduled to attend, but it was all canceled for us. To this day, the news of the playing of the Army-Navy game recalls the tragic murder of President Kennedy.
Donald A. Sadoski, DMD
A frightening sick day
I was home from school sick, resting on the couch watching television. I was scared because my mother was more upset then usual from watching the news. This awful news seemed really important and frightening.
‘Like a bad dream’
I had just sat down in the living room with my mother to watch her favorite soap opera, “As The World Turns.” (I was a 14-year-old sophomore at Peabody High School. Peabody had double sessions that year. I went to school in the morning and was usually home by 1:00 p.m.)
The show had just started when suddenly a CBS bulletin interrupted the broadcast. I heard a reporter say that shots had been fired at the president’s car in Dallas, Texas. I was immediately hit with a sense of shock, despair and disbelief. How could this possibly happen? Who could have done such a thing? Of course, I couldn’t turn the TV off.
Around 2:00, CBS reporter Walter Cronkite, choking back his words, told us that President Kennedy had died at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. I immediately started crying. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how much life the president had showed during his tenure in office. How he had stood up to the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis. How much humor he had inserted into the weekly press conferences. How much hope for the future he had instilled in the young people of the nation.
I spent the rest of the day and the weekend in a deep sense of despair. The events of the weekend. Oswald’s arrest and subsequent murder. President Johnson being sworn in as the new president. Thousands of people lining up to pay their respects to the president, lying in state. The funeral on Monday with all the world leaders. The muffled drums as the funeral procession wound its way from the church to Arlington National Cemetery. Jacqueline Kennedy with her two young children at her side, followed closely by her brothers-in-law, Robert and Ted Kennedy. The bugler missing a note as he played taps. The lighting of the eternal flame. Young John Kennedy saluting his father’s casket.
The whole weekend was so surreal, like a bad dream from which I could not awaken. So profound a loss. So many questions about why this happened. One gunman acting alone? What would have happened if he had lived? If it had rained in Dallas that day, he would have been sitting in a car with a bulletproof top.
I’m now 64 years old. There are millions of Americans who were not alive when this terrible event took place, and they can never feel the pain that I and many other Americans felt that day and still feel to this day. But I remember it like it was yesterday. And I still cry when I recall how I felt that day when my youthful idealism was taken away by the bullets of an assassin.
Speros A. Zakas
An unforgettable announcement
I was a sophomore at Stoneham High School. I was in a U.S. History class when the principal of our high school came over the loudspeaker and made the first announcement that President Kennedy had been shot, and then in another few minutes, the principal announced that President Kennedy had died. The weather was very typical for November; it was a cold, dark and very dreary day.
I was also very privileged to have attended Mass at St. Francis Xavier in Hyannis with President and Mrs. Kennedy. Friends of my family owned property on Cape Cod, and we used to attend Mass where President Kennedy and his family attended.
‘The silence in the restaurant was remarkable’
I received my commission as an ensign in the USNR at the Naval Base in Newport, R.I., the morning of the assassination. My parents, my fiancee, Anna Marie, and I were just passing through Providence on our way to Old Greenwich, Conn., when we heard the news on the radio. Later in our trip, we stopped at a rest-stop restaurant on the Connecticut Turnpike, and the silence in the restaurant was remarkable. Everyone was speaking in hushed tone.
Richard C. Feyl
‘We stayed glued to the television’
We were living in Hayward, Calif., a town 20 miles south of San Francisco. Leo, a Navy chief and a native of Dallas, Texas, was stationed in San Francisco on recruiting duty and was at work that day. As the announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination came over the radio, work came to a halt, with everyone listening to the radio. Priscilla was driving son Tom, 4, to a preschool session with daughters Katherine, 2, and Elizabeth, 1 month, in the car when the news came over the radio. Like all Americans, we stayed glued to the television watching Walter Cronkite give the terrible and unbelievable news.
Leo and Priscilla Curda
‘Seldom does the teacher have all the answers’
As a student teacher in my last year of college at Bridgewater State, I was conducting an open discussion with my last period Accelerated Junior Class at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River. The class was thoroughly absorbed with “Walden.” I had posited the question: “But do you find any ‘humanity’ in Thoreau’s ideas? When he tells us that he suffered when he lost ‘a bay horse, a turtledove and a white stone,’ is he writing literally or does each item represent an emotional attachment?” In an instant, seventeen bright, concerned students raised their hands ... .
We were unaware that we would all soon discover that unique divide between academia and sentiment. Another teacher knocked at the classroom door, opened it and shouted, “The president’s been shot in Dallas!” Within the room, no one spoke or reacted for several minutes. Then, one of the students who was a member of the Audio-Visual Club left the room and returned with an 18-inch black-and-white television. He switched through various channels (perhaps there were six at the time) until he found the stony, rigid visage of Walter Cronkite. ...
We all remained mesmerized by what we saw. The end-of-school bell rang; no one chose to leave the room. None of us could fully absorb Cronkite’s announcement and tearful response when, at 2:25 p.m., he made the unfathomable statement: “The President of the United States died.”
Much too early in my career as a high school English teacher, I volubly learned the lesson that seldom does the teacher have all the answers. JFK had been my personal idol since my own high school years. His early programs that he instituted as president — the Peace Corps, several fellowship programs that opened doors to college and higher education degrees that had never existed before, his embrace of the Civil Rights movement — resonated within the forming philosophy of giving back and helping others that many of my generation embraced.
I suggested that my students return to their homes, prepare to spend these vast, uncertain hours with their families. Much later that evening, Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony.
It was the only televised statement that day that made any sense.
North Shore Community College
At around 1:00 on that Friday afternoon, I was walking back from my college classes to my dormitory at Simmons College in Boston. I arrived at my dormitory, Simmons Hall, and found the living room filled with students all gathered around the one television in the dorm. This was very unusual, as we didn’t usually watch much TV in those days and definitely not at 1 in the afternoon. The other odd thing was that no one was talking and the only sound that could be heard was people crying. I whispered to the girl closest to me and asked what was going on, and she sobbed that President Kennedy had been shot. ...
Everyone was in shock and sobbing and hugging each other and also frightened at what would happen next. School was canceled until after Thanksgiving, and we all made arrangements to go home to our families. The streets were empty and silent except for people traveling to get to their homes, and everyone you looked at was crying. I think it was especially horrifying because the president was from Boston, and people here felt like he was family to Bostonians. His family home was only a few blocks from my dormitory. When I got home, my family and I stayed glued to the TV to watch the details unfold, and we felt we were paying our respects to a much beloved president.
Shock, grieving followed the day’s news
As a teacher at Danvers High on a Friday not long before Christmas, I was looking forward to the weekend but, more especially, to the afternoon ahead when I had plans to run to the Northshore Mall to begin my Christmas shopping. An announcement came over the PA system from the principal’s office that President Kennedy had been shot. There were no more details, and after school, I immediately turned on the car radio as I headed for the mall. The news was shocking and my mind full of confusion. Once in the parking area, I realized I had lost all my enthusiasm for shopping, and the tears were obscuring my driving ability. I parked the car but couldn’t get out. I returned to the highway and drove home. For the next three days I sat with my husband as events unfolded on the TV, in shock and grieving for our charismatic, Massachusetts native who had been assassinated, for his family, and for the United States.
‘We all cried all the way home’
I was 19 working at Traveler’s Insurance as an insurance rater. ... At exactly 12:35 p.m., our bosses told us to stop working, and all of a sudden there were radios on everywhere, where otherwise all you could hear is the typing of every typewriter. ... Our bosses told all of us to go home, as the president had been shot while in Texas. This was beyond belief! Nothing could ever happen to all of our wonderful lives. Not that we hadn’t struggled growing up, but there just didn’t seem to be any worries, as we all knew everything would be all right.
We all scuttled out the door to go home, not knowing what was going to happen. On the way home, as we all carpooled, as we were in the Callahan Tunnel ... at exactly 12:50 p.m., the news came on the radio that the president had just died. ... We all cried all the way home, just not believing that this was possible. I don’t even know how the girl driving could see through her tears.
... Once home we all just turned on our TVs and watched with horror the whole scene played out ... and we all saw another horror as Lee Oswald was shot.
Our lives were changed forever, as that was the end of our safety net. No more will we ever feel that feeling that everything will be OK, no matter what happens. No more will we feel that feeling that we will achieve whatever we set out minds to do. No more can we trust anyone, as the cops had shuffled Lee Harvey Oswald out the door to tons of press, not to mention whoever else was outside the door. No more can a president ever feel safe among a crowd of people. ...
Life is no longer the same and never will be.