DONNA HUNT: JFK's death in Dallas shocked the world

Donna Hunt Herald Democrat

About 15 years ago, a long-time friend and I were chatting and the subject of the then anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy came up.

While Sue Sappenfield of Sherman worked for the Sherman Democrat and I worked for the Denison Herald, we were both in our respective newsrooms when that shocking Associated Press bulletin “DALLAS (AP) – President Kennedy was shot at noon today” came across the wire. Both newspapers published afternoon editions at that time.

We decided that it might be interesting to see how competing newspapers handled the story so Sue wrote about the Sherman Democrat and I wrote about the Denison Herald.

Tuesday marks 53 years since that day we all remember so well.

Sherman Democrat

That November morning started no differently than any other in my household. The hustle and bustle of getting three boys off to school and myself off to work was always a challenge.

One son was dropped off at Piner Junior High which was located at the building on King Street. The two younger ones went to Washington Elementary.

When I went in the newspaper office on the corner of Travis and Lamar at 8 a.m., Jack King, the wire editor, had torn the stories off the United Press International and the Associated Press machines and was perusing them for stories that might be of interest to local readers.

Maurine Graham, the society editor, had left her home on East Houston just after 7 a.m. Her husband had dropped her off at the bus station, east of Walnut Street on Houston.

The only way we could get pictures from around the world in those days was from the Associated Press office in Dallas. They chose several pictures that they considered newsworthy, put them on the bus about 4 a.m. and Maurine picked them up and walked the two blocks to the newspaper office.

We all went about our usual tasks that morning, putting a daily newspaper together that would run the first edition at about 1:30 p.m. Rural carriers would gather up their bundles and there also were newsboys who sold papers on the street. The staff very quickly scanned for glaring mistakes that could be corrected for the second run about 3 p.m.

Maurine and I were the only women on the staff and even though we had titles and daily assignments, we, as women, were expected to take walk-in stories and cover the phones. Therefore, I went to lunch at 12 p.m. and Maurine at 1 p.m.

While at home for lunch, I heard a report that a strong cold front was moving in, so I wore a coat back to work. When I went into the newsroom Maurine and Managing Editor Dana Blocker were the only ones there. Jack was in the composing room taking care of last minute details and the rest of the staff had scattered to get lunch.

Maurine notice my coat and asked it if had turned cold. I replied that it was supposed to before dark. Dana laughed and asked me if I didn't expect to get home before dark.

When a story of more interest than usual was printed on the news machines, a bell would sound to get the attention of the staff. A few minutes after Maurine left, the bells on both machines began to ring without stopping.

I walked back to look and in horror announced to Dana that President Kennedy had been shot. He simply dialed the composing room and told them that plans for that day's paper had changed.

Within minutes, everyone was back in the newsroom. The importance of pictures was discussed and a young reporter was assigned to drive to Dallas to pick up some from the Associated Press. I don't even like to think of how fast he made that round trip.

People came in off the street and gathered around the machines anxious for minute-to-minute news. Jack had to push his way through them to get the latest reports. We were told that the furniture stores down the street hooked up television sets and turned them toward the windows and people gathered to watch.

It was a never to be forgotten afternoon. All the usual rules went out the window. We stood in wait until the news of President Kennedy's death was announced. Then decisions were made for putting the front page together with overflow pages being added.

Pictures were brought back from Dallas and engraved onto plastic to be put on the press.

Finally, sometime after 5 p.m. the paper was printed. A stunned, still unbelieving group of very tired people left the newspaper building. I put on my coat, walked to my car, got in, turned on the lights and drove home in the cold dark.

Denison Herald

While Nov. 22, 1963, started out as a pretty routine day, just like any other busy day at the Denison Herald, where I was working as a young women's editor, horrifying events certainly changed the atmosphere about mid-day.

It was Friday and we were barely past deadline. Wire Editor Byron Buzbee was taking his regular Friday off and everyone else had gone to lunch.

We had several news stories about President Kennedy's visit to Texas and how he was going to Dallas to speak at the Dallas Trade Mart. In fact, our publisher, Fred Conn, was there waiting for the president's arrival.

I was alone in the newsroom doing some filing as well as I can remember. At that time, the Associated Press provided stories from around the world on a continuously running machine that jingled a bell when an important story was being transmitted.

About 12:30 p.m. the AP wire teletype machine went crazy. Once started, it didn't stop. I thought it was a malfunction and walked over to see what needed to be done to turn off the obnoxious noise.

When I looked at the story that was beginning to transmit, I couldn't believe what I saw. My heart jumped clear up into my throat. First words were “Dallas (AP) – President Kennedy was shot at noon today.”

I almost panicked, knowing that I was alone with such an important story coming in. Then I settled down and ran to the composing room, where Carl Harrison and others were almost finished putting the day's paper together.

For the only time in my newspaper career, I yelled “Stop everything, the president's just been shot.”

That got their attention and we all headed for the AP machine to see what other information had transmitted. I quickly called Editor Claud Easterly, who was at home for lunch. He was filling in for Buzbee on the wire desk that day. When he answered and I told him what had happened, all I heard was “Oh, my God,” and the slam of the telephone.

He was back in the newsroom in record time and later admitted that it was the only time in his long career that he ran red lights to get there.

Word was spreading fast through bulletins on radio and television and many who had heard bits and pieces of the news came to the office to see for themselves what was happening, via the AP machine.

Page one was made over several times as updates kept coming. Events of the morning for the president were hurriedly put together, including a photo of President Kennedy one minute before the shooting, then seconds after when his wife, Jackie Kennedy was struggling with her wounded husband.

Then came the update that changed everything: “Dallas (AP) – President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. (CST).” The banner headline was set that day in 114-point type, the largest that I can remember. It read “JFK Dead in Dallas.”

The story began with a bulletin that Lyndon B. Johnson had been sworn in as president at 1:38 p.m. Another short story on page one that day told about the arrest of Lee H. Oswald, 24, at the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff for the shooting of a Dallas policeman shortly after President Kennedy was shot.

It was a day to be remembered.