Looking back: President Kennedy assassinated

Published 9:00 am Friday, November 29, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking Back features past articles from The Tidewater News with commentary by local historian Clyde Parker

November 29, 1963

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated last Friday, November 22. And, over the several-day period from the day and time of his death, to his lying in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda, to the funeral procession through the streets of Washington, D.C., to his eventual interment in Arlington National Cemetery, people here in our area, as well as people across the country and around the world, through television and radio, have had “front-row” seats at the “stage of history” as the dramatic tragedy and ensuing reactive events have taken place.

Most of us, in the early afternoon last Friday, learned that President Kennedy had been shot during the motorcade that wound through the streets of Dallas. And, many of us knew then that that news would be vividly etched in our minds for the rest of our lives. That is what I thought then and that is what most people I have talked to thought at that time.

On Sunday, as Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, was in the process of being transferred from the Dallas City Jail to a County facility, he was shot and soon died. This was witnessed first-hand by a huge number of reporters and by-standers; and, through television, many people across the country also witnessed the killing and the resulting chaos.


November 29, 2013


Now, here it is 50 years later. Through the means of television, many of us who were around then and can remember what took place then, have been watching recordings of the actual television coverage that took place back then. So, some of us are “re-seeing” and, in a sense, “re-living” history. Others who are younger, and are interested, are able to see things as we older people saw on our black-and-white television sets 50 years ago.

Most of us have found out that it is true; we do remember where we were, how we learned that the President had been shot, who told us, and who was there with us when we found out about it.

Elliott Cobb, Franklin Attorney, remembers where he was and what he was doing when he found out that President Kennedy had being shot. “I recall it very vividly,” Cobb said when he was asked about his recollection. “I was at the University of Virginia Law School Library, doing some research “in the stacks,” when a student in the hallway shouted ‘President Kennedy has been shot.’” “I ran to my car and turned on the radio so that I could find out more about it. At that time, his actual death had not been announced. However, soon after that, the news came through that he had died.”

About the same time, Betsy Cobb, Elliott’s wife, who was working in the Pediatric Clinic at the University of Virginia Hospital, learned about the shooting when some of the medical staff received outside telephone calls. “The news spread quickly up and down the halls of the hospital,” she said. “It was a very emotional time.”

I have my own recollection. I was working in the Mill Planning Department at Union Bag-Camp Paper Corp. On that Friday, sometime after lunch, we were gathered in the office. Charlie Wieters and I were making some last-minute adjustments to the weekend mill running schedules. John Hopkins came down the hall and stopped at the door of our office. “My wife just called and said that President Kennedy has been shot,” Hopkins said. The news spread quickly up and down the hallways. Allen Jones was in his office and heard the commotion. “Frances Eubank, my secretary, was in the outer office; she turned on her radio so that we could get more details,” Jones recalls. We soon learned that the president had died. There were all kinds of reactions and emotions. Across the hall, Donald Richardson, Edith Peace and Kitty Denson sat quietly at their work stations.

Over in the Union Bag-Camp Technical Department, Shelton Modlin was working in the laboratory. He was analyzing data in relation to a forest-land based study, trying to determine what woodlands areas would grow trees the fastest. “Suddenly,” saaid Modlin, “Earl Winstead busted through the door and said ‘Kennedy has been shot.’ We were all stunned.”

Dean Wagenbach was doing some work at India Darden’s house on Meadow Lane. “All of a sudden I heard Mr. Darden holler ‘Kennedy has been shot,’” Wagenbach said.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is cpjeep99@yahoo.com