There we were, standing in lines that were miles long, more than four or five abreast, and hours away from the Rotunda in the Capitol where the body of our nation’s 35th president lay in state.
When someone asks “where were you?” when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I have a vivid recollection of that entire scenario.
At that time I was the sports editor at The Indiana Evening Gazette –— that’s what it was before the word “Evening” was dropped.
On Friday, I left Indiana for Atlantic City, N.J., where the Big Indians of ISC, at that time Indiana State College, were scheduled to play Montclair State, N.J., in an indoor football game at the Convention Center on the Jersey boardwalk.
It was five years later that IUP played the University of Delaware there in a memorable Boardwalk Bowl where they suffered a heartbreaking, last-minute loss.
But in the early ’60s, about six indoor games were scheduled each year in the convention center.
Traveling with me was my wife at the time, Sonia, and Bob and Phyllis Wagner, of Homer City. Wagner, the oldtimers will recall, was one of the top umpires in amateur baseball and officiated local basketball games.
We had stayed overnight with relatives and early Saturday morning learned that most of the college football games scheduled Saturday had been canceled due to the assassination of JFK.
Immediately I called the Gazette (this was before cellphones) to find out if the ISC game had been canceled, and co-workers informed me that it had been, so I suggested that, because I was close to Washington, D.C., I would drive to the Capitol, where Kennedy’s body was scheduled to lie in state, and possibly do a story from there.
The late Joe Donnelly was the editor and we had two editions every day. The first was the County Edition that drivers took to all parts of the county, and the second was the City-County Edition that was a remake of Page 1 that was picked up by the newsboys and delivered in Indiana Borough. That was the edition, with a 3 p.m. deadline, with the story about the assassination of the president.
I got the approval to head for Washington, not knowing that every route into Washington would be flooded by traffic, with one destination in mind — the Capitol building.
It was impossible to get close to the Capitol, so we parked about 12 blocks away and took a taxi into the jammed downtown area where crowds had lined the streets at 10 a.m. Sunday along the route of the processional that brought JFK’s body from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.
Cab drivers informed us it was the largest crowd since the 1961 inaugural and restaurants in the city had been open around the clock.
Just before the solemn procession reached the Capitol, the news of the shooting of the president’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, spread through the crowd like wildfire. Remember, they were getting the news on transistor radios at that time.
For hours we stood in line before we realized it was a futile attempt as an estimated 250,000 people wound through 26 city blocks intent on getting into the Rotunda.
It was after midnight and we were not even close. So we gave it up and started back to Indiana.
Truly, a night to remember.