In remembrance of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago, The Octagon interviewed teachers about their memories of Nov. 22, 1963.
“John and Caroline Kennedy were about the ages of my brother and me, so we really felt it from the children’s point of view and how sad it was for them. We saw everything on TV and watched the funeral. What made me identify with the two kids was that they were wearing these double-breasted camel-hair coats that were very traditional for kids. They were matching coats, and my brother and I also had matching camel-hair coats, but it was years before I found out that their coats were light blue. Because the TV was black and white, I assumed they were camel-colored like ours.
“I also remember the moment that I found out. I was in third grade. I was sitting in the back of the classroom, and our teacher had an intercom kind of telephone that she answered. I could overhear what she was saying. She was like, ‘Oh! Oh. my god! What are we going to do?’ I remember hearing this alarm in her voice, and I was wondering what was going to happen next. Some school official, Mr. Nix, came to every classroom, explained what happened, and told us that we were going to be dismissed for the day. Then I just walked home with my brother” —Jane Bauman, English teacher
“My most vivid memory was coming back that afternoon from school and seeing my mother bawling her eyes out in front of the television. She was sitting on a sofa, right across from this portable black-and-white television that we had, crying uncontrollably. It was very upsetting, and I couldn’t quite figure what it was—what was it that made her so sad? It was also my birthday, my seventh birthday. I had a really somber birthday party.” —Bruce Baird, history teacher
“I was in third grade, and I remember my teacher walking to the window of the classroom. I could hear a radio in the background, but I couldn’t understand anything being said. So she stood and listened, and the class was really quiet. We didn’t know what she was doing. I remember her lowering of her head and saying, ‘Oh, he died.’ We’re like ‘Whoa, what? What are you talking about?’ because we were in school, so no one had said anything at that point. So then she told us that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. And people were just really quiet and shocked. The kids were all very sad.
“I remember thinking also: ‘How could anybody still live in Dallas after the president of the United States had been shot and killed?’ I was just appalled—I’ve never been to Dallas, but I remember vividly thinking that until Bobby was killed in Los Angeles five years later. I was so young, and he was really the first president that I remember. It was really, really painful. I remember seeing that the funeral was the only thing on television.
“I don’t remember how much it really affected me, but I found, many years later, a scrapbook that I’d done in third grade. I had cut out all theses pictures from the newspaper of the funeral, the family—and even a year later, I cut out a picture of his family visiting his grave. It was really a big event. I was old enough to know what was going on, so it’s just a very strong memory. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since it happened—makes me feel so old.
“When I first started teaching here, the headmaster, Pat Tidey, told me that he wanted me to start teaching U.S. history in eighth grade with the assassination first, and then go back. So I did that for several years. Actually, he and his wife (Francie Tidey, high-school principal) were there in Dallas and were supposed to be at the lunch that (Kennedy) was supposed to be at. Obviously it had a very big impact on him, and he would come to my class and talk to us about that day.
“For many years I would ask my students to ask their parents where they were when Kennedy was assassinated—that was an assignment for my class. The students would all come back with stories. Then after a while, there were no more parents who remembered.” —Sue Nellis, head of high school
“I was 10 years old. I was home because I was sick that day. I was home by myself—my mother was running some errands. At about 10 o’clock in the morning I got this phone call from my aunt who said, ‘Turn on the TV immediately.’ I think that’s all she said. So I turned on the TV and was watching the whole thing unfold, and I saw the live news coverage. The other day CNN was showing a lot of footage of that day that people haven’t seen before or haven’t seen for a long time, and I saw images that I recognized. Of course, I don’t remember too much detail, but I do remember watching the whole thing, black-and-white, on the TV screen.” —Ron Bell, English teacher
“My most vivid memory wasn’t that day—it would be the next couple days. My mother was just in shock. This president, for my mom, is a major inspiration in her life, and I have not seen her as depressed by a newsworthy event as this—and probably didn’t see it again until Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I was 7, so it’s fair to say while I was old enough to be aware that this was really bad, the main way I knew that was through my mother’s reaction.” —Michael Covey, chemistry teacher
“I remember where I was—I believe I was a sophomore in high school at Mira Loma (High School). I was coming down into the quad. It came over the public address system in the high school. I was stunned by this sadness I felt because my family was Republican. When he was elected, my mother cried, and then just a short few years later, we came to love him along with most of Americans. This disparity between the sadness I felt that day and the fear I felt when he was first elected was just juxtaposed. Everyone was just stunned. It was like a hush fell over the school, and everyone was somber.” —Jane Batarseh, Latin teacher
“I was in high-school freshman English class. We were watching the movie “Treasure Island”—(Robert Louis) Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” It was dark in the room, and there was a knock on the door. In those days, you had student monitors who carried messages to places—you had no Internet, obviously. Well, the student monitor came, knocked on the door, and the English teacher went and got the message. We saw her get this message, and she was reading it in the crack of the light coming in from the door. Then she said ‘Oh my God, oh my God!’ and burst into tears. We turned on the light and said, ‘What’s the matter?’ Then she said, ‘President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.’ At that time, we didn’t know that he was dead, but he’d been shot.
“When the information came that the president had died, then the speakers were turned on. The principal of the high school told us that everyone should go home immediately. In those days we didn’t have the helicopter parents we have today, so the students left campus and went home.
“And then it was so weird. Life was just stopped for five to six days—it was just so crazy. Restaurants closed, businesses closed, and you didn’t know if normal businesses would be open. It’s all unbelievable. Life changed: school was closed and games were stopped. All athletic competitions were stopped—football, basketball, you name it. I remember finally, about two weeks later when they figured that mourning was over, they allowed the games to happen again. There was a guy at Stanford named Arthur Barnes, who was the director of the Stanford band. Stanford had a football game, and Arthur had written a new form of the national anthem. Just a single trumpeter comes and does the opening bars of the anthem. After he’s played for maybe 20-30 seconds, then the whole band very quietly comes in behind him and completes the anthem. It was an absolutely mind-bending experience, and people needed something like this.
“(The assassination) also ruined the whole holiday spirit. People were just aghast. 9/11 was something like that, but I think it wasn’t the same. There’s something about the Kennedy assassination—you didn’t think the president could be killed because one hadn’t been killed in a long time. There was a bigger reaction, in terms of people in disbelief. Then Lyndon B. Johnson took over, and it just wasn’t the same.” —Daniel Neukom, history teacher
“It was lunch time, and I was standing by the trash can at Madison #1 Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, eating a chocolate popsicle when Claudia Powell came up to me and said, ‘Did you hear that President Kennedy’s been shot?’ So I started back to class, and on the way I saw my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Gonick, crying. Claudia moved away after our freshman year of high school; Madison #1 has been remodeled beyond recognition; and Mrs. Gonick is almost certainly dead. But I remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday.”—Patricia Fels, newspaper adviser