The day JFK died
It was a warm November day in the Mid-Ohio Valley 50 years ago today. School children were anxiously waiting to go home for the weekend. Busy moms were finishing their grocery shopping. Couples were making weekend plans.
And then the world came crashing down.
“Mommy. Mommy, they killed the president,” Judy Sprouse recalls yelling to her mother.
Sprouse, 61, of Belpre, was home sick from school Friday, Nov. 22, 1963-the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald as his limousine traveled through crowds of onlookers in Dallas, Texas, the charismatic young president’s death shocked the nation, leaving a mark on the collective conscious that would in some ways change the country forever.
Many people view the assassination as a turning point in American history, said Matthew Young, McCoy associate professor of history at Marietta College.
“It’s often used as a reference point, the end of a kind of age of innocence,” he said.
Kennedy’s death also apparently marked the beginning of the American public’s declining trust in the national government.
Measured by polls, levels of trust in the national government were high in the 1950s and early 1960s, said Michael Tager, associate professor of political science at Marietta College. The trust level began to decline in the mid-1960s and was quite low by the end of the 1970s, said Tager.
“That decline is mostly due to Vietnam and Watergate, but I think the assassination of Kennedy was the first puncturing of that trust. It’s something we’ve never gotten back,” he said.
That is how Maxine Truex, 75, of Marietta felt upon hearing the news.
“I couldn’t believe something like this would happen in the U.S.,” she said.
Truex was shopping for her 1-year-old child when she heard the news. She had to see it on the television to believe it for herself, she said.
Many people who look back to that day recall the tears shed.
For Karen Hathaway, 59, of Marietta, it was her teachers at Warren Elementary who were crying.
“I remember feeling like it was the end of the world. The teachers were trying so hard to keep us kids calm, but they were in little clusters-worried themselves,” she said.
David Koon, 61, of Marietta, has few memories of the event, but he remembers his mother’s reaction.
“I came home early and my mother was watching TV and crying. It left an impression,” he said.
Sandi Carver, 75, of Marietta, was sitting under a hair dryer at the Lafayette Beauty School on Third Street, getting ready to go to a dinner.
“The tech came around to tell us and everyone started crying,” she recalled.
Carver also recalled one of the newscasters reporting on the tragedy becoming choked up.
Many people, including scholars, view Kennedy’s death as one of those “what if” moments, said Young.
“What if Kennedy had had a second term in office? Some believe that if Kennedy would have been elected, all these other problems would have never happened,” he said.
For example, some believe the Civil Rights movement would have had more momentum and that the Vietnam War would have never happened, said Young.
Marietta resident Blanche Baker, 77, of Belpre, thinks Kennedy’s survival would have made an impact.
“I think this country wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in today if Kennedy wouldn’t have died,” she said.
However, it is impossible to know how things would have been different if Kennedy had lived. In fact, many of the causes Kennedy championed-such as Medicare and Civil Rights-were carried on by his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, said Tager.
“A lot of the things (Kennedy) talked about doing, he was not able to get through Congress,” he said.
However, following his landslide victory in 1964, Johnson was able to carry a lot of Democrats with him into Congress and successfully made headway with some of Kennedy’s causes.
Marge Harris, 76, of Marietta, was getting ready for work in the basement of her Oak Grove home when she heard the news that Nov. 22.
“I was combing my hair and I heard it come over the TV or radio. It was like everything stopped,” she said.
But everything did not stop. The world kept turning.
Harris went to work at a tavern in Williams-town, where though subdued, business continued as usual.
Life also went on for Marietta resident Penny Dalton, who was set to be married the day after Kennedy was shot.
“This had been planned where we couldn’t undo it, so we went ahead with the wedding,” said Dalton.
Penny and her husband George will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary Saturday, and every year the event is a cause for reflection on the infamous preceding day.
“I feel we lost someone very important that could have made changes,” she said.