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Anniversary of Kennedy's assassination is Saturday

November 16, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

At a 1960 presidential campaign stop in West Virginia, John F. Kennedy reportedly was appalled at the poverty in the Mountain State and promised to do something about it if he were elected.

Almost three years after he was inaugurated as the country's 35th president, Kennedy began building a program to reduce poverty in Appalachia, with Hagerstown among the first communities to hear the plan.

The date for the luncheon and informational meeting with Undersecretary of Commerce Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. was set for Nov. 22, 1963, recalled former Hagerstown treasurer and Washington County Delegate Charles Huyett.

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Instead, the meeting during the luncheon was canceled and the date became infamous for the assassination of Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald.

The 40th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination is this Saturday.

Charles Greeb, then senior vice president of Nicodemus National Bank, remembers dessert was being served at the luncheon in the Hotel Alexander on Public Square when news broke that Kennedy had been shot.

"I don't remember there being a lot of conversation. I think there was just shock that such a thing could happen in this country," said Greeb, 80, who now lives in Winchester, Va.

Huyett, 72, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., said he had finished his lunch early and left the hotel to go to City Hall to take care of some paperwork before the meeting began.

One of his clerks came in and told him Kennedy had been shot, Huyett said.

Irvin Bloom, who was deputy treasurer, went to the safe to get out the radio that typically was reserved for listening to World Series games, Huyett said. Bloom died a year ago.

"This was big enough. We got it out and turned it on and sure enough ... all the networks had stopped their daily programming and gone straight to news," Huyett said.

Huyett said The Daily Mail came out with two editions, replacing "shot" in the first edition's headline with "dead" for the later edition.

After Huyett heard the news on the radio he rushed back to the hotel to find Roosevelt and Congressman Charles McC. Mathias Jr. in the hotel hallway on a house phone.

Roosevelt went to the ballroom podium to tell those present that Kennedy had been shot and canceled the meeting, Huyett said.

After Huyett talked to Hagerstown Mayor Winslow F. "Wick" Burhans, they offered to provide Roosevelt with a police motorcycle escort back to Washington, D.C., but Roosevelt declined. Burhans died in 1990.

Huyett said they thought Washington would be in chaos and were concerned about traffic and Roosevelt's safety because at that time no one knew whether there was a coup occurring in the nation's capital. There was such uncertainty that Hagerstown Police Chief Blair Overton considered calling in off-duty officers, Huyett said.

Greeb said people speculated there was Cuban involvement in the shooting. Tensions with Cuba had been high the year before during the Cuban missile crisis when U.S. leaders learned Cuba had missile bases that could launch a nuclear attack on U.S. soil.

People wanted answers, they wanted the facts, Greeb said.

"We were all in a state of shock ourselves upon hearing the news. The meeting broke up rather abruptly and I guess everyone went home to watch the television accounts of the day. That was an awesome day," Greeb said.

When he left the hotel, Greeb returned to the bank to close his desk up for the day before going home to watch the news reports on his black and white television, he said.

"It was a very somber period. Nobody knew for sure whether there was more to it than the assassination. Except for 9/11, the country has never gone through something like that," Greeb said.

After it was learned that Kennedy had died, the City Hall tower bell, known as Big Six, was rung every 30 seconds during a 30-minute period, Huyett said.

News accounts in The Morning Herald state that for a Friday night, there were smaller than usual crowds at local stores as people stayed home to watch coverage of the shooting. Many of the people who went shopping listened to transistor radios they carried.

A welcoming parade for Santa Claus that was scheduled for that Sunday was canceled, The Morning Herald reported.

The assassination prompted the closing of government offices and schools the following Monday as the nation mourned, newspaper accounts state.

It wasn't until Friday evening, hours after Kennedy had been shot, that the public learned Oswald was the assassin, Huyett said. Even then people weren't sure there wasn't more to the story, he said.

"That argument is still going on," Huyett said.

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