Today — Nov. 22 — is one of those moments indelibly stamped in American history, a day when “I remember where I was when I heard the news” comes immediately to mind.
For an older generation, it was Dec. 7, 1941, and for today’s, it was Sept. 11, 2001, days of such horrific events that memories, though painful, remain vivid.
Sixty years ago today, President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Tex., sending the nation into shock, disbelief and mourning.
On that Friday afternoon in 1963, I had taken my pre-school age son to Bamberger’s (later to become Macy’s) department store in downtown Morristown when a visibly upset salesclerk was overheard telling her co-workers that the president had been shot.
Shoppers — including me and my son — quickly went to the third floor where a bank of television sets filled one wall, all tuned to one of the national networks. We all stood silently, staring at the images on the screens and listening for the latest bulletins.
At the time, I was a reporter for the Newark News assigned to its Morristown bureau and I knew I and my colleagues would be called into our offices to await orders from editors.
My assignment was to phone elected officials in Morris County, seeking response and reaction to the events in Dallas for inclusion in a more extensive statewide roundup account.
One of the officials I contacted served on the county Board of Freeholders and, after eliciting his comments, I was about to end the call when he said: “It reminds me of the presidential assassination I saw when I was a child.”
When I asked for details, he recounted he was an elementary school student in Buffalo, N.Y., when on Sept. 6, 1901, and he and his classmates were on a field trip to the Pan American Exposition there.
He told me he was sitting near the front row to see President Willam McKinley when a man darted toward him and fired a shot. The president fell, mortally wounded, and died eight days later.
I listened entranced as he recounted that day 62 years earlier when my reportorial instincts took over, aware that I stumbled upon a story that no one else had.
I asked if he’d told anyone else about his experience and, when he answered he had not, I asked if he’d wait until the following day — when my newspaper came out — before he did.
Despite the tragedy of the day, I felt the small thrill that every reporter experiences when his is the only story to appear.
For me, the “I remember where I was when I heard the news” recollection has remained strong in the intervening years, not only because of the horror of a president gunned down, but for the journalistic coup I’d scored.
It may seem a minor blip in the overall scheme of things, but I kept the news clip of my story, toting it around in a scrapbook as I moved through my career and from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., and back again.
It turned yellow with age as edges crumbled and creases obscured the type face.
It’s long gone now, but it remains a part of my personal history even though it’s dwarfed by the events of that day.
It’s in my memory bank— forever.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.