I know that it is almost a month before the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, but since President Donald Trump is releasing the JFK files that have been classified for 54 years, I felt this column might be in order. I have written a column about the day he was murdered several times, but here goes again and I hope readers remember for a few minutes where they were at noon on that fateful day in history.
It’s every newspaper person’s dream to yell “Stop the Presses.” My dream turned into a nightmare on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Fifty-four years ago next month the newsroom at The Denison Herald was empty except for a young women’s editor who worked through the noon hour while everyone else went to lunch.
I was that young women’s editor.
That day was no different until just after 12:30 p.m. when the old Associated Press Wire machine bell that usually jingled to alert the editor of a bulletin went crazy.
I walked to the machine to see what had set off the bothersome noise and what I saw was hard to absorb. The bulletin read simply:
“DALLAS (AP) — President Kennedy was shot at noon today.”
My first reaction was to panic. Then I ran to the production department in the back of the building where the day’s newspaper was being put together and yelled. “Stop everything, the president’s been shot in Dallas.”
Everyone in the back shop made a run for the AP machine to see for themselves this unbelievable news. The paper originally had been filled with happy news about President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas — 75 miles south of Denison. “Fear still is a National Enemy” and the story quoting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, “all we have to fear is fear itself” was an editorial page story.
Then I called Claud Easterly, our editor, who was having lunch at home. When he answered the phone I said, “Mr. Easterly, President Kennedy’s been shot.” All I heard was “Oh, my God,” and the slam of the telephone.
Easterly later said that day at noon was the only time in his 40-plus year newspaper career that he ran red lights to get to a story.
By the time he arrived back in the newsroom, upstairs in the old Denison Herald building on Woodard Street, people off the street who heard the announcement on their car radio or television were stopping by the office to double check what they had heard.
Updates were coming over the wire as fast as they could be typed at AP headquarters in Dallas. The bell was ringing almost constantly. Telephones were ringing. Everyone was asking two questions: “How was the president?” and, “Who did it?”
Like the rest of the world, we had no answers.
The front page was made over using information on the bizarre happenings in Dallas. Background information on Kennedy’s trip to Texas and events of the morning were hurriedly put together.
Then came the AP message that will never be forgotten and probably changed the world as we knew it forever.
“DALLAS (AP — President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. (CST).”
The banner headline in 114 point type proclaimed “JFK Dead in Dallas” and the story began with a bulletin:
“DALLAS (AP) — Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States at about 1:38 p.m. CST today. The oath was administered by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes.”
The story followed that “President John F. Kennedy, 36th president of the United States, was shot to death today by a hidden assassin armed with a high-powered rifle.”
Although at the time we had no idea of the importance of another short story on page one, the article told of the arrest of Lee H. Oswald, 24, in connection with the slaying of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippet shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated. Oswald, of course, was later determined by the Warren Commission to have acted alone in the killing of the president.
At the Dallas Trade Mart, where hundreds of supporters had assembled to hear the president speak, Denison Herald Publisher Fred Conn heard the word that the president wasn’t coming — would never come. He immediately began making his way back to Denison.
Grayson County Sheriff Woody Blanton was in Dallas with a rifle taken for a ballistics test. He later admitted that he had a few anxious moments when he heard on his car radio that his fellow lawmen were looking for a suspect with a rifle.
On that day, the Herald was able to get what facts and photographs that were available and went to press only a few minutes late.
Once the paper was well on its way to being printed, those of us who had not had lunch battled the butterflies in our stomach and went to the old Eat Well Café on Main Street, where owner Carl McCraw had set up a television for the downtown crowd to see the world at the start of a four-day television marathon.
We watched at Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President with Jackie Kennedy standing by his side. Later we watched as world leaders assembled in Washington D.C., for a final salute to the fallen president. We even watched in horror as Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby stepped out from the crowd at Dallas Police Headquarters and shot Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been arrested for the murder of President Kennedy and was being transferred to another jail.
And we watched through tear brimmed eyes as a very young John-John Kennedy saluted the casket containing the body of his father.
Yes, Nov. 22, 1963, and the three days following are printed indelibly in the minds of all who watched. And for those of us who feel we were involved in the happenings — no matter how minute — it was a time that we will never forget.
It’s kind of strange that all the characters in this real-life drama are no longer with us. Ruby died in jail, young John Kennedy was killed in a plane crash, Robert Kennedy also was assassinated, Jackie Kennedy died of cancer, Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson are deceased, as are former Texas Gov. John and Nellie Connolly, who were riding in the parade car with the Kennedys.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.