Column: Life as a newsman on a national day of horror
By Ray Crippen
WORTHINGTON — We noted a while ago that the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s speech on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., is upcoming — Nov. 19, one month from today. We will be seeing plenty about the Gettysburg Address in the newspapers and on television through the four weeks ahead. Someone might slip a mention on the Internet.
Four days later we will come to the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s murder at Dallas, Texas. Nov. 23, 1963, 12:30 p.m. A Friday. All the hoopla and special reporting attending the Lincoln address will be pushed aside and overshadowed by the JFK anniversary. Time magazine already has had a four-page spread on the Zapruder film.
This made me think that if I had a plan to write anything about that fateful November day 50 years gone by, it would be well to slip in near the head of the herd before everything is grazed. Of course, that was a memorable day at the Daily Globe.
It might be noted, first of all, that President Eisenhower had a severe heart attack in 1955. Most Americans were stunned. Later, while the President was in a hospital and recovering, it became almost a joke that every time anyone picked up a newspaper or tuned in a television newscast there would be a picture of Dwight Eisenhower in pajamas and a robe standing on a balcony outside his hospital room and waving to people in a park below. You still can find these photos today in Eisenhower histories.
On the day JFK was shot, the Daily Globe was an afternoon newspaper. Noon was the deadline. All reporters and photographers had to have their work done when the clock struck 12. Everyone went off to lunch, but it was my responsibility to finish out the front page and to see the paper put to bed.
Charles Brace — Corky Brace — was the sports editor. Corky would sit at his desk with newspapers spread out before him, and he would read until I was ready to leave. Then the two of us would head for one of the restaurants. That cold, windy Friday we decided on the original Gobbler, which was at the corner of 10th Street and Fifth Avenue. Brad Molitor was the Gobbler’s owner/manager at that time. When you entered the Gobbler you would see Brad to your left, behind a checkout counter, making change and small talk and listening to a small radio.
Corky and I went to a booth and made our orders. It wasn’t long before we had our food, and we always were hungry. It always had been a long time since breakfast. We were — oh — half-finished with our lunch when Brad came over to us to report, “Kennedy has been shot.” What? “Kennedy has been shot — it just came on the radio.”
My reaction was to recall President Eisenhower. “Oh, we’ll be going through that again. Every day there will be another picture of the President standing on a balcony in his robe and waving to people below.” I said to Corky, “I suppose I should go back and re-do the front page. They won’t be running yet.” Corky agreed. “You better get this in the paper.” We hadn’t finished our lunches, but we went to the counter to pay. “He’s dead,” Brad said as we stepped up.
To that instant it had not occurred to me — I wouldn’t permit the thought — that the President could be mortally wounded. He was shot, they said. This would mean a wound in a shoulder or a wound in the chest or maybe only a wound in an arm. To that instant I was still questioning whether we really should call back the front page and do a re-make. Deadlines were important.
Well — you know all that we learned when we got to the newsroom. Most of the staff was back by then. It was a horror. We decided the most important thing was to put together as complete a report as possible. We tore out most of the front page and even put together our own story of murdered U.S. Presidents — Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley.
That was how Worthington got that news.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.