It was 50 years ago today when an assassin’s bullet took the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. That single violent act not only changed the course of world history but it changed Americans forever.
Some refer to the assassination as the day the “age of innocence” was left behind, because it shocked the senses of so many. Through the relatively new medium of television, many people were able to follow it from their living rooms.
“We thought something terrible had happened to the country,” said Paul Crites, 84, of Cumberland.
Citizens from the Cumberland Senior Center on Virginia Avenue reacted to being shown an original Cumberland Evening Times edition from Nov. 22, 1963, with the headline “President Kennedy Killed By Assassin.”
They were also shown other Cumberland papers that provided news on the president’s funeral, Lyndon Johnson’s swearing-in, and stories following the shooting and killing of JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby.
For the local citizens, the memories came flooding back.
“I was working at the B&O Railroad. I was walking along the railyard in Keyser and had a radio with me,” said Crites, who was in his early 30s when it happened.
“I turned around and went back and told the guys I worked with about it,” said Crites.
“I thought it was terrible. The story went around pretty heavy,” said Crites, “He would have been a great president.”
Sally Robinette, 18 at the time, was enrolled at a Virginia Avenue beauty school. Her recollection brought tears to her eyes.
“I was let go for lunch break. I walked into a restaurant and was talking with a young man,” she said.
Robinette said she had her back turned toward the restaurant’s TV.
“The man suddenly jumped out of his seat and left. He was a Marine,” said Robinette.
Robinette found out later that the Marine told someone that anytime something happens to the president, “he had to go.”
Upon arriving back at the beauty school, Robinette, who still didn’t know what happened, found a scene of chaos.
“People were crying, and wringing their hands and pulling at their hair. People were leaning over buckets and puking,” said Robinette.
Robinette said some had fainted.
“The owner had to come down from the third floor and talk to us. They got all the girls together,” said Robinette.
The school was placed on lockdown.
“My dad came after me when it came time to go. I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless,” said Robinette.
Connie Beining, 9 at the time, said she was home sick from school.
“We had CBS on watching the soap operas and it was maybe 1 o’clock or so when Walter Cronkite came on the air and announced the president was dead,” said Beining.
Beining said she remembered how upset the adults were.
“For several days it was like the world just stopped,” she said.
On the day of the funeral, Beining said her family was invited to watch with a neighbor.
Beining said she still remembers the neighbor’s words: “This is history, something you will need to be a part of and hopefully you will never have to be a part of again.”
Beining said people were crying like they lost a family member.
“I remember the funeral procession and John-John (the president’s 3-year-old son) saluting,” she said.
Jim Sowers, 18 at the time, was working in a barn in Waynesboro, Pa., that day.
“It came on the radio. I went straight to the house to tell everybody. They couldn’t believe it; they were shocked,” said Sowers.
Sowers said he had just graduated high school in June.
“By that evening it was on the news and everything and everyone was fully believing it. It was more than a surprise. It’s not something you expect to hear,” said Sowers.
Sam Robinette, husband of Sally, said he was in the Army at the time.
“It came on the radio. I was dumbfounded. We talked about it at the barracks. I’m still dumbfounded when I think about it today,” said Sam.
Bill Hewitt, 91, said he was in World War II from Normandy all the way through.
“I served in the war to preserve this country and then to have something like that happen on your own turf; it was terrible,” said Hewitt.
Bill Myles of Cumberland said he found out while watching TV.
“You couldn’t believe it. It shocked everyone. It was a sad day in our life,” he said.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.