Longtime Andover resident Bob Dennis was living in the South Shore town of Milton when Kennedy’s assassination shook the country. Dennis, a retired investment manager, and his wife, who works at UMass Lowell, now split their time between Andover, where they have had a home since 1986, and their waterfront home in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Here are his recollections of Nov. 22, 1963:
President John F. Kennedy was loved and revered in our home. He was so young, so handsome, so charismatic, so eloquent, and he was one of us, a Bostonian. The president, with his glamorous first lady and their two little children, infused the White House with a style that we had not seen before and haven’t seen since. Inspired by him, it seemed that a new era of youthful exuberance was at hand. Nevertheless, as Kennedy’s third year in office was ending, he was facing a tough reelection fight in 1964 and so, a political fence-mending trip to Texas was planned.
As I left for school in Milton on the morning of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, the weather was typical for late November, with temps in the 50s. The school day was uneventful until rumors began to spread in early afternoon that something terrible had happened to the president. Then, while in Miss Nelson’s English class, our last class of the day, our principal announced the news over the loudspeaker, first that the president had been shot and then that he was dead.
Perhaps because I was so shocked and upset, I can’t recall the mood or what was said on the school bus ride home. Upon arriving home, my mother (who had been watching the CBS soap opera “As the World Turns” when it was preempted by Walter Cronkite’s now-famous “Special Bulletin”) and I watched the sad, historic afternoon unfold on the TV. A friend from up the street came over and, although I didn’t really want to, we went outside and, with hardly any words being spoken, threw a football back and forth for a short time.
A while later, my father came home from work and as he placed the afternoon edition of The Boston Globe, with its terrible banner headline “KENNEDY SLAIN,” on the kitchen table, I could see that he was crying. I’d never seen him cry before and I would not see him cry again for 46 years, when my mother, his wife of 62 years, passed away.
We spent that evening and the following days as nearly all Americans did, huddled around our black-and-white TV watching one of the three national networks as they broadcast nonstop the sorrowful saga of our nation coping with the death of our young president who had been so full of life. Ironically, we had come to know Kennedy more intimately than any other president because of his affinity for television. It’s been said that television came of age as a news vehicle during those awful days, as the unprecedented continuous coverage allowed the grieving nation to mourn together as one.
The sights and sounds of those historic days were branded into the consciousness of those of us who lived through them. We visualize Jacqueline’s pink suit, soon to be blood-stained; her bouquet of red roses upon arriving in Dallas on Friday and her somber black-veiled funeral outfit on Monday. We can still hear the sounds of the muffled drums and remember the sight of the horse without a rider as the mournful procession carried the president’s casket from the White House to the Capitol Building, where we watched an endless line of citizens file silently past the casket throughout the day and night. The indelible image of 3-year-old John Jr., standing by his grieving mother and his 6-year-old sister, Caroline, giving a final salute to his father’s casket during the funeral ceremony still brings tears to our eyes.
Coverage of the president lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda was interrupted Sunday afternoon by another shocking event, the shooting of the alleged assassin on live TV, an event that added a final measure of tragedy to the unspeakable events of two days earlier as now we would never know with certainty exactly what happened on that dark, fateful day and, most importantly, why it happened.
In the Boston Globe that my father brought home that day, department stores that are no longer in business (Jordan Marsh, Filene’s and others) were advertising men’s shirts and slacks for less than $5 and cashmere coats for $59. You could see the epic Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie “Cleopatra” for $2, buy a new Cadillac for about $5,000 and a comfortable home in a leafy suburb for less than $25,000. A correspondent from Europe decried the “scourge” that was taking hold in Britain over a shaggy-haired, talentless group known as The Beatles.
Times were different, but life was generally good. America was socially placid and politically calm. There was no hint that the president’s assassination would presage a decade of convulsion and turmoil — the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., race riots and the bitter societal upheavals arising from the unpopular Vietnam War. The turbulent ’60s did end on an uplifting note as American astronauts landed safely on the moon, fulfilling a pledge made by President Kennedy.
We can never know how different the tumultuous ’60s and the succeeding decades would have been if Kennedy had lived, but it remains painfully difficult to comprehend that one unstable loner with a cheap rifle and uncertain motivation robbed America of its innocence and stole our future from us.
Reflecting my admiration for the slain president as well as my being a “news-hound” at an early age, I would begin a scrapbook of articles and photos from Life Magazine and other media regarding the assassination and the Kennedy family. Since that time, I’ve continued to save the newspapers from historic events over the years.
As the 12/7/41 Pearl Harbor attack was for our parents and 9/11 is for our children, 11/22/63 remains the defining historical moment for myself and the rest of the baby-boomer generation.
Over the past 50 years, I have visited President Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, toured the assassination site in Dallas and seen Caroline Kennedy and Walter Cronkite speak at the JFK Library in Boston. Two framed Norman Rockwell magazine covers of Kennedy continue to hang in my home, and I still have that copy of the Boston Globe of Nov. 22, 1963 to remind me of that terrible day when everything changed.