SARATOGA SPRINGS – Before 9/11 there was 11/22. And 50 years later, the passage of time dulls none of our memory of that day.
We may forget what we had for breakfast this morning, but no one old enough who was asked where they were on that day replied “I don’t remember.”
Despite the lack of mega-mass media, we learned of events rather rapidly. A neighbor, teacher, toll-taker told us to put on the radio, something had happened in Dallas and our President was slain. It didn’t matter where we were; it was a national, indeed worldwide shared experience.
We asked people at our farmers’ markets and the Wesley community, a cross-section of residents of our region, to share their stories about that signpost day. All live locally now, though most were in other places on November 22, 1963.
I’ll bat leadoff. It is one of my oldest memories altogether.
Second grade. P.S. 49, the pride of New York City public schools in Middle Village, Queens. Mrs. Broadhurst was our teacher, and she told us to be quiet because Principal Burson was going to make an announcement over the loudspeaker.
This happened nearly every day, but in the morning – never in the afternoon. After the announcement, we were sent home early.
It was my first experience with death of anyone close to me and for many in my age group, JFK was like our friend. It was a simpler time and we wanted to believe. His family was our family.
On November 22, 1963 John Fitzgerald Kennedy was also the only President I ever knew. And he was gone.
“I was in my final year as a Yale undergraduate in November 1963,” noted former Saratoga Springs mayor Kenneth Klotz. “The first word of the shooting of the President began circulating on campus in the early afternoon, about ten minutes before an advanced Russian class on my schedule.”
“The teacher was a native, elderly and somewhat pedantic, who conducted the class in Russian. We told him excitedly, in Russian of course, that the President had been shot. He looked puzzled and uncertain, and said “Oh, is that so?” I don’t think he believed us, because he delivered his planned 50-minute lecture on early 19th century Russian literary history. Just as the class was finally over we heard the Branford chapel bell beginning to toll and realized with horror that the President was dead.” Klotz said.
“I was on my honeymoon in the Poconos!” noted Bronx native Barbara Garrasi. “My husband John and I came back from lunch. I was in the bathroom while John had the TV on when the bulletin came through. He called out to me… we spent the entire afternoon inside, holding hands, glued to the TV and crying.”
Our own Cindy Durfey remembers the great sadness. “I was in second grade in Loudonville. I remember coming home from school and my mom was watching television and crying. It was a very solemn time.” She said.
“Shock!” said Phyllis Marks from White Plains. “The kids were in their early teens and so upset. We spent a lot of time trying to explain this, to help each other understand.”
“I was in Albany,” said Alfred O’Brien. “I turned on the car radio and there it was…shock and disbelief.”
Johnstown’s Carolyn McClain was at her art class at Russell Sage College. “I couldn’t believe what I had heard. Within short order, the college was completely shut down.”
“We were driving a truck of apples from our farm in Schaghticoke,” noted Leonard and Phyllis Borden. “At the Thruway stop the toll-booth employee asked if we had a radio and to put it on — something had happened to the President.”
“I was in the Grand Union supermarket in Ballston Spa,” said Betty McCanty. “Someone turned off the music and the word spread like wildfire through the store.”
“I left my cart in the aisle and went right home. Life as we know it was suspended,” Ms. McCanty said. “I knew that my four children (spread through grade 2 – 6) would be sent home from school and all I thought about is to be able to get there when they arrived.”
“I was at work at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in the rare book room,” remembers Roger Trienens. “The Chief stood up and made an announcement that the President had been assassinated and the closed the library.”
“It was a Friday; the beginning of a grim, depressing weekend.” Trienens said.
“My husband was a Marine and it hit him so hard to hear the news,” said Esther Badgley, who was in Minerva at the time.
Doris Lamont heard the news in the little town of Cochecton thanks to a relatively new innovation, the TV news bulletin. “I was lying down and settling into my favorite soap, As the World Turns when the bulletin came on. I remember being annoyed because they had already interrupted ATWT a few times that week because of a plane crash.”
“After Cronkite, I turned to David Brinkley’s newscast on NBC. I remember how he was so upset that they had to take him off the air for a while.” Lamont said.
“I was a substitute nurse at the A. L. Kellogg School in Treadwell,” said Joyce Hoven. “The teachers came out of an adjoining room and told me.”
Saratoga Springs native Marion Poukish was working in a Pediatric office on Lake Avenue when she heard. “It was very emotionally upsetting to realize someone would want to kill our President.”
"I remember our prayers were especially made for Jackie, Caroline and young John.” She said.
50 years. Like yesterday.