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Special to the Herald
Special to the Herald

Area residents remember JFK assassination

Published 3:28am Friday, November 22, 2013

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The tragedy was the first of national importance to unfold on televisions that held Americans across the country riveted to the screens.

The blow was sharper for many since for the first time people felt a personal connection to the President and his family because of the extensive media coverage they attracted on a daily basis.

Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas, at about 12:30 p.m. CST while traveling in an open car in a motorcade.

Just 10 minutes later news agencies broke into regular TV programming and the report spread like wildfire.

From grammar school students to stay-at-home moms to businessmen, the majority of the population was soon made aware of the tragedy.

“I was in Mrs. Collier’s fifth-grade class watching Alabama educational television when they broke in,” said Sanford Brannan. “I remember Mrs. Collier crying.”

Others remember hearing the news while in a classroom that Friday.

“I was sitting in a second-grade classroom and our school secretary came in and told our teacher who began to cry,” said Susan Fontaine. “We were watching the movie about Lou Gerig with Gary Cooper. It was reel-to-reel and time for the second reel, but it flapped for what seemed like a very long time as they hugged and sobbed.”

Nancy Hood was also in a second-grade class at the time.

“It was in Jay, Fla.,” she said. “Mrs. Ophelia Hendricks came over the intercom and she cried.

“We were released to go home. My mother was crying, and Dad came home. During the funeral I’ll never forget the horse with its stirrups turned backwards or John saluting.”

The TV coverage stretched four days in an era when most television news was typically limited to half-hour broadcasts three or four times daily.

Twenty-four hour news – a staple in today’s world – had not previously been experienced in the decade and a half since television had gained a strong foothold in American homes.

But from the time of the shooting Friday until after the funeral the following Monday television companies preempted programming and advertising to follow the story and the reactions of the nation.

A little more than an hour after the initial report of the shooting, Kennedy’s death was announced.

By the time another hour had passed Kennedy’s casket was aboard Air Force One. During that flight, the country’s 36th President Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office.

Eight hours after the shooting, Dallas police had charged and arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, 24, with the President’s murder.

On that Saturday preparations were made for the next day’s lying-in-state at the Capitol and Monday’s funeral. In the meantime, police continued the investigation and interrogation of Oswald.

Then Sunday as Oswald was being transferred from the Dallas Jail into an armored car, nightclub operator Jack Ruby gunned the accused assassin down. Yet another incident in the sequence was caught on tape and transmitted to the country and the world.

While the situation in Dallas spiraled, mourners lined up to pass through the rotunda to pay respects to Kennedy. The crowds passed by all night and were still moving through at 9 the next morning. An estimated 250,000 attended.

The continuous broadcasts ended that Monday afternoon after the President’s funeral. Approximately 180 million were believed to have followed the real-time drama.

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