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Glance At The Past

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Friday marked 50 years since the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Those of us who did not live through the murder of a president have a difficult time understanding the depth of grief the nation felt as it laid its 35th president to rest. That grief was apparent in the interviews our newspapers conducted this week with residents who remember it.

This week’s photo was taken by Ogdensburg resident Michael J. Donnelly, a U.S. Navy photographer, at the president’s funeral. The following is an excerpt of article written by Deborah Wight that accompanied the photo when it was published in The Journal Nov. 22, 1983, to mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination.

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“I thought it was the next closest thing to the end of the world.”

That is how Ogdensburg’s Michael J. Donnelly describes the feelings he had while in Washington, D.C., 20 years ago.

His sentiments were shared by thousands lining Pennsylvania Avenue that rainy, dreary day as the flag-draped coffin of assassinated President John Fitzgerald Kennedy passed to the Capitol, then to Arlington National Cemetery.

On Nov. 25, 1963, Donnelly was on assignment for the U.S. Navy.

He was a photographer for the armed forces from 1960 to 1964, and on this particular Monday he was one of four that took pictures of JFK’s funeral procession for the Navy.

Donnelly’s pictures were taken about halfway up the steps at the back of the Capitol.

“I had just finished working when I got the call,” Donnelly said. “The president had been shot and killed.”

He was called back to work, standing by for whatever assignment the Navy had for him over the course of the next few days.

“Navy officials didn’t know what they were going to do or what was going to happen,” he said. “A few days later I was sent to the Capitol to cover the funeral.”

Two other Navy photographers were positioned along the route. Another was at the cemetery.

“I had a Navy press pass and my choice of where I wanted to take pictures. I guess that’s how I ended up on the steps,” he said.

At a place where “all the press people wanted to be,” Donnelly snapped about 60 pictures.

“Press persons representing every organization imaginable pushed and shoved to get in what seemed to be like the same place,” he said. “But I got the spot.”

Secret Service agents “weren’t too keen” on him standing on the Capitol steps.

“Actually, I had no problem getting there,” Donnelly said.

He said there was one agent in particular that he had “close calls” with.

Seven white horses transported the president’s body, with one riderless dark horse following the casket.

“The horse was led by an armed forces officer. Nobody was on its back,” Donnelly said. “It was symbolic — the slain president’s horse.”

Kennedy’s casket was brought in to the building. Services were held, and it was brought back out, where Donnelly waited for it and family members to pass.

“They were expressionless,” he said, “and so solemn.”

After the funeral processional, Donnelly went directly to a darkroom on Andrews Air Force Base.

His picture of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and her children, Caroline and John Jr., leaving the Capitol was submitted and accepted for publication in Life magazine.

“I don’t know,” Donnelly said modestly, “I guess Life printed it.”

Robert Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Peter Lawford and other family members are also clearly seen in Donnelly’s photographs. The government has possession of all the negatives, he said, because they are Navy property.

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If you have a photo or feature for Glance At The Past, please contact Advance-News Editor Elizabeth Lyons at 393-1003, extension 123, or egraham@wdt.net. Photos and accompanying information will be published in the order in which they are received, and must be received by Monday to be considered for publication the following Sunday. Contributors may pick up submissions at The Journal and Advance-News office in Ogdensburg after they are published.

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