The coverage of the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy warrants its reputation as the most moving and historic passage in the history of the news media, with the Associated Press (AP) and the three television networks constituting the focal point of that coverage. The AP operates by having correspondents and...
The coverage of the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy warrants its reputation as the most moving and historic passage in the history of the news media, with the Associated Press (AP) and the three television networks constituting the focal point of that coverage. The AP operates by having correspondents and photographers virtually everywhere, and providing the thousands of newspapers and news outlets that are its members with what is, in effect, pooled print, photographic and video news coverage. Before the arrival of current technology, members would have an AP wire, and news bulletins, text and pictures would come over that wire.
They would then be used by the members to provide their own coverage. One of the members in 1963 was the Pottstown [PA] Mercury, the editor of which was Robert J. Boyle. These are 78 original photographs off the AP wire from November 22 through December 7, 1963, all relating to the Kennedy assassination, as received by the Mercury (and other publications) and used by them at the time. This group was saved by Boyle, and we obtained it directly from his family.
On Friday, November 22, 1963, the AP sent a bulletin reporting rifle shots during the President’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas. At about 2:30, its wire brought the official news – "President Kennedy died at 1:00 P.M. Central Standard Time, two o’clock Eastern Standard Time." That night, the President’s body was returned to Washington, and with Jacqueline Kennedy by his side, Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office. Speculations about the funeral arrangements and updates on the accused assassin in Dallas rounded out the evening’s news. There are 6 photographs of this date in the group, including two taken during the assassination, one showing LBJ being sworn in as president, and one of Lee Harvey Oswald in the custody of the Dallas police.
On November 23, close friends, members of the President’s family, government officials and the diplomatic community paid their respects at the White House, where Kennedy’s body lay in state. The next day, November 24, an unprecedented event blasted the story of the Kennedy assassination out of the realm of tragedy and into surrealism: the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, telecast live. Perhaps as much as the Kennedy assassination itself, the on-air murder of the President’s alleged assassin created a sense of America being out of control. Later that same afternoon, in stark counterpoint to the chaos in Dallas, untold thousands of mourners lined up to file past the President’s flag draped-coffin in the Capitol rotunda. With daughter Caroline and son John, Jr. by the hand, the President’s widow knelt by the casket and then stood on the Capitol steps. President Johnson paid his respects and also began greeting the many foreign dignitaries who were arriving for the funeral, such as France’s President Charles DeGaulle. Throughout Sunday, tributes to the late President and scenes of mourners at the Capitol intertwined with news of the assassin and the assassin of the assassin, a Dallas strip club owner named Jack Ruby. There are 30 photographs chronicling all of this, including a number showing the murder of Oswald.
The next day – Monday, November 25 – was a National Day of Mourning and bore witness to an extraordinary spectacle: the ceremonial transfer of the President’s coffin by caisson from the Capitol rotunda to St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where the funereal mass was celebrated by Richard Cardinal Cushing, and then on across the Potomac River where Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and his gravesite was adorned with an eternal light. The spirited stallion Black Jack, a riderless steed with boots pointed backwards in the stirrup, kicked up defiantly during the procession, as the nation watched, awed by the solemnity. There was scarcely a dry eye in the country as it said farewell to the young JFK, who had so energized and revitalized the nation. Oswald’s funeral was also held this day, and the next morning President Johnson resumed meeting with national and international leaders. There are 9 photographs from November 25 and 11 from November 26 illustrating these events.
On November 27, President Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress and to the American people, who were almost in a state of exhausted shock. He gave a eulogy of his predecessor, introduced himself, and outlined his own program for action. He continued to meet with dignitaries as well. There are 15 pictures of these events. Two days later, there were a number of photographs from the newly-released Zapruder film taken during the assassination and obtained by Life Magazine, and a week after that the collection finishes with some shots of the Kennedy children at play, perhaps to leave the impression that life carries on.
Thus did the AP chronicle one of the biggest stories of the 20th century – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, illuminating moments so memorable that no one who lived through them can ever forget them.
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