60 years ago, JFK assassination brought world to standstill

The front page of the New York World-Telegram for November 23, 1963 highlights UPI's coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. UPI File Photo
1 of 6 | The front page of the New York World-Telegram for November 23, 1963 highlights UPI's coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. UPI File Photo

Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, evoked strong reactions throughout the world.

From members of the Kennedy administration to world leaders; from the Kennedy family to the average American family; the president's death brought the world to a standstill for a moment.


"Canceled...postponed...closed," UPI's Charles Ohl wrote the next day, describing how the United States mourned the death of its president.

U.S. pauses

On Nov. 22, 1963, Dallas buzzed with excitement over Kennedy' arrival. He had visited Fort Worth and San Antonio during what was to be a two-day tour in Texas. After Dallas, he would be on to Austin.

At 12:30 p.m., everything changed. Three shots rang out in Dealey Plaza as Kennedy's motorcade was driving down Elm Street. Two shots, fired from the nearby book depository, struck and killed the president. Another shot wounded Texas Gov. John Connally.


The word quickly spread thanks to the deft reporting of UPI's veteran White House reporter Merriman Smith. Four minutes after shots were fired, a UPI bulletin spread the word, with updates to come throughout the day confirming his death and the swearing- in of Lyndon B. Johnson.

On Nov. 23, 1963, no U.S. cities buzzed, Ohl reported. The lights of Broadway dimmed. Football games, including Kennedy's beloved Harvard vs. Yale matchup, were called off. The major television networks halted their commercial programming.

"Dallas, the city where the president died, stopped in its tracks. Businesses and schools shut down," Ohl wrote.

UPI's Walter Logan wrote that "women wept in the streets and men cursed in helpless anger."

"Not since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln has such spontaneous grief and outrage gripped a nation," Logan's story read.

Perhaps the only place in the United States where life carried on uninterrupted was Nevada. Casinos in Reno and Las Vegas continued to operate and according to one woman, the gambling never stopped.

"It was as if someone had merely fired a shot into the air, as if a toy balloon might have popped," she sobbed into the telephone in a call to UPI's New York office.


The world reacts

The loss of Kennedy was "incalculable," said Winston Churchill, former British prime minister. He responded to the news within hours of Kennedy's shooting, calling it a "monstrous act."

"Those who come after Mr. Kennedy must strive the more to achieve the ideals of world peace and human happiness and dignity to which his presidency was dedicated."

Churchill was one of many leaders throughout the world who shared their grief in the wake of Kennedy's death. While headlines were printed across the United States, word reached well beyond its borders, including the radio waves in Moscow.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Adlai Stevenson informed his staff personally. A month prior, Stevenson was in Dallas where he was attacked by right-wing demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and other members of the Kennedy administration reversed course on a flight to Japan to return to the United States once they heard the news.

Pope Paul VI expressed "profound grief" over Kennedy's death from the Vatican in Rome.

Condolences also came from the Soviet Union, which signed a "hotline" agreement with the United States earlier that year. Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev called Kennedy's death "a heavy blow to all people who hold dear the cause of peace and Soviet-American cooperations."


Khrushchev also expressed the "indignation of Soviet people against the culprits of this base crime," in a communication with President Lyndon Johnson.

"The Soviet government and the Soviet people share the deep grief of the American people over this great loss and express the hope that the search for settling the disputable issues, a search to which President J.F. Kennedy made a tangible contribution, would be continued in the interests of peace, for the benefit of mankind," Khrushchev said.

Jacqueline Kennedy, children

Kennedy's children John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy were 2 and 5, respectively, when their father was killed. John Jr.'s third birthday was the following Monday and Caroline's sixth on Wednesday.

The children were informed of Kennedy's death the evening that it happened. It was unclear at the time who told them, but UPI's Helen Thomas presumed it was their mother, Jacqueline Kennedy.

The day after their father's death, John Jr. wandered the halls of the White House feeling lonely.

"John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., says his father was killed by 'a bad man,'" Thomas wrote. "But still he doesn't seem to understand why the slain president is not there to walk the White House corridors with him or why he is not allowed in the presidential offices."


John Jr. attended his father's funeral on his birthday. He was photographed by UPI's Stan Stearns saluting his father's casket along with the U.S. soldiers that were part of the procession.

John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes as the casket of his father, the late President John F. Kennedy, is carried from St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington. It was his third birthday. File Photo by Stan Stearns/UPI

Kennedy's daughter had a better understanding of what happened, and the meaning of it. Thomas described her as "bright beyond her years, she seemed to comprehend death."

Jacqueline Kennedy, 34, stayed close to her husband throughout the day of his assassination. She cradled him in her arms after he was shot, Smith reported. Then she kept a vigil outside the emergency room and next to his casket on the flight back to Washington.

When she emerged from a small bedroom on Air Force One for the swearing-in of Johnson, Smith described her as "white-faced but dry-eyed."

She remained in the pink outfit she wore in Dallas when Kennedy's body returned to the White House early the following morning.

President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy deplane from Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas on November 22, 1963. He was slain hours later. Photo by Cecil Stoughton/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

Thomas wrote that Jacqueline Kennedy remained close to her children throughout the day, often joined by attorney general and JFK's brother Robert F. Kennedy. She brought them to see the closed casket and was later visited by Lyndon Johnson, his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, and former President Harry Truman.

"When she saw her husband's body for the last time, Mrs. Kennedy placed her wedding ring on the finger of the man she alternately called 'Jack' and 'the president,' and kissed him," Thomas wrote.

The day after the funeral, Thomas wrote that the Kennedy family would soon leave the White House to the Johnson family.

60 years after assassination, a look back at JFK

Texas Gov. John Connally adjusts his tie as President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, settled in rear seats, prepare for a motorcade into Dallas on November 22, 1963. The president assassinated a few hours later. UPI File Photo | License Photo

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