Where were you; what were you doing? The Class of '66 remembers:
Hal Shill, Class of 1966 Historian:
I first became aware that something was wrong while walking to my French class in the Scott classroom building. A number of students and RU staff were huddled beside a nearby building window listening to something on the radio. This was unusual, so I thought something important must be going on. I walked over the building, listened to the radio for a few minutes, and learned that President Kennedy had been shot. I didn't know the severity of his wounds at that time, so I continued on to my class. I don't remember whether the class actually met or not, but my mind was elsewhere. I went back to my dorm room in Hardenbergh later on and learned that JFK had been killed. Rumors became rampant. Had LBJ also been killed? If so, would the doddering Speaker of the House, John McCormack, become President? How vulnerable would that leave the U.S. in the Cold War? What would become of domestic policy initiatives, including civil rights? I looked out the dorm window and saw some guys playing touch football. How could they be doing this when the leadership and direction of the U.S. were in peril, I wondered.
The next few days were a blur. I remember watching the solemn funeral procession in Washington, with little John-John saluting his father's casket. I remember the memorial service in Kirkpatrick Chapel. I remember the initial shock and uncertainty gradually being supplanted by a sense that the country would survive, albeit without a leader whose rhetoric had inspired many of us and whose calm deliberation had led us through the Cuban Missile Crisis without a nuclear war.
Were all classes in Scott Hall or did it just seem that way? I was exiting a French Class from Scott Hall when I saw groups of students standing around talking excitedly near the benches that were just outside the Hall. I couldn't believe the news they were talking about - that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. This was a Friday and my last class was over, so I remember going back to Livingston, packing a bag, walking down to the train station and getting the next train back home to Elizabeth.
It seemed like our TV was on all weekend watching the events unfold, including the capture and later assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald on live television while he was being transferred by federal marshalls in an underground garage. I kept thinking how can this be happening ? What kind of security do they have in Texas ?
He may not have been President that long - just over 1,030 days, but I was crushed. I had stayed up until 3 am on election night while the votes were counted (Being a future accountant, I kept the tally on a large pad of paper, marking each state as the election results became final. Where did all those extra votes from Cook County come from ?) He seemed to bring a new spirit of optimism to Washington, a feeling that wouldn't return for 45 years.
I remember that day very well.. my roommate and I were working thru the Student Aid Office cleaning windows at a big house up at the Heights - was a sunny fall day - and we were listening to the radio. We heard the assassination news and were dumbstruck. Our fraternity was in turmoil all weekend with TV's running 24/7 and many Zetes were in tears. A contingent went to Washington to observe the funeral procession. Took a while for the shock to pass. A sad time.
On that day, I was in a help session with the TA for one of my EE classes when someone burst through the door and told us "some nut down in Dallas has just shot the President. The rest of the weekend was spent watching the news, watching the RU Choir sing the Brahms Requiem on TV with the Philadelphia orchestra and being generally depressed. The same day as the funeral the TA had scheduled a test. I called him and asked if the test was still being held. He said, yes, of course, and seemed puzzled why I was even asking. Who studied? Needless to say, it was the only test I ever failed while at RU.
I had a political science class that Friday morning. If memory serves, among the topics we discussed that week, and maybe even that day, was presidential succession. After that class, I took the bus home from downtown New Brunswick to Perth Amboy. I had to get our car and pick up my date that Saturday for the Homecoming Weekend football game against Columbia.
I was driving to pick up some groceries for my mother when I heard the news on the car radio. The rest of the weekend and beyond was spent glued to the television (in black and white, of course). Everything was cancelled that weekend. Back then, football on college campuses and in pro stadiums couldn't compete with the horrible news. Images of the Dallas scene, the Oswald shooting and the funeral procession still resonate. I can't recall when Rutgers re-entered my life.
Yes, it was the event that helped define our generation. Our belief in "Camelot" was shattered. The hope that it inspired was gone. Vietnam and the drug culture, Watergate and gasoline lines were about to come.
Here we are, 50 years later, thankful to have survived it all.
I was walking down College Ave heading for my Psych 101 class in the General Classroom Building when I heard someone yell from the porch of one of the frat houses that Kennedy had been shot. When I got to class, the professor came in crying and announced that class was canceled. The Federal Government was having a job fair that same day, in Voorhees Hall if I remember correctly. The psych class would have been my last class for the day, so I walked over there, and everyone was gathered around the FCC exhibit, as they had their radios set to receive the government communications from Dallas.
Since I was a commuter student, I then headed on home. My grandmother was staying with us at the time. When I got home, I told her what had happened. She didn't believe me at first. I turned on the TV and she saw it on the news. Her next comment was "Damn Republicans." It took me a while to convince her that the Republicans didn't kill Kennedy, a loan nutcase did.
On Sunday, the 24th, my family was having a family picnic in which several of my aunts and uncles were coming. One of them made the comment to me that "It doesn't seem right that we should be doing this when the President has just been shot." My reply was that canceling it would not change anything or bring him back. Another uncle arrived a few minutes later with the news that Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot in Dallas. He had heard it on the car radio. Everyone went straight to the TV and saw the news.
Had just gotten to the Ag Campus when I heard the news. People were walking around in a daze, some crying others in disbelief. Walked back to the main campus and the dorm. A very gloomy scene as I passed through New Brunswick. We were all glued to the only TV on the dorm floor for the weekend with most questioning how could this happen in this country.
I either had no class on Friday at all or none on Friday afternoon. I was in the bookstore, am 99% sure Scott Muni was on WABC when I first heard it. I was dazed, and my response was, "Do something." So, I went to the Targum office (I was a staff reporter at the time), and tried to make myself useful. I had worked that summer for Ed Patten (the Congressman who represented the 15th District, where Rutgers was), and I called his office for a statement. That led me to call some other NJ Representatives (can't recall if I spoke to anyone in Case's or Williams's offices in the Senate), and we wound up putting together a special edition. That took a few hours. I needed to "do more". I walked down the street to WRSU (I had been on staff there a little bit freshman year and that was all), and offered to do the same. I recall calling Patten and his taping an interview on the phone that was run later. (This is all called denial-displacement I know).
I was in Physics Lab that day and we were busy at a project when the TA came over to us and said, "Well, you might have noticed that there's a lot of commotion around so I think I ought to tell you that Kennedy has been shot in the neck. I didn't want to tell you right away because I wanted you to finish the lab." Wow. So being engineers, we then started discussing whether a shot to the neck would be fatal or just disabling, and what caliber gun was used. In the middle of our discussion a guy appeared at the doorway with a transistor radio at his ear and, with a dramatic flair switched off the radio and said, "That's it.... President Kennedy has been assassinated!" The word assassinated seemed so foreign. Then we tried to figure out how many years it's been since an American president had been assassinated, and how many and why. And then the TA said, "Well, I guess we can't finish the lab now so you guys might as well go home if you want to." I went back to the Fraternity House and there was a lot of commotion there too, a lot of guys upset and a lot of discussion of who and why and what's going to happen next and if classes would be cancelled. A day or so later when Oswald was being taken to jail I was in the hallway of the Fraternity house and I heard a huge yelling from the TV room. We rushed over to see what was going on, and they said, "Some guy shot Oswald!! Right in front of the TV cameras!!!! It was quite a week.
I was in a Surveying field class the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. We were outside on a farm next to the Heights Campus in Piscataway. We would not have known but for a small transistor radio that one of the guys had brought along. At first we thought that it was a sick joke, you know like Orson Welles' " War of the Worlds", but we started switching stations and found that it was the same report on all stations. None of us could believe that this could happen. We packed up our things and walked the mile back to the Civil Engineering Building where by now the TV's were all on and everyone was numb with depression.
don't think that I went home but stayed on campus. I know that I was at a pizza
parlor on Easton Ave. a few days later when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. I remembered
thinking that he got what was coming his way.
Things changed after Kennedy was killed. A candle was blown out.
JFK was killed on my 20th birthday. I had just bought myself a few records in town and had just gotten back to my dorm, where the gloom was palpable. I turned the radio on and it was shocking. I was a poli-sci major and had probably become politically aware during the 1956 convention. I remember rooting for JFK during the 1960 race, which was a nail biter. Of course I was unable to vote in that election but would have voted for Kennedy. As he was killed on a Friday, the campus was in the process of emptying out for the weekend. I was one of the 10% of out of state students on campus and it was, indeed, a lonely place that weekend. I don't think that I played my records for at least the next week.