The Pointe

MidPointe Library's Official Blog

Dallas 1963: The President is dead

 
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Fifty-five years ago today, November 22nd, the 35th president of the United States was assassinated on the streets of Dallas, Texas.

For the nation’s Roman Catholics, it was particularly traumatic. They’d felt a kinship with this first Catholic president, this grandson of Irish immigrants named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was one of them. They wore their pride like the parents of summa-cum-laude graduates.

Add to that group my late grandmother. A lifelong Middletonian and the occupier of the same pew each Sunday at her longtime parish, Idabelle Nelson Walburg was a Kennedy devotee from the very start. It’s not surprising : her mother was a McCormick and the family revelled in all things Irish. And now the President of the United States not only Catholic but Irish, too.

To my devout grandmother, praying throughout the day was as natural as breathing. Looking back, I believe it was her way of coping with years of grief after the tragic deaths in her immediate family : her firstborn child at the age of five or six and the death of her husband at a relatively young age -- both from illness.

Tragedy didn’t end there, however. Years later came the horrific automobile accident in which her only son, the driver, and his friend, the passenger, were killed. Her remaining children were my mother and my aunt.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Idabelle’s natural reaction upon learning Kennedy had been assassinated was to pray. I can still hear her words upon learning of any death: “God have mercy on his (or her) soul,” she would say softly.

In mourning, then, she joined my family for several days to witness the solemn aftermath of the president’s untimely death on our black-and-white TV. The coverage was consistent and live, the likes of which we had never seen. Included in the ongoing coverage was the transfer of Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Dallas police department to another facility.

Then, as my grandmother normally wouldn’t say, all hell broke loose.

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Suddenly a man emerged from a group standing nearby and shot Oswald in the abdominal area. Oswald grimaced.  Within seconds, the shooter was subdued by law enforcement officials.

I’ll never forget the reaction of my devout grandmother when she witnessed the shooting of Kennedy’s assassin up close and live on television.

“Kill him! Kill him!” she shouted, conceivably at the shooter, whose name we learned was Jack Ruby.

Those dismal days are etched forever in my Baby Boomer mind. And that includes my grandmother’s immediate remorse over her vengeful reaction to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who murdered the first Irish Catholic president.

Overcome with guilt, Grandma knew what she had to do. As soon as possible, she stepped inside the church confessional and admitted what she believed to be a grievous sin for which she was heartily sorry.

I’ll never forget her response when I, her nine-year-old granddaughter, asked why she went to confession that day.

“I had murder in my heart,” was all she said, softly.

Author of the above is Sandy Little, a member of the MidPointe Library communications team and library blogger.

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Images from the November 23, 1963, Middletown Journal and many other editions are available on microfilm at MidPointe Library-Middletown. Library cardholders can also access the newspaper via the MidPointe Library website’s e-Library (Research databases): https://www.midpointelibrary.org/page/database-magazine

Many materials on President Kennedy, his administration and more are available onsite at MidPointe Library and digitally via e-library on its website,  www.midpointelibrary.org

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Pictured are the Life publication, “The Day Kennedy Died….,” “JFK in Words and Pictures” edited by Stephen Kennedy Smith and Douglas Brinkley, the children’s biography titled “John F. Kennedy, the Making of a Leader,” by the editors of Time for Kids with Ruth Upadhyay, and the DVD, “The Kennedys,” part of the PBS “American Experience” history series.