November 22, 2013

JFK shooting etched in memory

Locals reminisce day John F. Kennedy was assassinated

PLATTSBURGH — Nov. 22, 1963.

The news of the gunshot that killed President John F. Kennedy stopped time for Sandra Condon, then in the midst of making a sale at a Plattsburgh department store; and for then-9-year-old Donald Jaquish, home sick from school; and for Gary Cook, who was cleaning out an old horse barn in Port Henry.

Shock and grief over the brutal and very public assassination of the charismatic, hope-carrying 35th president etched in memory the routine tasks interrupted by the tragedy around the country. 

North Country remembers it with clarity a half century later.  

Nell Irvin Painter: Now a historian and author who lives in New Russia, she was an anthropology major at the University of California, Berkeley, and on that date was at the American Anthropology Society’s annual meeting.

“We were in a big meeting room with anthropology professors giving learned papers,” the Princeton University professor emerita said. “I don’t remember what any of the papers were about, (but) at one point, the new2s had filtered through that the president had been shot. I don’t think the word came immediately that he died. 

“So, everybody poured out of the hall into the street. We wrung our hands. Up to this point, assassinations were not routine. The idea that the president could be shot was absolutely devastating.”

Painter couldn’t vote yet when Kennedy was elected president, “but I was so excited about that election. It seemed so promising after the rivers of blood coming out of the American South. Even though you could say it was just gestures toward Martin Luther King and civil rights that (President) Kennedy made, it was so different from what was before. 

“It was like a revolution. I thought, maybe something will change.”

Civil-rights news in the 1950s and early 1960s had been depressing.

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