JFK Assassination: 50 years, 50 people

William Coleman
William Coleman
Posted: November 22, 2013

THE BULLETS that struck and killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas' Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m. CST, echoed around the world – but the reverberations were especially loud in Philadelphia.

Like so much about the JFK assassination, the connections aren't always on the surface. After all, Kennedy was the product of a Boston dynasty, slain on a Texas street - allegedly by an assassin who'd drifted around the globe.

But in just a few years, the 35th president had forged a surprisingly deep bond with the City of Brotherly Love. Kennedy had arrived in an era when parochial and neighborhood schools in split-level suburbs and under smoldering urban smokestacks were bursting with Baby Boomers, when the sons and daughters of European immigrants were when asserting their power in Northeastern cities, and the struggle for civil rights was emerging from the shadows.

Philadelphia was an epicenter of all that . . . and John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a holy icon. In 1960, he'd carried Philadelphia by an unprecedented 330,000 votes - arguably the tipping point in his narrow victory over Richard Nixon.

And so the news - crackling over a transistor radio, or announced in sudden and shocking fashion by a principal over a scratchy PA system - hit the city like a lightning bolt.

Many people instantly sensed the movement of a giant social fulcrum – and they were right. The past of placid, post-World War II triumphalism was over, and a time of rock, roll and rebellion was at hand. For five decades, Philadelphians have tried to come to grips. Lawyers and journalists never stopped investigating – occasionally finding that the detours on the road to Dallas had a Philly intersection.

In 2013, the cheerleaders and hall monitors of 1963 still carry around memories of that afternoon as if it were something in their wallet, wedged between their AARP card, a maxed out Visa card and pictures of their new grandkids.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the day that changed Philadelphia and America. Here the JFK stories of 50 people. . . our people.

Bill Kelly

Every time that Bill Kelly comes to Philadelphia, he sees ghosts.

Kelly was 12 on the day of the assassination, growing up in Camden as the son of an overprotective city police officer. "Don't let him out in the yard," his dad yelled in the first hours after Kennedy had been shot 1,300 miles away. "We still don't know what's going on."

The next time that Kelly gave much thought to JFK was about a decade later, when he read a book on the assassination called Legacy of Doubt by Peter Noyes. Inspired by the book, Kelly - gray-haired and bearded at 62, still living in South Jersey and writing books on a variety of topics - has spent much of the last 35 years chasing down obscure pieces of the assassination puzzle, often with a local connection:

Steve Kennan

Kennan was a former Temple University student journalist and Philadelphia Quaker who had traveled to Cuba, met Fidel Castro, and is said to have later driven Lee Harvey Oswald to the Soviet embassy on his motorcycle during Oswald's infamous visit to Mexico City in 1963.

Ruth Hyde Paine

Paine was a Quaker activist who married her husband Michael Paine in Philadelphia and lived in Paoli for a time in the late 1950s, but moved to Fort Worth and befriended Oswald's wife Marina. The couples were so close that Oswald hid the gun he allegedly used to kill Kennedy in the Paines' garage.

Wynne Sharples

Sharples was an upscale Philadelphian who was married during the 1950s to the mysterious and wealthy Dallas friend of Oswald, George De Mohrenschildt. Sharples later became a Temple trustee, while De Mohrenschildt committed suicide on March 29, 1977, the day before he was to testify before a U.S. House committee on the assassination.

Igor Vaganov

Vaganov was an Eastern European who moved from Philadelphia to the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff with his girlfriend in the week before the assassination. Kelly says he drove a red Ford, had a rifle, and was driving around Oak Cliff when Police Officer J.D. Tippit was murdered on Nov. 22.

Kelly, who in recent months has been chasing missing audiotapes from Air Force One as it brought Lyndon Johnson back to the White House that day, said his main goal is to get early release of key documents from the CIA and elsewhere that are still under seal until 2017.

"Oswald was a patsy," he said. "He was not even on the sixth floor [of the Texas School Book Depository]."

Mabel Neumann

Neumann, of L Street in Juniata Park, would never learn of the president's slaying.

On Oct. 30, the day Kennedy visited Philadelphia to campaign for Mayor James Tate, the 69-year-old widow stood outside the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, eager for a glimpse of the president. When JFK emerged from the hotel, Neumann reached out and touched his hand, a moment that was captured by Daily News photographer Sam Psoras. It ran on the front page of the People Paper the following day.

But her family doubts she ever saw it. She died of a heart attack that day.

Richard Edmonson

Edmonson, 38, a taxi driver, was in his home on Haverford Avenue in Overbrook, watching "As the World Turns" on Channel 10 when Walter Cronkite cut in with the first news bulletins.

"I went down the street and told my grocer and he said, 'Sure, I heard about Lincoln being shot too,' " Edmonson related to a Daily News reporter that evening. "He didn't believe me so I told him to turn on the radio."

Mayor James Tate

Just 24 days earlier, 150,000 people had lined the city's streets to see JFK as he campaigned and spoke at an $100-a-plate fundraiser for the mayor, who was elected to his first full term a few days later.

Tate ordered the flags at City Hall lowered to half-staff, then departed for St. John's Church at 13th and Market where he knelt in prayer along with his wife and his daughter Ann-Marie. Later, he spoke of how Kennedy had been slated to return in a few days for the annual Army-Navy football game, and how he'd been looking forward to Atlantic City and his expected 1964 renomination there.

"The death of President Kennedy is a sin against humanity itself," Tate said. "President Kennedy was the world's leading spokesman of good will and tolerance toward all nations."

Col. Joe Pascuzzo

Pascuzzo, a seventh-grader at St. Ambrose School in Northeast Philly when JFK was killed, immediately flashed back to the day he saw a future president.

"I instantly recalled the one time I had actually seen [then-] Sen. Kennedy when he was running for president in 1960," he remembered. "My parents took my sister and me to Broad Street where [JFK] was to drive by in a motorcade. Broad was lined with several rows of people as far as we could see. Later, it was exciting to say that I had actually seen the man who eventually became president."

Betty Hollway

"My aunt had taken me to see him at 69th Street where he spoke to a huge crowd in the pouring rain," she recalled. "It was my first real exposure to politics."

On Nov. 22, 1963, she was working for Fidelity Mutual on the Parkway.

"There was an uproar at the other end of our department and most of the women were crying. I couldn't believe that I had just seen him and now he was dead. We ate all our meals in front of the TV, still not believing what we were seeing."

J.E. Brooks

Brooks was 12 years old, a seventh-grader at Our Lady of The Rosary School in West Philadelphia. Students, who went home for lunch, had just returned when the principal announced over the loudspeaker that the president was dead.

"K. Smith, a classmate, suddenly released a bone-chilling scream upon hearing the announcement," he recalled. "The memory of her scream I will never forget."

Jim Ryan

Ryan, a future adjunct at Temple and Drexel, was in 11th-grade Spanish class in Claymont, Del.

"Some administrator's secretary came rushing into our classroom with the news: 'Kennedy has been murdered.' Thinking of Robert F. Kennedy's much-publicized battles with Jimmy Hoffa and organized crime, I called out, 'Robert?'

"Her answer, 'No, John,' quieted the whole classroom."

Bill Tracy

Tracy was a 16-year-old in a Catholic high school in South Jersey, still filled with pride at the election of the first Irish-Catholic president, when he learned from a kid with a transistor radio that Kennedy had been shot.

"I don't know if there was crying when I got home," he recalled. "I know I stayed long enough to know he was dead. Then I went out by myself for a walk. A 16-year-old kid doesn't go for a walk by himself on a Friday afternoon, but I walked for miles that day. I didn't want to be home, but I didn't want to be anywhere else either. There were lots of questions, but no answers."

Doug Easterly

Easterly was a 14-month-old toddler at home in Oreland, Montgomery County, with his mom, who was running the vacuum cleaner when, as she later recounted, "Something told me to turn on the news; not a voice, just a sudden internal urging."

Seeing that the president had been shot, she was anxious because she was unable reach her husband, who'd skipped out on work and was playing golf at the Downingtown Country Club.

But Phil Easterly, a sales rep for Union Carbide who died earlier this year, already knew. He'd been on the 11th green when his co-worker's wife, who'd been enjoying a drink and watching TV in the clubhouse, had run out screaming the news.

Mrs. Willie M. Mitchell

Mitchell, then 59, was one of thousands who jammed the Daily News phone lines after the news broke.

"I almost collapsed," she told a reporter. "I am not over it yet. I heard it over a loudspeaker near 12th and Market Streets." Barely able to speak, she said, "I joined a man standing there, crying."

Mrs. Kenneth R. Adkins

Adkins, of Springfield in Delaware County, was another of the sobbing callers identified by the newspaper in its editions the next day.

"I loved him. I shook his hand when he was campaigning in Chester," she said. "I can't believe it. It's so horrible."

Pat Redmond

JFK was killed on the Friday before Thanksgiving, when holiday shopping was just getting underway. Redmond had brought her 8-year-old son to Center City to ride the famous monorail that circled the toy department of the iconic Wanamaker's department store at 12th and Market.

"Suddenly there was a buzz among the staff, and by questioning we heard the news of the shooting," recalled Redmond, who lives in Kennett Square. "What had begun as a fun day turned into one of the saddest in our lives."

Eileen Grady-Pouls

Not surprisingly, the death of America's first - and to this date, only - Roman Catholic president hit the region's parochial schools hard.

"My family was Irish-Catholic and the election of an Irish-Catholic president was indeed a dream come true," recalled Grady-Pouls, then a seventh-grader. "I had heard of the 'troubles' in Ireland from my immigrant grandparents and an Irish-Catholic president was the pinnacle of American freedom. The triumph of America was now attainable."

When news came over the loudspeaker that Kennedy had been shot, "Time stood still as we all prayed for his recovery," she recalled. Then the news of the president's death jolted the sobbing students.

Robert Agnoni

The city's largest employer in the early 1960s was the Philadelphia Naval Yard, but not much work got done that Friday afternoon.

"We couldn't get over it," Agnoni, then 46 and living on South Bancroft Street, told the Daily News that day. "We stopped for a while, then we got started again but everybody kept talking about it. Then they lowered the flags to half staff."

Basil Merenda

Merenda was a first-grader at St. Gabriel's School in Grays Ferry. Five decades later, he remembers a bright and sunny "autumnal" Friday and hearing the muffled voices out in the hallway. Then, the nun who taught his class returned in tears, telling students that President Kennedy had been "hurt" and "injured" by a "bad man."

"For first-graders, our teachers were like our parents in our eyes," he recalled. "So, if they were upset, you could just imagine the confusion and fear that we were experiencing . . . We thought that the world may be coming to an end."

Merenda said it was ultimately saying the rosary that made him feel better.

"After that, in a way, I knew, that everything would be all right."

Neil Greenberg

Cold War worries came home to roost in young, impressionable schoolchildren that day. Greenberg was 11 and walking home from Leeds Junior High in Mount Airy when a kid standing next to a food truck with a transistor radio told him that the president had been shot. He went home to an empty house.

"I sat on the sofa with my new French poodle, wondering if the Russians were going to attack," he recalled. "We recently had a air raid drill at school - under the desks and run to the gym. I thought that this could be it."

Greenberg missed Sunday's shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald because he was watching the Eagles play the Redskins at Franklin Field - the only time that he and his dad ever went to a game together. "There had been some talk about canceling the game, but it was football, you know?"

Michael Roach

Roach was in Mrs. Purcell's fourth-grade class at St. Athanasius School in West Oak Lane when the Mother Superior announced over the intercom that President Kennedy had been killed.

"In my 10-year-old imagination the words 'shot,' 'killed' and 'Texas' conjured up the image of President Kennedy facing off against the evil Soviet dictator, Nikita Khrushchev, in an O.K. Corral-type gunfight in the streets of Dallas," he recalled. "I assumed Khrushchev just had a quicker draw than the president."

Fred Silberman

Late November was the climax of the high-school football season, which still colors the memories of many who were teens that day.

Silberman was Lower Merion High School senior and students had just filed into the gym for a pep rally for their looming game against archrival Radnor.

"Halfway into the rally, our principal, I believe his name was Dr. Bean, came into the gym and up to the mic stand," recalled Silberman, who later became a Philadelphia police officer.

"He asked for everyone to please quiet down . . . then announced that our President had been shot in Dallas and was dead.

"More than half of the kids in that gymnasium started crying . . . It was a different world in so many ways."

Sherry Cohen

Cohen was in the band at George Washington High School in Northeast Philly, on a bus headed to an away game.

"The clown of our group came back and said that the President has been shot! We got annoyed and said he shouldn't joke about things like that. Then we heard it was true. The game went forward with a very muted tone, especially the national anthem. The cheerleaders, I think, decided not to cheer that day."

Kathy Wolper

Wolper was a second-grader at St. Patrick School in Norristown, along with four of her five siblings. The school didn't have an intercom, and she recalls that her brother John, an eighth-grader, was given the grim job of walking from classroom to classroom, telling each teacher that Kennedy was dead.

She wanted to get home from her bus stop as quickly as possible. "I was running and crying and looking at my feet moving through the fallen leaves," she recalled. "I can still picture that - my little feet, with school shoes and knee socks, and all of those leaves crunching underfoot. Maybe that's why fall still makes me feel melancholy."

Leland Cummings and Rev. John O'Neill

When the news flash came that JFK had been murdered, some Philadelphians grabbed for their rosary beads. Cummings, of Bustleton, went for his guns.

The 27-year-old Cummings was a Harvard man, a Navy ROTC alum, and a salesman. But first and foremost, he was a fanatical supporter of the 35th president.

Now, his hero had been assassinated, and Cummings was loading his double-barrel shotgun. Next, he loaded his hunting rifle. He ordered his wife and daughter out of the house, even as his infant son was still sleeping in his crib. He announced his plan for avenging the president's death - he would shoot whoever came under their apartment window.

His wife and daughter walked five long blocks to the police station at Bustleton Avenue and Bowler Street, and told the cops what Cummings had said. Two patrolmen drove up to the house and saw Cummings in the window, pointing a long gun at them. They quickly evacuated the neighbors.

But on a day of tragedy that would be remembered for a half-century to come, Philadelphia had a life-saver: the Rev. John O'Neill, Cummings' parish priest. A former Navy chaplain in World War II, O'Neill calmly approached the house, convinced Cummings to let him in, and after small talk, he talked the gunman into unloading the rifles.

Cummings spent the night in Philadelphia General Hospital. His two-month-old son had slept through the entire incident.

Arlene Reitman and Winnie Strittmatter

In Center City, a reporter visited the Sheraton Philadelphia and found the giant hotel a ghost town. One guest was 17-year-old Reitman, who had come down from East Orange, N.J., for an admissions visit to Temple University - with plans to travel on to Penn State for a dance.

Instead, the New Jersey teen had stayed in her room, watching the news. "I hope they call it off," she said of the State College soiree. "I don't feel much like dancing." At the Sheraton, the events slated for that night, a large banquet and a high school prom, had already been canceled.

In the lobby, Strittmatter, 20, who was working the rental booth for Avis, was shutting down early.

"I'm not supposed to go home yet, but I'm just sick to my stomach," she said.

David Dushoff and Frank Palumbo

Most movie theaters and nightclubs went dark all weekend. The Daily News reported that two of the city's nightlife impresarios were no exception.

Dushoff shut down his Latin Casino cabaret immediately and "put the girls to answering the phones warding off prospective patrons and taking care of the reservations," the paper said.

Palumbo, meanwhile, "halted the roster of events at his theater-restaurant for a four-day hiatus of mourning."

John Ascenzi

Ascenzi's eighth-grade class at a parochial school in Feltonville was having an ice-cream party in recognition of a saint associated with his teacher, an elderly Sister of St. Joseph. Suddenly, one of the parish priests came onto the public-address system to announce that students should pray for the spiritual well-being of President Kennedy, who had been shot in Dallas.

"The nun let out a loud gasp, and yanked her hands up beside her face," Ascenzi recalled. " . . . Some of the girls cried. Some of the guys, with boy bravado, speculated on the awful things that should be done to the assassin, as yet unnamed."

When news of Kennedy's death arrived, "another student in the hallway banged his hand against the wall and called out."

The next day was a rainy, gray Saturday, and Ascenzi went out to deliver the Evening Bulletin. "My customers were eager to see the paper - tangible, awful evidence of the events," he remembers. "Some were waiting on their porches or right inside their doors for the paper to arrive. I still have copies of the newspapers from that weekend."

Michael Tansey

Tansey was just 8 years old and in third grade at St. John of the Cross school in Roslyn, Montgomery County. He shares many memories with his peers - the grim announcement over the loudspeaker, the anger of his father, who'd heard the news while driving home on the Schuylkill Expressway.

"Although in hindsight I should have known better," he said, "the next morning I remember being upset that all of the regular Saturday-morning cartoons were off the TV. Instead, continuing news of the assassination was being broadcast."

David Bedein

A schoolmate at the Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion shouted out the news that JFK had been killed just as eighth-grader Bedein was boarding the City Avenue bus home. Amid sobbing passengers, Bedein saw the editor of the school newspaper, The Gateway.

"I told her that my dad was commuting to Washington as an engineer working on central air conditioning at the big post office in D.C.," Bedein recalled by email from Jerusalem, where today he works for the Israel Resource News Agency. "Saying that I could join him there, I asked if I could cover the JFK funeral for the school paper. She said, 'Sure,' and I got my first press assignment."

Outside the White House, the then-13-year watched with awe as a parade of world leaders - Charles de Gaulle of France, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Golda Meir of Israel, Willy Brandt of West Germany, Olof Palme of Sweden and Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia - walked out.

"All walked lowly, somberly, seemingly without any protection whatsoever," Bedein recalled. "And a Scottish band played a solemn version of 'Hail to the Chief,' a quiet crowd looked on."

William F. Lee and Gary Coleman II

The roll of honor guards who had the solemn task of standing guard silently over Kennedy's flag-draped casket in the Capitol rotunda included two Marines from Montgomery County - Lt. William F. Lee of Elkins Park and Cpl. Gary Coleman II of Rockledge.

Both men had frequently served in the honor guard for Kennedy during arrivals and departures from nearby Andrews Air Force Base or at White House receptions. Lee, a 1951 Cheltenham High School graduate, became a platoon commander of the Marine drill team in Washington.

"I consider this a distinct honor. Probably the most important duty I've ever stood,"Lee told the Daily News at the time.

Collins, a 1959 graduate of Father Judge High School, was about to leave the barracks to spend the weekend back home with his wife and 1-month-old son, when he learned of the assassination. He told the paper: "I said a few prayers out there."

Larry Merchant

The legendary Daily News columnist and sports editor who helped invent the modern era of sports journalism, rose to the occasion with a moving piece that ran that Monday. He criticized NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's decision to play that Sunday's slate of games as "small" - but most of the column was a shout-out to the vigor of the martyred president, who had risen in tandem with the boom on professional sports.

Merchant praised Kennedy as "the least gifted and uncommonly zealous" in his family's famous games of touch football in Hyannis, and recalled his vitality in the way he flipped the coin, with no overcoat in a biting wind, for an Army-Navy game in the South Philadelphia stadium that would soon be named for him.

"These were among the reasons that men of all persuasions were drawn to President Kennedy personally, drawn more closely, probably, than we had known before his assassination. He was part of our time, a golden part of our hatless generation."

Frank McNamee and Pete Retzlaff

Despite the sorrow, most ticket-holders - a sellout of 60,671 - went to Franklin Field to watch the Eagles lose a sloppy, 13-10 affair to Washington. One of the few no-shows was McNamee, the Birds' president, who boycotted the game after Rozelle rebuffed his pleas to cancel it.

After the game, Retzlaff, the Eagles' player representative, organized a collection for the widow of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer who was also slain on Nov. 22, allegedly by Oswald. Most of the Eagles' players chipped in $30 to $50 apiece.

Gov. William Scranton

It had been just 16 months earlier that an enthusiastic crowd had welcomed President Kennedy to Independence Mall on a warm and bright July 4. Now, on a chilly November Sunday, an estimated 10,000 people showed up on the mall to mourn the slain leader.

The Daily News described Gov. Scranton - who had been dubbed a "Kennedy Republican" for supporting the president on issues like civil rights - as "ashen-faced" as he delivered a eulogy.

"This terrible violence done to both a fine man and our system of government cries out for a greater rededication of us all," said Scranton. "It must make us realize that the American experience is not complete. A new generation of Americans must stand for compassion, not hate, for tolerance, not prejudice."

Cardinal John J. Krol and Rev. George E. O'Donnell

Much of the media's focus was on how the city's Roman Catholics mourned the first of their own to occupy the White House. Krol, the head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 1963 was attending an Ecumenical Council in Rome on Nov. 22.

"His dedication to the cause of world peace, his defense of human rights and freedom merited for him and our country the respect and admiration of all peoples," Krol said in a statement.

In Philadelphia, about 2,000 people attended a special Mass for Kennedy on Nov. 25, in the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, hours after the president's funeral in Washington. Behind a raised bier called a catafalque, covered with a black pall and a purple cross, Philadelphia seminarian O'Donnell delivered the eulogy.

"The supreme question . . . is this: What shall we do with our lives?" he asked. "The answer in Christianity is ever the same: 'You shall give them away.' "

Vincent Salandria

A Penn-trained attorney and peace activist who was teaching at John Bartram High School, Salandria - then 37 - was speaking with his brother-in-law the day after the killing. They agreed that Lee Harvey Oswald probably acted alone. Unless Lee Harvey Oswald didn't live out the weekend.

"They would want him killed only if he wasn't the sole assassin, if he wasn't a patsy," recalled Salandria, now 87, still reporting for work at 440 N. Broad St. several days a week as a pro bono attorney for the school district.

It was just months after Oswald was killed that the native Philadelphian found himself in Dallas, working with renowned assassination researcher Mark Lane and becoming one of the first public critics of the Warren Commission.

Salandria published his own book on the assassination in 1999 called False Mystery. While he acknowledges that he'll never know - to his satisfaction - who pulled the trigger on Nov. 22, 1963, he long ago decided that it's more important to understand why Kennedy was killed.

"I believe Kennedy was killed because he wanted to end the Cold War," Salandria said.

Arlen Specter

It was a running joke in Specter's household that no matter what else he did, the first line of his obituary would identify him as author of the "Single Bullet Theory" when he was a 33-year attorney on the Warren Commission. This is the idea that Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally were wounded by the same shot, allowing for a lone gunman.

But when he died last year at age 82, it wasn't the first line - all he'd had to do in life to push down his role in the JFK assassination probe was to become Philadelphia's district attorney, run for mayor, serve for 30 years as a high-profile U.S. senator and flirt with a presidential run.

Specter was arguably the Philadelphian most closely associated with the Kennedy aftermath, and that meant years of scorn from conspiracy believers - including a famous zinger in Oliver Stone's 1991 hit movie "JFK."

Specter's son Shanin said his dad was proud until the end of his work on the panel that investigated the president's death in 1964, was always ready to debate its finding that Oswald acted alone, and felt vindicated that later scientific research validated what critics call "the magic bullet."

"He was very proud of his role," said Shanin Specter, who was just 6 when Kennedy was slain. He said although his father never doubted the panel's ultimate findings, he did come to agree that that key information - such as what the FBI and CIA knew about Oswald - was withheld. "He felt that they went way too far" in their secrecy.

A special memory was discussing the assassination with Cuba's Fidel Castro when they met in the 1990s. Castro said he had nothing to do with it.

"I'm a Marxist," he told Specter, "not a fool."

William T. Coleman

Specter wasn't the only Philadelphia attorney who made a name for himself on the Warren Commission. Another was civil-rights lawyer and Penn law-school grad Coleman, who was sent by the Warren Commission to speak with Castro. They met offshore in a fishing boat. Coleman was later named Transportation Secretary by one of the Warren Commission members, President Gerald Ford, in 1975.

Richard A. Sprague

One of the later Philadelphia chapters was written by prominent local attorney Sprague, who was named chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He pledged to get to the bottom of the murders of JFK as well as the killing of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It never happened. House members complained that Sprague's proposed probe and his $6.5 million budget were far too ambitious and leaked disparaging stories about him. He was ousted when the panel named a new chairman, U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, of Texas, in early 1978.

Sprague told Esquire magazine in 1978 that he had no idea if there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, but, "I came away with the feeling that agencies of the United States government have an interest in preventing a full investigation . . .Beyond that, I don't know. I'm convinced that there is more of a connection between those agencies and Oswald than has ever surfaced."

He declined to be interviewed for this article.

Gaeton Fonzi

One of the more prominent of many Philadelphians who devoted years to probing the Kennedy assassinationwas was Fonzi, a fearless reporter from the heyday of the so-called "New Journalism." Fonzi became senior editor of Philadelphia magazine in 1969 and authored a widely read piece that stated: "The Warren Commission report is a deliberate lie."

Fonzi went on to become a staffer on the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s after the ouster of fellow Philadelphian Sprague. Like many others, he reached the conclusion that the CIA has withheld too much information from probers, and wrote a 1992 book The Last Investigation that excoriated the intelligence agencies for covering up their role.

David Glassman

Glassman doesn't remember anything about the assassination - but he has an excuse. He was just 3 days old - born on Nov. 19, 1963, and still in the maternity ward at Rolling Hill Hospital in Elkins Park. Still, the Kennedy assassination loomed over his childhood, and the home in Bustleton where his family moved in the late 1960s.

"Shortly after the assassination, either the Inquirer or the Sunday Bulletin had included a very large color newsprint poster of JFK," Glassman said. "In 1969, my mother taped that poster prominently onto one basement wall. That poster was a constant reminder to me of the fondness my mother had for JFK and his 'Camelot' presidency . . . [It] remained on that wall until mom died in 2005 and the house was sold the following year."

Stanley E. Washington

Washington was going on 12, in the seventh grade at Beeber Junior High in Wynnefield. Report cards were out that Friday and parents, including his, were milling around for teacher conferences.

"For those not old enough, blackboards were erased and washed at the end of the school day," Washington recalled. "The erasers then had to be beat against a outside wall to remove the chalk dust. There was a girl in class, Makeela Bailey, who [went] outside and beat the erasers. When she came back into the classroom, she announced to Ms. Noonan [their teacher] that the parents were saying that someone shot the president!"

Like many baby boomers, Washington today remembers the JFK assassination not as the end of something but the beginning of a string of events – the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Kent State and the Black Panthers.

Jerry Hoffman

At Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote, every afternoon at 2 there were announcements over the public-address system.

"After the usual stuff, the priest asked us to pray for President Kennedy, who had been shot in Dallas," recalled Jerry Hoffman, who was then a sophomore. "I remember thinking how surreal the whole thing seemed, not really being able to get my mind wrapped around it."

He recalls, jokingly, that he came from the only Catholic family at the school that hadn't voted for Kennedy.

"But I remember my mother sitting in front of the TV and crying during the funeral," he added. "My father, who disliked standing in line almost as much as he disliked the Kennedys, was going to drive the family, all 7 of us, to D.C. to stand in line so we could walk past the coffin as it lay in state" – until the TV news said the wait was too long.

Hoffman now lives in Virginia.

"Every time I cross the Memorial Bridge into Virginia, I can see the president's gravesite directly in front of me on the hill in Arlington Cemetery. At night, I still look for the eternal flame."


On Twitter: @Will_Bunch

Blog: ph.ly/Attytood.com

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