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Commentary: Reliving the afternoon time stopped

President John F. Kennedy once said words to the effect that everyone remembers where they were when they heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died. I didn’t and don’t remember. I was a toddler. But his words were darkly prophetic.

I do remember exactly 50 years ago this afternoon, Nov. 22, 1963, I was in The Lantern newsroom when Kennedy was shot and killed. I was 19 years old.

It was already an unusual afternoon. Even today, on most Fridays, the newsroom is an empty place. But that day, a bunch of us were there and just hanging out. It was the era of civil rights marches and Vietnam protests. We were passing around a pair of bib overalls like the marchers wore when the wire machine rang. Five bells — a bulletin.

Georgia Paul, the wire editor, went to the machine and called out, “The president’s been shot.”

“Not funny,” someone said.

“No, really,” Georgia said back.

“STAY OFF THIS WIRE  STAY OFF THIS WIRE,” the machine typed. “GO AHEAD DALLAS.

“SHOTS HAVE BEEN FIRED AT THE PRESIDENT’S MOTORCADE. THE PRESIDENT HAS BEEN WOUNDED, PERHAPS FATALLY.”

Some minutes later, the confirmation came through to our then-chaotic newsroom. Kennedy was dead.

We reached our adviser Wesley First, a former editor for the New York World-Telegram and Sun. He arrived quickly and after fast consultations, determined we could put out an extra paper — something The Lantern had never done before.

We scattered. Our teachers had given us the souls and instincts of newspaper men and women. Jean Heller went to a tavern on the east side of Columbus to report what were to become prize-winning interviews. Someone got Newell Chaney, the print shop foreman, and he got his typesetters. In those days, The Lantern was printed downstairs, behind the post office, on a press that was made in the 1890s. Keith McKnight grabbed interviews across campus. Burt Graeff got photos and reactions.

I went to the old Ohio Union, where there was a large lunch room with a television. It was packed. On the edge of the crowd, I remember seeing my friend, Wendell Ellenwood, the longtime director of the Ohio Union, with damp eyes. I stayed quite a while myself, glued to the TV.

I got back to the Journalism Building as they were wrapping up downstairs. Chaney was pulling the page proof. In our largest type it said, “PRESIDENT IS DEAD.”

That’s when I cried.

 

Richard Stelling is a former Lantern editor-in-chief and photographer and a current early childhood major who worked at The Lantern during the time when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was 19 years old at the time.

 

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: Nov. 26, 2013

An earlier version of this story stated President John F. Kennedy once said everyone remembered where they were when President Theodore Roosevelt died, when in fact, Kennedy said that about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

One comment

  1. A day that will never be forgotten, and a day that changed this country forever. I was the Lantern's Chief Photographer at the time, and a photo I took later that night appeared on a subsequent issue's front page. I also photographed the President for the Lantern during his earlier visit to Columbus for a fundraiser.

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