As we approach the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, I am not sure what is most stunning -- the fact that I can vividly remember that day and or the fact that I am old enough to remember something from, gulp, 50 years ago.
I was 11 years old the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I was at Locust Jr. High in Wilmette on Nov. 22, 1963, (now renamed Wilmette Junior High) and our teachers gathered us for what they called an "important assembly" and we all went to the auditorium.
There the principal told us that there had been an accident in Dallas. That President Kennedy had been shot. Kids started crying. Teachers were crying. He then told us school was dismissed.
I walked home -- about a six-minute walk. A new stereo hi-fi had just been delivered and the first thing my mom heard when she turned it on was that President Kennedy was dead.
All I remember after that is sitting in front of the television for hours. When I saw Walter Cronkite break down and choke back tears, I knew this was the worst day of my life.
Later that weekend my family would go to my grandma's apartment for brunch. The food was always good and I can still smell the mothballs and hear the crackling of the plastic sofa covers. After brunch we turned on the television and watched Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV.
That was the day that I became a news junkie.
But even in 1960, at just 8 years old, I remember grocery shopping with my mom and people were wearing buttons that said Adlai Stevenson. I remember too the debates between Nixon and Kennedy -- how everyone was gathered around the TV.
I fell in love with the Kennedys. Jacqueline Kennedy was beautiful -- Jack was handsome and for me -- an 8-year-old girl who read Cinderella over and over and over again - these were the right people to lead our country.
But mostly I remember Vaughn Meader's The First Family album -- a comedy album that spoofed the first family.
We listened to it so much, we had all the lines memorized, like the press conference where the White House nurse addressed problems with toys in the daily bath -- specifically which toys were John Jr's and which were Caroline's.
"Nine of the PT boats, two of the Yogi Bear beach balls and the ball of silly putty belong to Caroline," a voice sounding just like JFK said. "And nine of the PT boats, one of the Yogi Bear beach balls and two of the Howdy Dowdy plastic bouncing clowns belong to John. The rubber swan is mine."
You can listen here:
I am sure that my obsession with the news began on Nov. 22, 1963. This was the first event I remember covered live on TV. I guess this was the day I knew I wanted to be a reporter.
Many years later, in 2007, I would sit in a courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building covering the Conrad Black trial. It was there I got to know Peter Worthington, a Toronto reporter who was one of the founders of the Toronto Sun. Peter and I would save each other seats day after day and share hard candy during the tedious court proceedings. Later, after the trial, Peter and I stayed in touch via email.
On this anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, it is Peter I am remembering too. As a young reporter he was sent to Washington to cover the assassination. Peter told me that it suddenly occurred to him and his editors that they had left Dallas uncovered. He hopped a plane to Dallas on that Sunday, wearing the same clothes he had worn since Friday and checked into the Statler hotel thinking he would get some sleep.
But he decided to learn the lay of the land and went to the Dallas police station and asked when Oswald would be transferred to the county jail. The plans were to transfer Oswald in the evening but Peter was told that had changed. That Oswald would be transferred soon.
Peter learned of plans to have a decoy car and that Oswald would be transferred via an underground garage.
Peter was just feet away from Oswald as he was shot. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and at about 11:30 a.m. Peter realized he should check in with his paper, the Telegram.
As Peter retold the story in his memoir Looking for Trouble:
"Just wanted to let you know that I'm here and have the story in hand," I said, expecting a sigh of relief from the other end that I was on the job."
"Yeah, we know," said the desk. "We've been looking at nothing but you on TV all morning. You need a shave."
Peter was surprised. It was first he heard that the cameras were shooting live.
Peter can be seen in first frame standing to left with hands behind his back:
In 2011 he wrote about the assassination for The Huffington Post.
Sadly, Peter 86 died this year suddenly following a staph infection.
As Peter said in his memoir, "What America lost in Kennedy's death, what the free world lost, is a leader of inspirational qualities whose like has not been seen since. None of his successors have been presidents of stature, of dreams, ideals and goals that inspired."
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