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JFK’s death 50 years later: locals recall a grieving community and nation

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Fifty years ago today, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

In Ogdensburg, people still remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that the president had been murdered.

Muriel “Moonie” Morley was 33 and tending to a customer in her beauty shop at 109 Ford St.

Ms. Morley, 83, who lives at Centennial Terrace on Washington Street, recalled Thursday a deluge of people from the nearby stores at midday.

“Everybody was out in the street,” she said. “Everybody was screaming, ‘The president’s been shot.’”

So it was that shock, disbelief and sorrow rolled out across the city, the nation and the world on Nov. 22, 1963, which was also a Friday.

“I was upset just like everybody else,” Ms. Morley said. “He was a popular man.”

James T. Fisher Sr., 77, also a Centennial Terrace resident, was nearby having lunch at Scoop Rose’s restaurant.

He heard the news on a radio in the restaurant.

“My reaction was what’s going to happen now that the president’s been shot,” Mr. Fisher said. “It was a numb feeling,”

Trudy M. Provost, 65, of Centennial Terrace, was at a laundromat with her mother when a friend with a penchant for practical jokes walked in.

“She said that the president had been shot,” she said. “We were waiting for the punch line. We thought she was joking.”

Charles E. Lake was 32 on Nov. 22, 1963. That day found him up on the roof of his house at 1022 Congress St.

“I was putting in windows for the winter,” Mr. Lake said recalled Thursday. “My neighbor Leon Sargent came running out of his house. He hollered at me that the president had just been shot.”

Mr. Lake, a registered Republican, had voted for the Democrat president.

“It hit me pretty hard,” he said. “President Kennedy was one of the best.”

Retired St. Lawrence County Newspapers Editor-Publisher Charles W. Kelly was the assistant managing editor of The Journal and the man in charge of the newsroom that day, as both the publisher and managing editor were out. The paper, which was an afternoon publication, had already gone to press by the time he heard the news shortly after 1 p.m. The report came over his car radio as he was pumping gas at the former Shell station on Canton Street.

Mr. Kelly said he jumped in the car and raced back to the office, all set to yell “Stop the press!”

It turned out he didn’t have to.

“The press had a mechanical breakdown. It hadn’t run yet,” he said.

The breakdown provided a an opportunity for the newspaper to carry the Associated Press report of the president’s assassination on the front page by the time it came off the press at 2:45 p.m.

“We were probably the only newspaper in the state to carry the story,” he said. “Most of them in those days went to press at noon.”

Laurel L. Roethel, of 532 Hayward St., was a 9-year-old fourth grader at Bishop Conroy School on Nov. 22, 1963.

“I was in an assembly at St. Mary’s Academy,” she recalled instantly. “Sister Superior walked in and asked us to pray. Then they sent us home. We were very saddened. It was like they (the Kennedys) were family.”

“I was shocked, very shocked,” said Dale Marshall, 90, Centennial Terrace. “I liked Kennedy. Nobody could take his place.”

The city observed a 30-day grieving period, as proclaimed by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller. The main entrance to City Hall was draped in black for 30 days starting Nov. 23, 1963.

A statement issued by city Mayor Edward J. Keenan, published in the Nov. 24, 1963, Advance-News, said, “the citizens of Ogdensburg along with all others of our nation mourn the loss and tragic death of our great President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”

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