50 years later: Locals share what sticks in their minds about the JFK assassination
Remembering the confusion surrounding President John F. Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago today, different scenes play out in people’s minds. For every person it’s a different moment that resonates and transcends the power of all the other images of that day.
For Joan Reandeau, it’s a scene she saw on television – Jackie Kennedy on the back of a convertible, seconds after her husband was shot.
“That’s what stayed with me – her climbing on the back of that car,” Reandeau said. She paused before continuing. “That stayed with me for a long time. When he got shot, Jackie climbing on the back of that car, trying to … who knows what she was thinking. She was in shock. She had to be.”
Reandeau was in her Tupper Lake home when she heard the news.
“I’m packing, getting ready to move, and the neighbor came running across the lawn, and she said the president had been shot,” Reandeau said. “I couldn’t believe it. We never had anything like that happen.”
Startled, Reandeau stopped packing and turned on the TV.
“I kept it on, watched it steady. And then (two days later) I saw (Lee Harvey) Oswald get shot, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is happening to our country?'” Reandeau said. “I also remember being very angry at (Jack) Ruby when he shot Oswald because I thought, ‘We’re never going to find out what happened now.'”
The news put a halt to Reandeau’s packing for a couple of days. She said she needed that time to process what had happened.
“You don’t know what to think,” Reandeau said. “We liked him so much, and he was such a good president. We trusted he was going to be there, and when things happened you could trust him to take care of it.”
Dot Fobare started crying as soon as she was asked about that day. Every time the media brings up President Kennedy’s assassination, it washes over her as if it just happened yesterday.
Now a Saranac Lake resident, then she was living on a military base in Savannah, Ga., where her husband was stationed. She was ironing clothes and watching television when the news came on that the president had been shot.
“I dropped the iron and everything and went running across to another girl’s house and said, “Have you got the TV on? Put the TV on,'” Fobare said. “And the two of us, there we were. It was a weird, weird day.”
“It was a weird whole weekend,” added Rita Kenedy of Saranac Lake – who has just one “n” in her last name and is not related to the president. “I don’t think anybody moved from the TV. We watched everything, and then we saw Jack whatever-his-name-is shoot (Oswald) – we watched him do it! He came in and went ‘Bang’ – dead.”
The two women were interviewed on Saranac Lake’s Main Street as they left the Blue Moon Cafe after their regular morning coffee with friends. It was after a similar social gathering when Kenedy heard the big news 50 years ago in Pelham Manor, just outside New York City, where she lived at the time.
“We were at a morning coffee next door at my neighbor’s,” she recalled, “and I had had too much coffee, and I came home and I was ‘Uuh,’ sort of goofed out on the couch. And I heard it, and boy, that shot me up off the couch to run to watch it more closely. It was shocking, you know.
“We used to think about that in South America,” she added. “There were so many assassinations of presidents that someone wrote a song about it. It said, ‘He was the best president we ever had,’ and then you hear two gunshots.”
“It just doesn’t seem like something like that (would happen) in the United States,” Fobare said. “It just doesn’t seem like you’d blow him off because you don’t like him.”
“We grumble a lot about our politicians, but we don’t kill them,” Kenedy said.
“And I can’t even imagine anybody not liking him, because he was a good president,” Fobare said, tears returning to her face.
“I’ve seen other presidents I would’ve rather had shot. But in a democratic society, you elect ’em, and then you live with ’em.”
The memory of that uncertain time still lingers with Sherry Beaudette of Tupper Lake, who was in her ninth-grade science class when her teacher announced that Kennedy had been shot.
“Everybody thinks about what’s going to happen next, wondering if something’s going to happen next, and apparently it did,” Beaudette said. “I think that was a precursor to the violence that was to come. I remember Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. – I remember all of that. It was just such a horribly violent era. If this can happen to the president of the United States, is anybody else safe? That’s what I felt.”
Beaudette said her classmates cried and held each other when they learned the president had died. She went home from school early that day, and like most people, she and her family followed the news on TV for days.
She said she’ll never forget seeing Kennedy’s funeral.
“They had Kennedy laid out in the Rotunda at the Capitol,” Beaudette said. “When the horse-drawn carriage with the coffin rode by, I remember his son saluting it. That’s forever imprinted in my mind. … I thought, here’s this little child, and he’s saluting his dad as he went by.”
Anne Shaheen was a third-grade teacher in Tupper Lake and was taking a break when the news came over the radio.
“I ran through that whole school, the two buildings, telling all the teachers that he had been killed,” Shaheen said. “When I got back to my classroom, I had all the students put their heads down and think about President Kennedy. It was a hard time for all of us.”
Shaheen said she’s been watching shows about the assassination all week. Having constant news about Kennedy feels strangely feels similar to 50 years ago. Shaheen said she’s learned a few things recently, mostly about Jackie Kennedy.
“The idea that the second day after he died she would write a note to Mrs. Tippit, whose husband was also killed,” Shaheen said. “They recently read the note on television. To think Jackie Kennedy had enough foresight to do something like that was really something, with all she had to do.”
Shaheen said she doesn’t mind seeing the stories again because she had a lot of respect for Kennedy and what he was doing.
“It’s all this news mixed in with the old,” Shaheen said. “That really brings it all back. We’re just as sad now as we were then. It brings a tear to your eye. He had the charisma. It was a good period of time for our government.”