Memories persist of that cold, gray day in November

Then & Now

November 17, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

It's impossible to forget your actions on that grim Friday afternoon in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. I can recall a school secretary breaking the news to my eighth-grade class as we were walking to a music class. I've always recalled how dark and gray the day was.

Skip Jones, who lives in San Leandro, Calif., was then working for the old Stewart's department store. Here's what he remembers from that day:

"I was working with four or five other members of the display department team at the Reisterstown Road store on November 22, 1963.

"We were preparing the Christmas trim that would be installed in all three stores on Thanksgiving Day. We would normally work until well after midnight on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and then 14 to 16 hours on Thanksgiving.

"A radio was on in the shop, and we stood in stunned silence as the dreadful news from Dallas was shared with the nation. The news spread through the store like a wildfire, and in less than fifteen minutes, the store had emptied of all customers. The store manager announced over the intercom that the store was closed and all employees were being sent home.

"We had a call from Mr. Cranston, the head of the display department, asking for volunteers to install a photo of President Kennedy in each store. I volunteered to do the downtown store and also, since I lived just a few blocks away in Colonial Village, the Reisterstown Road store.

"I was amazed that we had three copies of President Kennedy's photo available so quickly. I arrived downtown at about three in the afternoon and installed the photo in the little window between the revolving doors closest to Clay on Howard Street.

"The photo was edged in a wide black border. I nestled the photo in some soft white silk material, and the only other trim in the window was a wide piece of red, white and blue ribbon. The lights in all the other windows were extinguished.

"I stepped back to look at the photo and realized that the intersection of Howard and Lexington streets, normally full of people, buses and autos at this time of day, was empty. The eerie silence was broken only by the sound of huge American flags hung on flagpoles that projected out over Howard Street from Hecht's, Hochschild's, Hutzler's and Stewart's flapping in the chill breeze.

"I had never seen flags on those flagpoles that projected out over Howard Street. The sky was lead gray and darkening, and my eyes filled with tears. JFK had received my vote in the 1960 general election, the first vote I had ever cast. At that moment it seemed all the hope he had engendered was dashed to smithereens.

"I traveled through empty streets (how strange to see Park Circle almost empty) and installed the photo at Reisterstown Road and then went home. [A] few days later, a friend and I drove down to Washington and stood in the bitter cold from 11 p.m. and finally reached the catafalque in the Capitol Rotunda well after 3 a.m."

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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