Judging from its tattered appearance, the large envelope had been crammed in the back of the desk drawer for years. Inside of it was a piece of history: the actual breaking news report that rolled off the UPI and AP wire machines on Nov. 22, 1963, telling the world that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed.
Ray Tharp was retiring and wanted me to have it.
“You’ll appreciate this,” he said, reaching across the desks we shared in the early 1980s.
Ray was the wire editor at the Mansfield News Journal the day JFK was assassinated. His job was to gather the news as it came off the teletype-like machines. Normally, the piles of paper from a day’s news events would be thrown out at the end of the day. Ray, however, had the sense to keep the 4-inch wide rolls of paper that chronicled the news as it unfolded.
He said the report began with the shrill sound of three bells coming from the machine, a rarely used alert that signaled major news. As you read it today, you can almost hear the clatter of the machine’s typewriter keys slapping against the paper:
DALLAS UPI — President Kennedy was shot and gravely wounded by a would-be assassin today as he drove through downtown Dallas in an open car with Texas Gov. John B. Connally.
Connally was wounded, too.
The President and governor were rushed to a hospital with Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, who was in the same car, cradling her husband’s head in her lap.
The story continued with eye-witness accounts, being careful not to speculate whether Kennedy was dead or alive. No one knew. The shooting occurred at 12:31 p.m. in Texas and the story moved quickly over the newswire with many updates. One read:
DALLAS AP — President Kennedy was given the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church today after an assassin shot him down while the President was riding in a caravan.
A priest who helped perform the last rites said he did not believe the President was dead.
Later, the bells on the wire machines rang again.
FLASH!!! — President Kennedy is dead
DALLAS UPI — President Kennedy was assassinated today in a burst of gunfire in downtown Dallas.
The reaction from around the world came swiftly.
Some of the UPI reports read like this:
• NEW YORK UPI — Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in a telegram to Mrs. Kennedy, said:
“I realize the utter futility of words at such a time, but the world of civilization shares the poignancy of this monumental tragedy. As a former comrade in arms, his death kills something within me.”
• LONDON UPI — The British Broadcasting Corporation after flashing the death of President Kennedy stopped regular broadcasting for several moments and played funeral music by Brahms.
A radio announcer said apologetically, “Sorry, we need a moment to collect ourselves.”
Other stories reported on the slain president’s family.
• HYANNIS PORT, MASS UPI — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and his sister, Eunice Shriver, flew red-eyed and somber to Hyannis Port from Washington Friday to be with their parents.
Sen. Kennedy was presiding over the Senate chamber when he was informed that his brother was shot.
• SANTA MONICA, CALIF. UPI — Mrs. Patricia Lawford, President Kennedy’s sister, was placed under doctor’s care Friday at her beachfront home where the Chief Executive frequently stayed during visits to Southern California.
Mrs. Lawford, wife of actor Peter Lawford, was being treated by Dr. Charles O. Studevant, chief of psychiatry at St. John’s Hospital here.
Throughout the day, the wire reports would carry many more urgent messages and updates:
DALLAS AP — A Secret Service agent and a Dallas policeman were shot and killed today some distance from the area where President Kennedy was assassinated.
No other information is immediately available.
• DALLAS UPI — John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, was assassinated Friday by a sniper who put a bullet in his brain as he rode through downtown Dallas in an open car.
Police seized as a prime suspect a pro-Castro former U.S. Marine who once sought citizenship in Russia. …
The man, Lee H. Oswald, 24, denied any connection with the President’s slaying.
• WASHINGTON UPI — Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36th president of the United States Friday at 3:39 p.m. EST in the hot, stuffy presidential compartment of a parked Air Force jet transport on the edge of Love Field — the Dallas Municipal airport.
With his wife, Lady Bird, at his right, and the late President Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline, on his left, Johnson took the solemn constitutional oath of office.
“It was a news day like few others,” Ray said.
ROSES AND THORNS: The “Cash Explosion” line has stretched into the rose garden. Thank goodness we have a groundskeeper visiting this week:
Rose: To Travis Hohlbein, of Ottoville, who is the second assistant groundskeeper of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.
Rose: Fans lined up at 6 a.m. to get a choice seat for the “Cash Explosion” TV show being filmed Monday night at the Lima Civic Center. By 4:30 p.m., 2,000 people stretched the line down to Elizabeth Street.
Rose: Councilman Derry Glenn loves Lima and wants to make sure people who love turkey have something to gobble up. He donated 13-pound turkeys to a host of people Saturday.
Rose: To Roy Baldridge, who received the Shirley Daley Award for community service from LACNIP.
Thorn: No surprise here. Family members are in court fighting over money awarded to the estate of Tarika Wilson, who was killed in a police raid in 2008.
Thorn: According to weather forecasters, Ohio can expect “biting, bitterly and piercing” cold and snowy weather this winter.
PARTING SHOT: “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” ― John F. Kennedy