50 years ago, November 22, 1963, time stood still as Americans absorbed the shocking news of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. To this day, anybody over the age of 55 will tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.
Sports Editor Perry Bell was a young Kindergarten kid at the time, having turned 5 years old only a couple of months earlier. His memory of the events of the time is very succinct. “The only thing I remember about it,” he said, “is that it (Kennedy’s funeral) is my first memory of watching TV.”
Publisher Maureen Miller was 9 years old and in 4th grade when the announcement came over the PA that Kennedy had been shot. About a half hour later, another announcement said the president had died. “I remember being confused about that, because I thought if somebody was shot it meant they were dead,” Miller said. She also remembers school being dismissed early on that Friday and cancelled on Monday, the day of the funeral. In every house in her hometown in eastern Iowa, people were glued to their TV sets from Friday afternoon through the end of coverage of the funeral on Monday.
Mary Baux worked in the Marion County Courthouse in 1963. She remembers it being very quiet after the news was received. People were stunned. Mary said, “We didn’t say any more than we had to because we didn’t know what to say.” There were no TV’s in the courthouse at that time, and Mary thinks the news may have come through the Sheriff’s office and quickly spread through every department. She said the tragedy crossed political lines. It didn’t matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican – this stunned everybody because it was a murder.
A 23-year-old student at DeVry Tech in Chicago, Harvey native Merrill Williams recalls thinking, “What the heck is going to happen to the country?” He remembers feeling disbelief – almost hopelessness - and describes the events as “surreal”. To Merrill, the feelings were similar when watching the events of 9/11 unfold. The same surreal thought, “How can this be happening?”
The TV happened to on in the George and LaVonne Andrew household as the tragedy played out that fateful Friday, and it didn’t get turned off for the next several days. LaVonne remembers thinking “the world is going to hell in a hand basket”. She used the word “devastated” to describe her feelings, and added that “the town lost its vitality. Everybody was saddened and fearful for the country’s future.”
Susan Prather was a college coed at Drake University that day. She remembers standing in the lobby of the dorm, looking at the TV and watching it happen. After a short time, Susan went to her room, changed her clothes and went to church. She remembers sitting in church, trying to make sense of things. “It was quite an experience,” Susan said. “I felt unable to take it all in. I was just stunned.”
Disbelief, stunned, hopeless, fearful – all recurring words in any conversation with people who remember that day in 1963. It was a day that many Americans will never forget. The end of Camelot.