An Eerie Silence Following JFK’s Death
Hard to believe that Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
For those of us who experienced that fateful event, the day on Nov. 22, 1963, like Pearl Harbor Day decades before for our parents and September 11, 2001, when the world changed at Ground Zero, memories of the President’s death have been etched in our minds forever.
I was attending classes in my junior year at Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn at the time.
One of the classes I must loved was a phonetics course that dealt with dialects. While studying for a career in speech pathology, a requirement was to be able to learn sounds and phonemes uttered by individuals in different parts of the country. People in Boston say “cat” and “rat” much differently than they do in New Orleans, Dallas or New York.
Getting back to 11-22-63, Dr. Phillip Bronstein was lecturing that day when all of a sudden the lights inside our classroom in the old Brooklyn Paramount went dark. A young woman ran into the room and screamed: “The President has been shot. JFK has been assassinated!”
Without saying a word, the class was dismissed.
Not a sound was heard except for students weeping in the halls as I headed back to my dorm where I called my fiancé, Barbara, who was attending class at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.
Barbara and I commuted home every weekend so I could earn my $20 on a Saturday at a shoe store in Spring Valley which allowed me the finances needed to get through another week.
I took the subway from DeKalb Avenue to East 28th Street and met Barb at her dorm. We walked to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Normally on a Friday afternoon, the city is a hustling and bustling place with vehicle horns honking and other extraneous noise.
That trip to the terminal was the most eerie I ever encountered. Not a sound was heard except for the hum of city life. No one was talking. Groups of people gathered in front of appliance stores along 7th Avenue and openly wept as Walter Cronkite reported: “President John F. Kennedy has died.”
It was as though the world had been frozen in time by an assassin’s bullet.
The Short Line bus ride back to Rockland County was equally as hushed—no one talking. The lack of conversation was deafening.
We were all reflecting on our nation’s loss.
I never had the opportunity to meet JFK but in the spring of 1964 his younger brother Bobby visited our campus to thank the school for the love shown the Kennedy family. I was a reporter for the LIU school newspaper at the time and had an opportunity to sit and chat with the man whose life also ended tragically four years later. I related the story to Ethel Kennedy in the early 1980’s while attending an environmental fund raiser in Garrison. I remember her telling me: “Bobby loved interacting with young people so much. It’s heartrending that his life and John’s were taken at so early an age.”
Editor’s Note: Eric Gross is senior reporter for the Courier and the PCN&R.