Friday, November 23, 2007

November 22, 1963: A Time Of Sorrow and Tears

THERE ARE TIMES of total recall. November 22, 1963 was definitely one for me. That day, or perhaps, week stands as vividly in my mind as if it were yesterday. Maybe, even more so as one ages.
It was a day, some 44 years ago, when the dreams of what seemed to be the entire world, were shattered in a million little pieces and tears flowed like rain. They still do today and were flowing as I began to write this column.
Some 44 years ago, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Where were you? Did you, too, have tears in your eyes?
For me, I was half asleep in my hotel room at the Sheraton-Connaught, across the street from the Hamilton Spectator, where I had worked the overnight sports desk. In my foggy brain, I still hear a funeral dirge from the black-and-white TV set at the end of my bed.
Why would there be funeral music?
There had been a bulletin from CBS News that "three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas ... The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting. More details just arrived ... these details about the same as previously, President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called 'Oh no!", the motorcade sped on. United Press (International) says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating a bulletin from CBS News, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details."
Suddenly, my head cleared and CBS' "voice of reason," Walter Cronkite took off his glasses and his words pierced my very soul as it did millions upon millions of others:
"From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. (CST) some 38 minutes ago."
The loss of our innocence and the Camelot expectations of my generation seemed to be dashed in a matter of seconds. Although in future years others would be glued to TV sets concerning Nixon's fall from grace and later the dramatic O.J. episodes, none could be compared to the heartbreak, which surrounded Cronkite's emotional words and the quiver in his voice.
In recounting a Wikipedia report, Cronkite actually told a TV interviewer in 2006: "I choked up, I really had a little trouble ... my eyes got a little wet ... Fortunately, I grabbed hold before I was actually (crying)."
Dressing quickly I wandered across the street to the newspaper and stayed there during that crushing Friday and into Saturday, assisting in putting the front sections of The Spec together. It was like a morgue as veteran newsmen held back the tears until the editions rolled off the presses.
That Saturday night, the bars were packed; even hardened editors were crying in their beer (or their drink of choice) and some staggered along the streets to their respective homes while even sympathetic policemen, for at least a few nights, ignored any indiscretions.
On Sunday afternoon, the football stadium was packed with Tiger-Cat fans, but it was noticeable that the transistor radios were tuned, not only to the local broadcaster, but to bulletins concerning the Kennedy assassination. After all, the world was in love with the Kennedys, and, in particular, with JFK's wife, Jacqueline.
And then came a double shocker and my mind drifted away from watching someone fling a football when a bulletin announced that JFK's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had been shot in the basement of the Dallas jail.
Later, I learned of what veteran and respected reporter, Peter Worthington, remembered about that terrible day and the aftermath. In his 1984 book, Looking For Trouble, Worthington recalled that "most people who were around at the time can remember with almost total recall what they were doing the precise moment they heard the news that (President John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas) that Friday noon of November 22, 1963."
Worthington's recollections included him being sent to Dallas and being an eye-witness as Jack Ruby shot Oswald. In an excerpt, Worthington wrote: " ... a squat man in a fedora plunged from the crowd toward the group and suddenly there was the muffled crack of a shot. I felt the shock waves of the discharge hit my abdomen, and afterward Detective Lowry and I compared notes and remarked that we were lucky the guy was a good shot ..."
So not only Worthington, the outstanding journalist whom I had the privilege of working with at the Toronto Telegram and the Toronto Sun, and myself, as well as millions of others, have total recall concerning that weekend of a time when the entire planet mourned. Conspiracy theories still abound some 44 years later, but one thing is for certain: The dreams of Camelot died with dramatic suddenness on that November day in Dallas.

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