HUDSON, Wis. - Fifty years later and for those old enough the memory of where they were on November 22 1963 hasn't faded. My memories are different than many of my generation, because I wasn't in a classroom or on the playground. I was listening to a radio and my memories are of the words and the sound of a Teletype machine.
"Over the airwaves the world came to me"
On Friday, November 22, 1963 I only attended my 5th grade class at Munger Elementary School in Duluth for half a day. I was recovering from bronchitis and for that week my mother did the work for our family business from home.
Every day that week we listened to a Wisconsin Public Radio program called "Chapter a Day." The broadcast originated from Madison, Wisconsin and got to Duluth through a boost in signal strength by a station in Brule Wisconsin. I don't remember the book that announcer Ken Ohst was reading that week, but I recall vividly the words he read of the event in Dallas.
My mother and I turned on our large AM/FM radio shortly after 12:30; it was a Rheem-Califone Courier, a product that was part of an audio visual equipment line that we sold in our family business, Hart Audio Visual.
It took a while for the tubes to warm up. The radio had a powerful amplifier and a two speaker system. It was designed for a classroom, but for me on that day, the classroom was our living room and the radio was the courier.
The first sound we heard was Ken Ohst reading wire copy: "three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade today in downtown Dallas." We could hear the clacking of the United Press International Teletype machine. Ohst said that he would read the wire service copy as it was handed to him.
We could hear the paper ripping as someone tore the copy off the machine and handed him the latest. We were shocked by the news. President Kennedy had just been to Duluth two months ago in September. My parents and I had seen Kennedy at the University of Minnesota-Duluth when he was a candidate for President in 1960.
Vote for Kennedy, he's tops"
Changing frequencies on this Hartbeat radio station for a quick remembrance from October 2, 1960 of Senator John F. Kennedy appearing at the gym on the campus of UMD. I was seven years old and we lived close to the University. (I walked to school as a college student.)
My parents thought that it was time that I should see my first candidate for president. We wore our best clothes and took the short drive to UMD. When we arrived, there were many more people than we had expected. It was very cold waiting in line, but at the doors we were met with a wave of heat and noise.
The gym was packed and the atmosphere was electric. Even though we thought we had plenty of time to get a good seat, the Hart family wound up behind the stage on the second level. Seated around us were college students in white shirts and blouses, their faces shining with sweat and wearing hats with Kennedy bumper stickers wrapped around them. They were singing a song, of which I can only recall the first verse: "Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy he's tops". The mood in the UMD gym was electric that day, infused with the enthusiasm of the students.
The seats we had proved to be excellent. With Senator Kennedy back lit he appeared to have an aura around him. When he turned with what we would come to know as that famous profile, his hair took on more of a reddish glow than the Life magazine photographs I had seen.
I watched it all, but I missed one part
On November 22, 1963 my father came home early from downtown Duluth. He said it was almost eerie, because there were very few cars on the streets.
The evening Duluth newspaper had arrived on our doorstep with the biggest headlines I had ever seen. But we didn't read much of the newspaper; instead we turned on the television for the first time that day and turned off the radio. Unlike today, during breaking news events, my mother and I had stuck with our first source, the radio.
That weekend and on Monday we watched the network coverage of history.
On Sunday, I took a break from our black and white television and went outside on our deck for some fresh air and a little of the fall color. It was a wet November day with no snow on the ground yet. I was only out a short time and when I came back inside, my father exclaimed that I had missed the live shooting of Lee Oswald by Jack Ruby. I never left the room during the coverage after that.
Hail to the Chief
The shock of what we heard and saw that weekend was very strong for us in Duluth. On September 24, 1963 President Kennedy came to Duluth as part of a ten state tour. He again spoke at UMD. My family didn't go to the parade in downtown Duluth that night. We watched it live on television. We later regretted that we had not stood with the crowds as the President was part of a parade in downtown Duluth.
Hartbeat Co-Curator Vivian Hart was there however. She was a clarinet player in the Duluth Central High School band and she had to finger her clarinet thorough holes cut in the fingers of her white gloves that were part of her band uniform. The band members got down on one knee and played "Hail to the Chief" as the President passed them.
The Photo Notes
Mike McLish was a high school student with a 4x5 press camera on Superior Street that September night in 1963. He was a photographer for the Duluth Central High School yearbook, "the Zenith." He got access that would have been unheard of today to the parade route.
Mike was able to walk in the street on the other side of the barricades from the crowds and take pictures as the Presidential motorcade turned on to Superior Street, he continued walking and making pictures. The 4x5 Graflex camera he was using required the photographer to slide a film holder into the camera, pull out a film safety shield make the exposure, push the safety shield back into the film holder remove the holder turn it over and repeat the process.
It was very easy to get a double exposure, expose the film by forgetting the safety shield process or drop the film holder. Mike was also changing flash bulbs after each exposure. The bulbs had a plastic coating around them so they would not shatter if accidently dropped.
The fact that Mike made three outstanding exposures, each one with a clear view of President Kennedy, is incredible.
Mike McLish was our neighbor and his sister was my classmate. As a ten year old with his first camera, I was very disappointed that my first roll of film did not turn out. Mike brought the photos that you see in this Hartbeat to our house within days of the JFK Duluth visit and showed them to our family. He encouraged me to keep up with my photography.
Seven years later I was a Duluth Central High School yearbook photographer and used the same 4x5 Graflex camera that Mike used on that wet September night. I only used it for group shots of students inside the school auditorium. It was hard enough to keep track of the exposures and film holders in a controlled environment.
I can't imagine how Mike did it in the heat of photographic battle keeping up with a Presidential limousine.
The Musical Notes
Lionel B. Cartwright had a 1990 hit with, "I Watched it All on My Radio." He co-wrote it with one of the premier country songwriters, Don Schlitz. Don wrote and co-wrote many top charting hits for a variety of artists including; "The Gambler," "For Ever and Ever Amen," and "When You Say Nothing at All."
What's Cooking on the Hartbeat Grill?
I'm reading a book by another songwriter, "Composed" by Rosanne Cash. It's a great book chronicling her life as she grew up in California and made the choices that led her to become a songwriter and singer. Of course, her famous father plays a part on many levels as do other musicians, record companies, recording sessions, her mother, sisters and her children. The really interesting aspect of this book to me is how songs and albums came to reach fruition and the thought process behind the songwriting.
My colleague, Allen Costantini did a story on the advance man for President Kenedy on the Duluth trip who was also in the motorcade on November 22, 1963. You can view this sotry by clicking here
(Copyright 2013 by Aethan Hart. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )