How New Yorkers Took the News that JFK Was Dead

It was 48 years ago Tuesday.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    A pencil drawing of John F. Kennedy sits in Dealey Plaza during the 48th anniversary of his assassination on Nov. 22, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.

    It was 48 years ago Tuesday that JFK was shot and killed.

    And, like Americans everywhere, New Yorkers reacted with shock and deep grief.

    I interviewed people in Times Square and on West 49th Street right after the announcement that the president had been shot. Some had transistor radios at their ears waiting for news. Others were listening to my car radio. For about a half hour or so, people knew only that Kennedy had been gravely wounded by an assassin as his motorcade drove through the streets of Dallas. They waited. Then came the dreaded bulletin:

    “A flash from Dallas. Two priests who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds. This is the latest information we have from Dallas. Of course, we're standing by to give you all available information as it comes to us. I will repeat with the greatest regret this flash -- two priests who were with President Kennedy say he has died of bullet wounds.”

    I approached a sobbing woman: “Do you find it hard to believe?” She weeps but does not reply.

    Nearby, a man says: “It’s hard to believe.”

    A young woman in the crowd tells me: “I really couldn’t say. Really, right now I just don’t know what to do. I don’t even know where to go, what to say. Nothing will be the same.”

    It was an historic moment. The feelings of New Yorkers -- and Americans everywhere -- resonate to this day. I walked over to Times Square. I reported:

    “For the first time since the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt the lights of Broadway have been blacked out voluntarily. The theaters are closed, the Great White Way is dark. Normally tens of thousands of people are here on a Friday night -- tonight the streets, relatively speaking, are deserted.

    "A large group of people are clustered around our mobile unit but the stores are closed, the signs are dark and here, in Times Square, the bustling, exciting atmosphere of a normal Friday night is missing.

    In the faces of the people and talking with them you hear again and again the words ‘incredible,’ ‘I still don’t believe it,’  ‘When I heard the news, I cried, I prayed.’ ”   

    I described the atmosphere there as most solemn, even depressing. No couples with smiles on their faces, no laughter.

    And  then I approached a cop on the beat, Patrolmen Martin Friedal. He seems mournful too.

    “In all the time I’ve been here,” he says, “I’ve never seen it like this. I mean it’s really something. You can sense the remorseness on the people’s faces, you can see it on them. You can also sense it. I, myself and all the other officers I’ve seen, I’ve talked to, they all feel the same way. They all have an awful feeling in their stomach, just like I have. It’s really something, It’s really bad. I mean even in the station house there was no kidding around or anything like that today. Everybody is just dead serious.”

    And the officer summed it up: “This is by no means a normal Friday night, not by any means, not close to it. All your theaters are shut down, all the movies. People are around but Broadway is not Broadway tonight.”

    It was nearly a half century ago but those of us who were around then still remember.

    History is measured in events and emotions too. What happened on this day changed our country and the world. But, more than anyone, it changed us. There would be two other memorable assassinations in this decade: Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy would perish and the happy days of Camelot, the JFK era, would be replaced by grimmer days of riots and turbulence and growing cynicism.