Nov. 22, 1963 is a date seared into the American memory.
|Gary Hess (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
On the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, the Sentinel-Tribune asked area residents for their memories and reflections of that day and its aftermath.
Dr. Gary Hess, emeritus distinguished research professor of history at Bowling Green State University, was attending India’s Allahabad Institute while working on his doctorate when he heard the news.
"The assassination occurred during the middle of the night in Indian time," he explained. "And so we learned about it early Saturday morning. And actually I learned about the assassination via a Voice of America broadcast."
"1963 was the high point of the Cold War, of course, and typically the Soviet Union used to try to jam the Voice of America broadcasts into India. And the broadcast came from Sri Lanka. But that morning they weren't jamming the broadcasts, so it came in very clear. It was, of course, very startling to all of us Americans. While I was not a Peace Corps volunteer, most of my friends in India were Peace Corps volunteers, and the death of Kennedy was something that was very personal to each of them. They all say in one way or another if it wasn't for Kennedy," they wouldn't be in India.
"The sympathy that Indians showed for we Americans was also very moving. It was a very difficult time; it was hard to keep up with what was going on in the states."
"I think that many young people at the time, especially, had been very attracted to Kennedy," Hess said. "He was to many of us an inspirational leader. I think there is something to the argument that America lost some of its innocence with the Kennedy assassination. There was a lot of promise that Kennedy brought to the White House, a sense that nation was going to address important issues at home and overseas. We'd just come through the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous fall ... and so you just had this sense that Kennedy was fulfilling his promise and we were looking forward to another term and eight full years of a Kennedy presidency and all of that was suddenly lost that day."
The photographic image showed the quintessential Kennedy — smiling, relaxed, engaging — one arm propped on the roof of the car and the other arm on the open passenger door.
|Then U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy visits the Bowling Green State University campus in 1959. According to The Key, the university yearbook, the visit drew a ‘favorable crowd of students.’ In this photograph, he talks to students in front of the previous student union building. (Photo by Don Strayer provided by The Key)
It was fall 1959, and the youthful presidential candidate paused for a minute in front of the Bowling Green State University Union, surrounded by a crush of animated students, community and campus leaders all wearing suits and ties. The top of President Ralph McDonald's bald head was barely visible.
Jim Gordon was in his first months on the job as BGSU's director of news and photo services.
"I was also The Key adviser," Gordon says, referring to the university yearbook, a photographic repository for each year's biggest names and events.
Four years later, that same photo was reprinted in the 1964 yearbook, this time as the centerpiece of a two-page memorial spread to the young president shot down in his prime.
It takes only minutes for Gordon to lay his hands on the volume, part of the collection of university photographic memorabilia he has stored in the basement of his home.
The photos in that 1963-1964 yearbook harvest vivid memories.
There are the sober-faced student reporters huddled in front of the BG News' wire service Teletype machine as it spits out a paper with the fateful words "Three shots fired..." and the much-worse bulletins to follow.
"There's one with a couple students. The girl's crying and the guy's looking down at her" with a stricken expression, as she leans against his shoulder.
"There's a narrow picture of the flag pole at half staff over University Hall."
|Jim Gordon (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Suddenly, nothing seemed stable. Nothing certain.
Everyone was shaken.
Perhaps that's partial explanation for the other thing Gordon recalls.
"I remember going out to campus that weekend," probably for something involving the assassination. "I slid into a tree at the corner of Conneaut and Haskins. I was going too fast approaching that intersection on ice."
Gordon went on to teach photography to two or three generations of BGSU journalism students, few of whom were ever called upon to record as visually dramatic an occasion as that frozen for history by student photographers on Nov. 22, 1963.
Rose Ellen Latta Kuebeck was a student in Mrs. Row's third grade class at Kenwood Elementary School that day.
"I remember that our classroom door happened to be closed," she said. "And all of a sudden I heard a commotion in the hallway. And then I heard people running up and down the hallway. Teachers were crying. So I knew something horrendous had happened."
After taking the bus home, she went into her house to find her parents, Congressman Delbert Latta and his wife, Rose Mary Latta, standing in front of the television in their den "and they were reporting that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Texas."
Since her father was a member of the House of Representatives, Kuebeck and her family traveled to Washington, D.C., days later so her father could attend Kennedy's funeral.
"I remember arriving in D.C. late that night when President Kennedy was lying in state in the rotunda" she said, recalling how quiet and still the chamber was as they walked around the casket.
The family was witness to the presidential funeral procession as it moved to Arlington National Cemetery the next day.
"My dad, mom, brother Bob and I were standing with all the crowds along the Memorial Bridge that crossed the Potomac," she said. "And I remember, as the funeral procession was passing, there were all the foreign heads of state that had come for the funeral. And I distinctly remember my dad pointing out a man who sat very tall in his seat in the limousine. And my dad said to me, 'That's Charles De Gaulle, the president of France.'"
"His murder was a line of demarcation," Kuebeck said of Kennedy's death. "Because after that, our nation suffered from so many assassinations and riots and national upheaval during the '60s."
Myra Merritt, a member of the voice faculty in the BGSU College of Musical Arts, heard the announcement in school. She was a freshman in high school living in Washington D.C., and she remembered walking with her friends to the bus stop. "We were all in shock."
|Bowling Green State University students react to the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. (Photo courtesy of The Key)
"He was greatly loved," she said, "especially in the African-American community."
Merritt said that her parents were already excited about voting for him the next year. Residents of the District of Columbia had just received the right to vote for president, so almost a century after African-Americans had been given the right to vote, Merritt's parents had yet to cast a presidential vote.
They and her older sister were pleased, she said, that they would be voting for Kennedy.
Merritt noted that up until 1960 African-Americans had been staunch Republicans, their loyalties dating back to the days of Abraham Lincoln.
But now they saw Kennedy as the first president who was sympathetic to their cause, the first president who "risked offending the white racists who were part of his party."
Just before the 1960 election, Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to express his sympathy for the plight of her husband Martin Luther King Jr. who was imprisoned in Georgia. Kennedy's brother, Robert, made calls to the judge in the case, and King was released. Merritt believes that was a turning point.
Merritt remembers staying in throughout the weekend after Kennedy's assassination. "It was a horrible, horrible time," she said. She teared up as she watched Jacqueline Kennedy, "his young, graceful wife," and his young children.
Wendell Mayo, a fiction writer who teaches in the BGSU Writing Program, has explored the personal lives of those who lived through the Cold War, often on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
In 1963 televisions were a new arrival in American schools. He was in English class in Brook Park Elementary outside of Cleveland, and watching TV in English class, when the news of Kennedy's shooting was announced.
They watched, and a math teacher came into the room. He and the English teacher stood in front of the screen as the news of the president's death was announced.
'"It's about time somebody shot that Commie bastard," the math teacher said.
The English teacher started banging on him pushing him out of her classroom.
"That sort of thing stays with you," Mayo said. He even wrote a short story inspired by the incident.
Mayo remembers Kennedy as a "beloved president." He admired him for his stance on civil rights, but as he learned about "how aggressive he was about containment" of Communism Mayo's admiration cooled.
Still, Mayo said, it's hard to judge Kennedy too harshly. Those were different times. "I can remember in junior high thinking about nuclear war and that this could be the last day of existence."
Composer Samuel Adler lived outside Dallas in 1963. He remembers the days before Kennedy's visit as uneasy. "We were all sort of anxious because Texas was not very friendly to JFK." The ultra conservative group the John Birch Society had its headquarters in Dallas.
Still the day the president arrive as a beautiful day.
Adler, who now lives in Perrysburg commuting to New York City to teach at the Juilliard School, was on faculty at what is now the University of North Texas and was part of a faculty panel giving an exam to a doctoral student. He remembers being "in a jolly mood" because the candidate passed.
Then someone came into the examination room with the news of Kennedy's shooting. Adler headed straight home, listening to news bulletins, including the announcement of the president's death. He drove passed Love Field where he saw Air Force One parked on the tarmac.
Adler was also the music director at the largest reform synagogue in Dallas, and after the assassination FBI agents showed up to protect the temple. "Everyone suspected (the assassination) had been a right wing plot, and we had some communications that they were going to bomb some parts of the temple."
Adler said "nobody suspected" it would come from someone from the other side of the political spectrum.
"I think his legacy was that for a moment in our history we had this idea of youthful renaissance," Adler said, and through the influence of Jacqueline Kennedy a new interest in promoting the arts.
The assassination ushered in a turbulent period leading to a time when Kennedy's brother Robert and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed just months apart.
"We in this country weren't used to assassinations," he said. "We gotten used to them I'm afraid."
Late on the night of JFK's death the music director of the Dallas Symphony called to ask Adler to compose a piece for the symphony to perform in two weeks.
Adler poured his own shock and sadness over the "horrendous" event into "Requiescat in Pace."
In it he sought "reconciliation" by weaving together a Gregorian chant from the Roman Catholic tradition, an Episcopalian hymn and a Jewish lamentation. The piece is included on the 1999 recording "The Composer's Voice: New Music from Bowling Green," performed by the Bowling Green Philharmonia conducted by Emily Freeman Brown, Adler's wife.
In the spoken introduction, Adler says: "As so often in days of great crisis only faith and art are able to partially relieve the pain of our tremendous loss."
Jack Taylor, BGSU professor emeritus of ethnic studies, said as a seventh grader he learned of the assassination when an announcement was made over the loudspeaker.
"Like most seventh graders at the time I was shocked and stunned to hear that the president was killed," he said. "Of course, my parents and I watched all of the news reports up to and including his funeral. And along with millions of other Americans I mourned the loss of our president."
Jack Santino, a professor in the BGSU Popular Culture Department, grew up Boston. He was in high school in 1963, living in West Roxbury. School had been dismissed early on Nov, 22, 1963, he said, and he and his friends where walking home when "a little kid" ran up to them and told them the president had been shot. They dismissed the news, then they wondered, could it be true? When they turned on the television they had their answer.
Still that night he and his friends went out as usual, only to be scolded by the Jewish woman who owned the corner store. "You boys shouldn't be out on a night like this."
As with other members of the Baby Boom, Kennedy was the first president they connected with. Santino recalls watching his inauguration and feeling there were great things ahead.
His older sister, he said, "related to Kennedy in a way she previously related to rock stars."
On returning to his Catholic high school after the assassination, "everyone looked like they'd been hit over the head with a 2x4," Santino said.
As usual every class began with a prayer, and on that day every prayer was for the dead president.
His English teacher said that if students didn't now know the meaning of "irony" he was powerless to teach them.
The event played out on television for a generation raised on television. Kennedy was a president who called citizens, especially the young to serve their country. Then he was shot and there was no happy ending. "This was a rude awakening for people," Santino said.
Santino wonders about the hold JFK's killing will have on popular culture as fewer and fewer people remember it.
The events surrounding the 50th anniversary may signal the event receding somewhat from the national consciousness.
Bowling Green Mayor Richard Edwards was working in Washington, D.C., as a staff assistant for U.S. Rep. Charles Mosher, R-Oberlin.
|Mayor Richard Edwards (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Mosher was on the House Science and Astronautic Committee, which was a key player in the fledgling space program. "We were on our way to a meeting with the deputy director of NASA, Dr. Hugh Dryden at the NASA headquarters when we got word that the meeting had been canceled because of the death of the president. All we had known was that he had been taken to a hospital.
"Washington was unlike anything I had ever seen. Nothing was moving. Everyone was trying to listen in to find out what was going on. It was eerily quiet. Your could hear a pin drop. Something I will never forget."
Edwards said the president was very close friends with Dryden.
The Edwards were able to visit the Capitol Rotunda where JFK's body was laying in state.
Edwards said he had "some wonderful experiences working with the Kennedy people. I had been allowed to attend what turned out to be his last press conference, given full access with the rest of the press at the State Department."
At the time of the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie in 1963 Edwards had been a part of a tour to the family quarters of the White house to see a piece Mrs. Kennedy had obtained for the white House depicting the battle. Rep. Mosher's district included costal portions of Lake Erie.
The Edwards returned to Ohio in 1964.
Nadine Edwards' call to her husband Dick at Rep. Mosher 's office told them news of Kennedy's death that she had heard on the radio. "I had been making a pie for dinner for guests we were planning to have visit that night. When I told Dick he shouted the news to those in the office and I could hear crying and screaming in the background. It was disbelief. We didn't have that dinner with friends. We stood near the bier in the rotunda and had been told Mrs. Kennedy, who came and went many times, had been there just before us.
|Nadine Edwards (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
"We took our oldest daughter, Tamara, (4 at the time), with us when we stood in front of the capitol building the day of the funeral procession. Watching that riderless horse go by with the boots turned backwards in the stirrups is an image I cannot get out of my head." Tamara now lives in the D.C. area.
Sandy Lepper, was teaching 10th grade English at Bowling Green High School, which was in its last year on West Wooster Street. She retired from teaching at BGHS 20 years ago.
"We couldn't vote until age 21 in those days. He was my first vote. It was just such a shock. Everybody was shocked. It didn't matter about politics."
Fr. Herb Weber says he often thinks of Nov. 22, 1963 "as the day my world stood still."
Now the 65-year-old pastor of Blessed John XXIII Parish near Perrysburg, 50 years ago he was a high school junior.
"I was studying Latin" when news of Kennedy's death reached the 15-year-old Weber and his peers. "I was a student at the Josephinum, which is a seminary" in Columbus.
"I was in study hall."
The first word of the shooting "had hit during lunch break" but at that time all anyone knew was that Kennedy had been rushed to Parkland Hospital.
Later, another student directed Weber's gaze out the classroom window.
"I saw one of the priests go out and lower the flag pole to half mast, so that's how we knew" the president was dead.
Weber can only recall one emotion for the rest of that day: "We were in shock."
In the next two days, leading up to the funeral, that changed.
"I can say that it was my first time to meditate on death. I had never experienced the death of anyone close to me, and although I didn't know President Kennedy personally, I felt the world as I had known it, ceased."
Weber said people frequently try to draw a parallel between Kennedy's assassination and other events, most often "9-11, or before that it was the Challenger Explosion. But they're different."
The priest believes in the wake of Kennedy's assassination people experienced "a death of innocence of some kind.
"It was not a personal loss of innocence, but the world. Like the world was tainted.
"The world seemed to be so full of hope in the early 1960s. The world thought anything was possible. President Kennedy himself said we would have a man on the moon within a decade.
"We felt nothing would stop us on any front, and suddenly something could stop us."
Because of this one moment in history, "many people's high hopes for the future were dashed. And it is not simply about Kennedy himself, but the times and hopes of so many people converged. It was the perfect storm."
Dick Newlove, whose dad was a Democratic party leader in Wood County, was a student at Bowling Green High School. "I was in Esther Hayhurst's American history class. Everyone was shocked. It was like it wasn't even real. The whole weekend I remember everybody sitting like mummies in front of the television watching all of that, Oswald being shot and then the funeral. My dad (Al Newlove) told us to turn it off and do something. There was this sense that it was not real."
|Copies of the Friday November 22, 1963 edition of the Sentinel-Tribune display different headlines. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
"People my age went through several more of those events but (JFK) was emotionally the hardest."
Newlove recalls that he did see "Lawrence of Arabia" that night at the Cla-Zel. "But after that everything seemed to just shut down."
Jo Ascunce, currently a Bowling Green resident, experienced the JFK assassination from the perspective of the student and the 9-11 tragedy from that of teacher.
On Nov. 22, 1963 the former Jo Jennings had just turned 11 and was a precocious sixth grader at Bradner Elementary School.
She clearly remembers what appeared to be the entire student body of the K-6 school assembled as a group to learn the news of the shooting.
"We had to go to the cafeteria because that was the only TV we had in the school.
"There was really no discussion," just silence on the part of pupils and teachers alike. "We just watched the TV. It was more of a shock - like 'what does this mean?'"
Based on her own adult experiences as a teacher, Ascunce suspects that the decision to expose all children, young and older alike, to the news was primarily because the teachers themselves wanted to follow what was happening.
"On 9-11 I was teaching music at Glendale-Feilbach Elementary (in Toledo) when a teacher came running down the hall and yelled we were under attack. I kind of let the children talk amongst themselves while I tried to listen on a radio" in order to determine what was happening.
"I had to wait until lunch when I could get with the other teachers" to get a better sense of the scope of the event.
John and Pat Gorrill, of Wayne, are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today.
That means, of course, that the date they chose for the happiest occasion in their young lives turned out to be the most tragic day in almost everyone else's memory.
They were planning a 7 p.m. ceremony at the Wayne Church of Christ, to be followed by a modest cake-and-punch reception at the Wayne Community Hall.
"I worked midnights at Autolite in Fostoria so I slept until about noon" on their wedding day, said John Gorrill. He was staying at his aunt's house and she told him the terrible news when he awoke.
Meanwhile, Pat and her mother were decorating the hall when word reached them.
"You couldn't really postpone it at the last minute," so they opted to go ahead with the wedding, John said.
Still, the assassination "was always in the back of your mind. You couldn't really forget it," his wife added, even as she put on her dress and veil, was driven to the church, and later, as the couple cut the cake and opened their gifts.
"It was like a dark cloud," her husband agreed. "At the reception it was pretty quiet."
The impact continued as the couple tried to have a normal, if modest, honeymoon, before John had to be back at work on Monday.
"The first night we stayed in Toledo in a motel. It was pretty vacant," said John. "You couldn't find a restaurant hardly, unless it was a truck stop."
That was the way the whole weekend went, as they headed north into Michigan. "Everything was closed. There wasn't a restaurant or a store open. It was real gloomy," John said.
"On Sunday the only thing we found that was open was a dog show, so we stopped at the dog show just so that we did something."