At the moment of impact, a national tragedy burns into memory the otherwise routine affairs of daily life. Recalling the moments before and after the shock connects us to our past selves, both individually and as a nation.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as his motorcade traveled the streets of Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald was later arrested for the crime.
Where were you on that day in November, and what do you remember about the Kennedy assassination?
The Dagger asked several prominent Harford Countians for their recollections of that fateful day, 50 years ago Friday. Their answers appear below.
“At the time of the J.F.K assassination, I was in my early 20’s playing for the Baltimore Eagles, semi- professional football team. I remember the time as if it were yesterday, as it has affected me the way it has affected millions of others.
I was in the middle of football practice when we received word of the shooting. Needless to say, we were all shocked and stunned. I have kept numerous articles from The Sun Paper from that day and from time-to-time; I unpack the memories and reflect on J.F.K’s life and passing. Even 50 years later, it is still hard to believe that we were delivered such devastation by an individual or “individuals,” as I am part of the 61% that believes that there were more people involved, as one person, particularly this person, did not have the brains to commit such an act alone. Regardless of your political persuasion, this was a time of “Camelot” in the U.S. like never before and will never happen again, just look at some of the old films of J.F.K.’s political rallies and visits to foreign countries and you will see what I mean.”
-Harford County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie
“In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
– Camelot; lyrics and music by Alan Jay Lerner
On November 22, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated and our country grieved. I was a sophomore at Christ the King High School. Sister Constance Mary was dutifully and patiently explaining geometric theorems. I remember that our principal, Mother David, interrupted classes with a somber tone heralding an important announcement. We had no time to think before we heard the words ”Our beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has died. Let us take a moment to pray for him, his family and our country.” We were dismissed early that day. Somber teenagers, unable to absorb the magnitude of what had occurred. I needed to do something. I stopped by our church to light a candle. I was surprised to see the church so crowded with parishioners. I knew then when I saw them crying and heard them begging God to help them understand why this happened that life as we knew it would change forever….and Camelot would disappear.”
– Harford County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Barbara P. Canavan
“I was in the 8th Grade at Havre de Grace High School. At the exact time I was in PE. We were outside and were called in and sent to our last period classroom. The principal turned on the audio system for each class and then turned on the radio so we could hear the announcement (he did the same thing in 1966 when the Orioles were beating the Dodgers in the World Series and all games were still played during the daytime).
After the announcement, someone in the class made the comment “You were right.” As a student who studied history, especially biographies, I had predicted that JFK would be assassinated. Presidents elected in a year that ended in zero had died in office since 1840; I thought Kennedy was too young to die in office. He was exactly a month younger than my father (Dad–April 30, 1917–JFK–May 30, 1917). It was not that I thought anyone in particular was going to do it.
1840–William Henry Harrison–illness
1880–James A. Garfield–assassination
1920–Warren G. Harding–illness
1940–Franklin D. Roosevelt–illness
1960–John F. Kennedy–assassination
1980–Ronald Reagan–attempted assassination
I met JFK in May, 1960 when he came to Havre de Grace to campaign. He drove in with soon-to-be Senator Joseph Tydings who lived in Oakington and was the son of former Senator Millard Tydings. I was 10.”
– Harford County Executive David Craig
“I was 19 years old, working full-time at Edgewood Arsenal and going to school at what was then Harford Junior College at night pursuing my secondary (history) teaching certificate. The Major who headed our branch came out of his office around 2 o’clock on that Friday afternoon looking very ashen (remember, no Internet, no radios or TV’s were allowed to be on in the workplace, personal phone calls greatly restricted, etc., so we hadn’t heard the news). I remember he had tears in his eyes when he announced, “The President has just been killed.” I’m assuming he had received the information through the chain of command. Of course, work stopped as radios began to supply the details. I don’t think “shock” would describe our reaction. Remember, we had yet to become numb to such tragedies (the killing of Oswald, Vietnam, protests/riots in the streets & the assassinations of M.L. King/Robert Kennedy would change that). We just didn’t know what to think. Then, that Sunday morning came the killing of Oswald. It was all so surreal since JFK and his young wife epitomized vigor and energy coming on the heels of President Eisenhower and politicians who all seemed so grandfatherly to us young people at the time. I often used the “where were you when it happened” Kennedy assassination analogy with my history classes to describe monumental events until, one day in the mid-1970s, a student raised his hand and said, “Mr. Morrison, I was a year old when it happened.” But, for those of us who were of age at the time, it will always seem like it was “yesterday.”
– Don Morrison, former reporter, editor, and Harford County Public Schools educator, coach, announcer and public information officer; now (happily) retired
“I was in my senior year in high school in November 1963, anxious to finish my classwork and to get on with whatever was next. I’d gone to the March on Washington in August, fueling my anger and sense of outrage at “the system”. I read seditious books and defended extreme causes, earning me the ‘nonconformist’ label with behavior that led to my being in the school office that Friday afternoon. The school secretaries were accustomed to seeing me there and routinely set aside tasks for me.
The afternoon dragged on. The buses began lining up outside. The mellow jazz on the radio in the Vice Principal’s office was interrupted by the announcement that the President had been shot. Added to the confusion on the radio, the conflicting reports from Dallas and the mounting anxiety, was the concern of whether – and how – to inform the students. It was the end of the school day, Friday afternoon, time for everyone to head out. I don’t remember how the staff resolved it. I’m sure they muddled through, as grownups often have to. I remember the uncertain sense of “what now” hanging over the weekend, making any plans seem futile.”
-Fran Johnson, publisher of Harford’s Heart Magazine
“On Friday, November 22, 1963, the date that John Kennedy was assassinated, I was sitting in a fourth grade class at the Perkins Road ES in Baton Rouge, LA. School was dismissed early and when I got home my parents were sitting around the television set crying as if we had lost a close family friend.”
–Edgewood Community Council Chairman Jansen Robinson
” my recollections…
Was walking across the mall in front of McKeldin Library at U. of Md. College Park. Heard someone yell to me…’They shot Kenny’…..I thought for a minute, holy hell, someone shot Kenny Ambrusco, a New Jersey kid who was a quarterback. He was a shady character to begin with and I thought he got into some shit and someone shot him.
Then someone else stopped me and said “President Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas!”
It was 2:30 in the afternoon…My wife, Ann, got home from work, and we rode into Washington, like so many other disillusioned young people who saw so much promise in this young president. It was a night I’ll never forget…like our world as we knew it, had ended.”
– Todd Holden, photojournalist
“On November 22nd 1963, I was a high school kid at Hawthorne High School in New Jersey and President Kennedy was a hero to me and my friends. His youthful energy was inspiring. As that day unfolded, even at that age, we all realized that there would be a fundamental change in America and perhaps, as history demonstrated, an end to the innocent belief that all will always end right. I think that event has gathered so much historical attention and collected so many conspiracy theories because it is hard to understand how someone from the outer fringe of society could have such a fundamental negative effect on history. That day started so positive as a crisp and bountiful morning New Jersey morning and ended with a scar all Americans alive then will always carry, me in particular because it was also my birthday.”
-Bill Parris, owner of WAMD Radio Aberdeen and the KHZTV.COM Network
“As a young African-American attending Ashford Colored High School at the time, I struggled with the implications of his death and how it may impact the civil rights struggle that was beginning to dominate the national news.
As life would have it, President Kennedy’s assassination provided Lyndon Johnson to become President under a very difficult situation. However, his leadership in the fight for social justice led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Historians will continue to debate 50 years later if JFK would have provided the same legislative muster to get the law passed.
As with so many other things in life, I guess we will never know.”
-Businessman and Harford County Board of Education Member James D. Thornton
“I was a student in tenth grade at Bel Air Senior High School at the time President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember standing in the lunch line in the cafeteria as word spread quickly among my classmates. After lunch, we returned to social studies class and the teacher had the news report on a radio. We did nothing the rest of the afternoon but listen to the radio and talk about the assassination. Everyone was in disbelief; and some of my classmates were in tears. There were so many hopes my generation had pinned on this president and his promise to make the United States a better nation. Given that this occurred not long after the Cuban Missile Crisis caused us grave concern for the future and where it would take us without our president.”
– Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane