Dark days defined history
It was one of the defining moments of an American generation: the loss of the nation’s leader, a vibrant president cut down in his prime.
Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was shot to death while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, Texas.
Much has changed since that Friday afternoon five decades ago.
Though it was sunny in Dallas, it was cloudy and warm in Rowan County that day in 1963.
Back then, the Salisbury Post was an evening paper with two editions, the first of which came out around midday.
Within minutes of the shooting, the first Associated Press bulletins from Dallas came over teletype machines nationwide.
About 1:40 p.m., Walter Cronkite broke into a live broadcast of “As the World Turns” on CBS with the news that shots had been fired and Kennedy had been wounded, “perhaps fatally.”
Gordon Peacock was a 26-year-old employee in the Post’s press room.
“I was a printer at the time, working in the back shop,” Peacock said in a phone interview. He said the first edition had already gone to press when the story broke.
In a 1983 interview, former composing room worker Robert Clendenin recalled how he was walking to his car to leave when the bulletin arrived.
Publisher Jim Hurley Jr. yelled to him from a window that the president had been shot.
Staff gathered to read the bulletins as they came over the wires, Peacock said.
“I was hoping he wasn’t dead, but I suspected he was, soon as they started getting bulletins,” Peacock said. “It just kept coming, you know. You didn’t know when to stop looking at the wire and go to press, or what.”
Just after 2 p.m., the official word came that Kennedy had died.
The press room crew went into action, feeding text from news bulletins into machines, tearing apart the printing plates and rewriting the front page of the paper.
Before long, the presses were running again, printing the latest news for stunned readers across Rowan County.
Many readers of the Salisbury Post today are still haunted by the memories of that day, and wrote in to share them.
“I was a girl of 13, sitting in my 8th grade classroom at J.F. Hurley School,” Toni Summey Megliorino wrote.
She, like millions of Americans, heard the news of Kennedy’s death over a school loudspeaker.
Likewise, Carla Mallinson was a fifth-grader in rural New York state. As a treat, her class was watching a film that Friday.
The announcement over the intercom was hard to hear, Mallinson wrote, “and most of us were thinking it was part of the movie.”
“Suddenly one of the teachers turned off the projector, and we realized both the teachers were crying,” Mallinson said.
Audrey Marie Walters was working third shift as a nurse. In a Facebook message, Walters told the Post she had awakened for a bite to eat as she waited for her son to come home from kindergarten.
She was watching when Walter Cronkite broke in during “As the World Turns” to announce that Kennedy had been shot.
“Disbelieving, I ran to (the neighbors) thinking I might still be sleeping, but sleepwalking,” Walters wrote. “In any case I did not want to be alone.”
The death of President Kennedy turned times of celebration into mourning.
Sue Bruce’s husband, the late Rev. Jimmy L. Bruce, had just finished his seminary education and was to be ordained a minister at Faith Lutheran Church two days later, Sunday.
“On that Friday, I was busy packing for our trip back to Faith from Chilhowie, Va. which was his first pastorate,” Sue Bruce wrote.
“Meanwhile, we were watching the TV news of the president’s visit to Dallas when the unbelievable happened before our very eyes.”
Though they went on with their trip, Bruce said, “A time of celebration for us also became a time of mourning for us and for our country.”
For Diane Dillon Hooper, the irony of the day was that she, as a sixth-grader, had just seen a reenactment of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address days before.
“I remember learning about the funeral and what all of the symbolism meant,” Hooper wrote in a Facebook message. “It is certainly something I will never forget.”
Kathy Graham Pulliam remembers the uncertainty of that day, of not knowing who had killed Kennedy or what might happen next.
“I walked home from school that day feeling very afraid that we would go to war and bombs would be used, and who would be our President to lead us?” Pulliam wrote via Facebook.
While some felt uncertainty, others felt frustration and outrage.
Patsy Flint wrote, via Facebook, of how she was going shopping with her young daughters at the Rink’s department store in Cincinnati, Ohio when the announcement was made over the store loudspeakers.
“Everyone in the store was standing like statues, listening … and pretty soon the music started again,” Flint said.
Instead of a long shopping trip, Flint said, they soon headed home to watch television.
“A few blocks later, we saw a teenager dressed in an outrageous clown costume holding a sign advertising a big sale in a used car lot,” Flint wrote.
She hit the brakes, pulled over and shouted at him: “Go back inside” Get off the street! Don’t you know the president has been shot?”
“The poor guy dropped his sign and turned to go inside,” Flint wrote, “and I got back in the car — feeling very indignant and justified.”
And Flint headed home to watch the news unfold on television.
“Everyone stayed glued to the TV those long four days,” Denise Foutz wrote.
Jan McCanless was a day student at Catawba College. When class was dismissed, she went home to find her parents already watching the news, everyone speaking “in hushed tones.”
“Watching history as it’s being made was quite an experience, especially when it was such sad history,” McCanless said. “I hope I never have to watch anything else like it again.”
Like many Americans, Foutz said she believes that “the country will never know the whole story of what really happened” when Kennedy was killed.
“It is hard to believe that 50 years have passed because I remember it so well,” Foutz said. “Now my oldest grandson is the age I was … The country had an innocence then that seemed to end when the assassination occurred.”
For Megliorino, the event came full-circle later in the spring of 1964, when her eighth-grade class took a trip to Washington, D.C., “where we visited Arlington National Cemetery and the grave site of our slain President Kennedy.”
Gordon Peacock said he didn’t have strong feelings about Kennedy.
“I kind of admired him, and at times I didn’t like him,” Peacock said.
But the weekend that followed the assassination — “that was a hard time, with Oswald getting shot, and Jack Ruby and all that mess.”
The events of that November day 50 years ago are still being felt, and remembered, half a century later.
They will probably continue to be remembered, read and reflected upon long after another half-century has come and gone.
Reporter Mark Wineka contributed to this story.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.
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