Newspaper covers ‘shocked numbness’ over JFK’s assassination
From the stark black-and-white front page of the November 27, 1963 Park Region Echo, a four-word headline still resonates: “Community mourns president’s death.”
The story began, “Alexandria and Douglas County joined the rest of the nation and the free world in mourning the death of President John F. Kennedy.”
From there, the story explained the assassination’s impact locally – how church services were held the following Monday morning by every denomination in town, and how retail stores, schools and public offices were closed as the president was being laid in rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
The story noted that local citizens reacted to the news with “stunned disbelief at first and then with growing sorrow.”
Over and over, the story said, one heard the words, “I just can’t believe it’s true” or “such a senseless waste” or “what will happen to us now?”
The story reported that many residents remained at their radios and television sets from Friday afternoon when the news was first announced until Sunday.
Alexandria TV and radio stations remained on air through the weekend, broadcasting network coverage of the tragedy. “KCMT-TV remained on air throughout the night Sunday to Monday morning, carrying network coverage of the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the president’s bier in the Capitol rotunda,” the story reported.
Another story described how stunned students reacted to the news.
“Perhaps nowhere in this community was the shocked numbness over the sudden announcement of President Kennedy’s assassination more apparent than it was in the schools,” the story said.
The newspaper printed a letter to the editor on the front page from two Jefferson High School seniors, who asked, back then, that their names be withheld. Here it is:
“Many people of our country hold the opinion that the youth of America today is a thoughtless, irresponsible generation. In contrast to those feelings, we would like the people of our community to be aware of the attitude of the Jefferson Senior High students in the face of our country’s great bereavement in the death of our president.
“As the dreaded report penetrated each classroom by means of the intercom, nearly every student sat motionless in utter disbelief. Tears welled in the eyes of many and in the hearts of all.
“As the bell rang, none of the usual hall clamor was to be heard. Students met their friends with unspoken communication as the echo of shuffling feet filled each corridor. Faces visibly reflected deep concern and reverence. These feelings were mutually shared by the faculty.
“As seniors and members of the student body, we would like to express our sincere respect for all of these young Americans.
We are proud.”
Park Region Echo Editor John C. Obert wrote a column in that same issue, recalling the two times he saw Kennedy – once at a political dinner in Minneapolis in 1958 and then in the fall of 1960 at a DFL rally in the Twin Cities.
Obert wrote that Kennedy had “brilliance, wit, knowledge and training,” and that he showed “compassion and concern for the poor so few of the rich manifest.”
Obert wrote about Kennedy’s “style, flair and elegance.” He said, “with the help of that gallant young woman who is now his widow, he made the artist, the poet, the musician, first-class citizens for the first time, perhaps, in this century.”
Obert also wrote about Kennedy’s leadership: “He had learned well the course of history past, and he knew well what had to be the course of history in the years ahead. He knew it and our friends across the seas knew he knew it – and they mourned his passing with a grief unsurpassed even by the worldwide sorrow over the death of Franklin Roosevelt.”
Finding a truly definitive word for Kennedy was elusive, Obert said, until he heard the word in a BBC telecast: grace.
“John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a man of grace – physical grace, mental grace, spiritual and moral grace, the grace of breeding, the grace of courage, and, always, the grace of reason,” Obert wrote. “He was, indeed, a magnificent man and a magnificent American. May his great soul rest in peace.”