Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings
Copyright. All rights reserved.

The Day President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Was Shot
Friday, Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963

Blair Junior High School

They say life is a special gift bestowed upon by God. But our memory is a special gift too, leaving behind a moment in time that I would like to share. Memories are a treasure trove, leaving something that happened so long ago for others to read and enjoy. It is sad so many individuals in today’s world do not share or record their memories of special events or life stories, so are lost forever in history. This is sad!

November 22, 1963, marks the day President Kennedy was assassinated, which is 60 years ago this year. I was fifteen years old, living in Norfolk, Virginia, (Edgewater section) and I remembered that day like it was yesterday.

At the time, I was at Blair Junior High School, Colley Avenue & Spotswood Avenue, Norfolk, VA. I was an 8th grader, on the third floor in my English class, last bell, the time was 2 PM. Mrs. Fry was my English teacher. Classmate Robert Mitchell, late as usual, came rushing into class and said, “Hey, did you hear President Kennedy was shot.” I have never forgoten that day. Mrs. Fry, stood up and said, “Robert, you know that is not true, will you sit down in your seat.” Robert Mitchell was a little wild and quite mischievous guy. He was also the cool guy who smoked outside of Blair High School and the kid that was always into something. The next year Robert Mitchell was not present. Apparently, he had dropped out of high school or moved away. I never heard what happened to him.

Returning to school three days later, Mrs. Fry apologized to Robert in front of the whole English class and how sorry she was for not believing him. The news seem so unreal and preposterous at the time. No one would have believed that a sitting president would be assassinated in this modern age.

As I left school that day, there seemed to be a lot of uneasiness among the teachers. I could tell they knew something but were not going to talk about it. I walked out of school and straight to my grandparent’s home on 838 Spotswood Avenue. Granddaddy (1877-1967) was raking leaves in the yard under the old oak tree. I asked him about the president and he gave me full details. He was 83 years old.

Grandmother Hitchings (1878-1967) was inside waiting for me. Every Friday she always made fresh egg-custard for me. It was egg custard baked in the oven. She told me about the news of the president and it reminded her when President William McKinley was shot on my grandfather’s birthday, September 14th 1901.

I called my mother and she also gave me the details. She was watching “As the World Turns”on channel 3, WTAR, an old soap-opera, when Walter Cronkite, a news-commentator, broke the news in a special report, that Present Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. I remembered my mother saying, “We now have a Southerner in the Whitehouse, a Texan.”

My father stopped by grandma’s house at 5 PM in a city utility truck and on the way had bought a copy of the Ledger-Star. Everyone at the Water Distribution on Church Street was talking. Dad picked me up and Gene, my brother, was in the truck too. Once home we all settled down, glued to our television set. It was truly an event none of us will ever forget.

The next day the Forrest family who lived next door to us at 5404 Rolfe Ave had a visitor who was spending the weekend. Her name was Annie Merritt, a native of Danville, Virginia, who lived for many years at the old Botetourt Apartments in downtown Norfolk. She walked over to see us and in her conversation mentioned her old Baltimore, Maryland, newspaper in her cedar chest. She had an original newspaper when President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Her grandmother had saved the old newspaper.

Sunday, November 24, 1963, I was watching TV when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. There was more chaos during the weekend. Every American was glued to the television. As I am older now, Parkland Hospital Emergency Room seemed to have had a very hectic weekend, not only the assassination of President Kennedy, but the assassination of his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald. That emergency room had to be hectic and I am sure the doctors and nurses had memories to share!

Yes, life is precious a special gift. It’s a precious gift when one can share their memories of the past and of unusual events. This is the memory I have on that dreadful day of November 22, 1963, about the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) the 35th President of the United States of America.

John F. Kennedy

* * * * * *

Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com