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When Kennedy was killed


Forty-eight years ago, President Kennedy was shot and killed. It’s one of the moments in American history where those who experienced the tragedy don't hesitate remembering where they were, much as my generation will recall what we were doing on 9/11.

Shock and sadness hung over the nation. In Lawrence, reactions across the board were of shock and grief.

Many people interviewed by the Journal-World at the time could not believe something like this could happen in the United States. Some blamed radicals, while one man said it was hard to comprehend how Southerners felt about Kennedy. Some residents interviewed by the Journal-World weren’t even aware Kennedy had died.

Local students prayed for the president, his family and the country. KU canceled its annual fall festival.

The Journal-World was an evening paper then, and thus didn’t publish an extra edition that day (you can read the entire paper here, thanks to the sadly defunct Google Newspaper Project). The headline was blunt, and the front page included a photo of the president’s convertible speeding away with a Secret Service agent clinging to the back.

(See the front pages here)

The Journal-World spoke to many in the business, political and university scenes, but few voices from regular citizens were included in the first edition. If you lived in Lawrence at the time, I'd love to hear what you felt and observed during this dark time.

Here’s what the Journal-World wrote that day:

Shock and Grief; Then Anger Here

Lawrence citizens registered shock, grief and intense anger, almost invariably in that order, when contacted by the Journal-World this afternoon about the tragic death of President Kennedy by an assassin during a motorcade through Dallas, Tex.

Some of the comments:

Congressman Robert Ellsworth, of Lawrence, reached in his Washington office about 2:30 p.m. today, express terrible shock at the tragic death of President Kennedy.

“I have been sitting around unable to do anything,” Ellsworth said.

“It is my understanding that Lyndon Johnson has already been given the oath of office, and I would like to say that we are certainly looking forward to rallying around him as loyal Americans and supporting him in the best interests of the United States and the free people everywhere.

“Nothing could be worse than what happened this afternoon,” Ellsworth continued. “This is a very profound shock to everybody. Everyone here is in a shock and almost at a loss of what do to. The United States has suffered a tremendous loss. From a human standpoint, our hearts certainly go out to a wonderful family.”

Kansas University Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe: “I hardly know what to say except this is an incredible thing. I am deploy shocked and grieved as is everyone at the University and throughout the country.”

Lawrence Mayor V.C. Springer: “It’s unbelievable! It doesn’t seem possible it could happen in one of our states.”

City Commissioner Jim Schubert: “I certainly am stunned by this. It sounds like something that would happen in South America, not here.”

Oscar Rumsey, president of the Lawrence Board of Education: “The President’s death is a terrific loss to the country and to his family. I’m sure that nobody can understand why it happened.”

Alan Fischer, commander of the Dorsey-Liberty Post, American Legion: “Any patriotic Americans will be terribly shocked and disturbed. It’s something we just don’t like to think can happen in our country. I just don’t know what else to say. This is terrible!”

James Surface, vice chancellor and dean of faculties at Kansas University: “This is a terrible, shocking thing. We can only hope that the President will not die from this injury.”

Keith Lawton, vice chancellor for operations at KU: “This is a truly great tragedy for this country.”

“A feeling of shock and great sorrow engulfs the entire KU campus,” said Donald K. Alderson, dean of men at KU. “The campus is very quiet this afternoon and all the students wear sad expressions on their faces.”

Frank McDonald, chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Central Committee, said: “I just don’t know what to say! This is a terrible shock to every American regardless of who they are. I only hope that as of this moment (1:15 p.m.) that the shot has not been fatal.”

John Stanley, president of Stanley Motors Inc., said: “I’m shocked. This is a horrible thing. I only hope he lives.”

Jack Harris of Jack Harris Appliances and Furniture Co., said: “This is an amazing, shocking thing. It’s hard to believe this could happen in our country. I’m just at a loss for words. I just don’t know what goes on in some people’s minds.”

Odd Williams, state representative from the 13th District, replied: “I’m just shocked. This is really a shocking thing. I’m just sitting here hoping and praying he will be all right.”

Supt. Of Schools Carl S. Knox: “My reaction is one of shock and concern that such a thing can happen in America to such a public official. This points up the hazard one in public office places himself in.”

Rev. Charles Wesley Garrett, First Methodist Church: “My first reaction is that this is a tragedy not only in the personal life of the President, the Texas governor and their families, but in the life of the nation. Being a Texan, I am disappointed to have the shooting happen there.”

Mrs. Ethel High, former chairman of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee: “It doesn’t seem possible hat any citizen of the United States could do that, and I hate to think of it. It’s a great tragedy!”

Richard Gruber, professor of naval science at KU: “My reaction is jus the same as for every other citizen of the United States. We have lost one of the most outstanding Presidents this country has ever had.”

“I don’t know what kind of shape this country is in now,” said Capt. Willard Anderson, acting chief of the Traffic and Security Office at KU. “I simply couldn’t believe the news when I first heard it.”

Police Chief Bill Cox: “This is a terrible tragedy. I feel sorry for his wife and family and those Secret Service agents who were charged with his personal protection. This I some of the those tragedies a person in the President’s position leaves himself open to when he is in a parade. He just has no protection. It’s a tragedy that anyone would do such a horrible thing.”

Howard Lindsey, Douglas County Civil Defense director:” This is quite a shock. Those people down here must be pretty bitter. We don’t realize how they feel. I suppose you will find radicals anywhere, but I just don’t know ho anyone could be so radical as to do what they did.”

Jack Sullivan, active Democratic leader in the county and former president of the State Young Democrat Club: “I don’t know what to say. I just know I’m shocked! This is a loss for the nation, and I’m sure all Americans will regret this tragic loss.”

Mrs. Robert G. Nixon, 1315 E. 21st: “I just don’t know what to say!”

Emily Taylor, dean of women at KU: “I hardly know what to say about this unexpected incident. Everyone who comes in to my office this afternoon is completely shocked by the news.”

A feeling of total shock was also reported by James K. Hitt, director of admissions and registrar at KU: “I’m jolted … this is all I can possibly think to say,” Hitt remarked.

Mrs. Richard Anderson, 2120 Haskell Ave.” “It gives me cold chills to think about it. Tragic – that this could happen.”

Clifford Ketzel, associated professor of political science at KU, said news of the shooting filled him with a feeling of “almost total loss.” He said he was reminded of the day, during World War II, when he was served aboard a destroyer in the Guam harbor. “Word of President Roosevelt’s death reached us that day and a feeling of stunned silence filled the ship.”

County Attorney Ralph King, Sheriff Fred Broadker and Undersheriff Rex Johnson, in a joint statement, read: “This is a terribly hard thing for a person to comment on. This is a most grievous incident, a terrible incident, one which comes as a tremendous shock to all law enforcement people and to all Americans.”

Mrs. Norris Nahman, 720 Wellington: “I’m just stunned. It seems so personal to me and probably to everyone.”

J.D. King, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee: “This is certainly a terrible thing, a shocking thing. I just can’t believe something like this could happen in our country. It’s just terrible!”

City Clerk Harold Fisher: “It’s shocking news. It’s hard to believe that anything like that could happen in a grand old country like ours. I certainly hope the guilty person soon is apprehended and brought to justice.”

KU students are all “visibly shocked and saddened” by the shooting, according to Mike Rogers, Osawatomie junior. Rogers said he leered of the snows as he was leaving a class at Summerfield Hall.

“The news is just terrible. I really can’t believe it,” said another KU student, Madelon Goetzinger of Olathe.


Scott Kaiser 6 years, 2 months ago

Yep. I remember. The funeral on TV was black and white. On ALL three channels.

RoeDapple 6 years, 2 months ago

Sitting in C.C.Breithaupt's class at LHS when the news came over the intercom. Everyone seemed in a daze the rest of the day.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 2 months ago

And a couple of days later, a murder was shown live on televison.

Bobo Fleming 6 years, 2 months ago

Was a Freshman at KU. Walked into an English I class and the girls were crying. I hadn't heard about it and the news had just starting to pick it up. We sat around for a little while not knowing what to do and then the professor called off the class. Then it was glued to the TV for four days. Cheered when Oswald was shot. I remember the black and white and the drums.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 2 months ago

I was a music student in college at the time. As such we were required to attend monthly symphony concerts and we all had season tickets. The next concert was only a few days after the horrible death of our President. As we entered the auditorium, no one said much, most of us were still in semi-shock. The program for that night had been cancelled and only one piece was to be played. It was the second movement of Beethoven;s Eroica (3rd) Symphony, the well known funeral march.

As the conductor came to the stage, everyone stood, for it was customary to sing the National Anthem at every symphony concert. We did so. Then the conductor turned to the audiance and made a few pained comments. He turned around and started the movement of this grand symphony. Then as the strains of Beethoven filled the air, people started to stand. There was not a dry eye in the house as we took in this grand and glorious musical selection. When it was over, the conductor turned, thanked the audiance for our participation, and left the stage. Then the audiance started to file out, quietly, no one spoke and we went our separate ways. It was one of the most memorable occasions I have ever participated in, the use of this great symphony movement to honor the fallen President. I will not forget it as long as I live.

blindrabbit 6 years, 2 months ago

On board U.S. Navy ship, 1 day out of Toyko. News coming our way was very limited, remember we were quite unsure how we should memorialize. Pulled into Toyko (Yokosuka) following day, Japan was in a state of shock. Really didn't see any video coverage until we got back to Hawaii in February. I can't be 48 years ago, still fresh in my mind!

Christine Anderson 6 years, 2 months ago

Question from someone who was still eight months away from being born that day. Mr. McDonald's quote says "11:15 p.m.". I thought the shooting occurred in the afternoon.

Alex Parker 6 years, 2 months ago

I had that question, too, cheesehead, but upon further examination, it's a goof. The short story is, that's a typo. It was 1:15 p.m. I apologize. I was working off a grainy copy. Here's something else worth pointing out: The inside page I link to above says it's for Thursday, Nov. 21. It must have been a hectic day.

uncleandyt 6 years, 2 months ago

I was two months old and had to get all my propaganda on the event from history books a few years later. I didn't hear about E. Howard Hunt until the 1980s. The nutjobbiest of theories is that there was one shooter. The shock is lengthy. Sad days became sad decades. God bless our mythology.

Christine Anderson 6 years, 2 months ago

Thanks. I do remember hearing my dad still expressing pain and shock over it years after the event. Mom kept an old, yellowed copy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press from that day.

Christine Anderson 6 years, 2 months ago

Was in high school when Reagan was shot and wounded by that nujob who thought he had a relationship with Jodie Foster. Some of the teachers were saying, "Oh no, not again." (referencing Kennedy)

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 6 years, 2 months ago

I was in high school in Dallas when Kennedy was killed. School was closed, and we were sent home. That was a wise decision as no one could keep their mind on studies, either students and teachers. I watched on live tv when Dallas county sheriff's deputies, and Texas Rangers were escorting Oswald, and Jack Ruby lunged forward with a short barrel gun and killed Oswald. It was a sad few days in Dallas, and I was concerned with the image it showed the world. I grew up in Dallas, in a nice neighborhood. Following those events nothing was the same afterwards.

Joe Blackford II 6 years, 2 months ago

4th grade, Andover Elementary School. The initial news is only a surreal event in my mind = we must have been shielded from any crying. A small TV on a stand was wheeled into Mr. Easter's classroom = the first time I experienced a TV in a classroom, OR knew that there was one in the school.

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