MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 22, 2013

News of Kennedy’s murder rocked area

A book report about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy stopped suddenly with news about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Autholene McElroy remembers that afternoon — Nov. 22, 1963 — when she was a junior at Warner High School.

“I was doing an oral book report on Jackie when it came out over the loud speaker,” she said. “All I got to in the report was the name and the author.”

McElroy, 67, said she remembered “a lot of people were really upset.”

“Everybody was so upset, the teacher was upset,” she said. “I think they made the kids go home from school because everybody was upset.”

McElroy said she was “kind of in shock” when she heard the news.

Shock, sadness and surprise filled most memories when Muskogee residents were asked to recall where they were and what they were doing when the news of Kennedy’s death broke early in that November afternoon.

One thing many recalled was a need to reach their families.

Muskogee attorney Bill Settle recalled teaching U.S. history at Edison Junior High in Tulsa when the news came out over the intercom that the president had been shot.

“I put my class on good behavior, went to the office and called my wife, who at that time was home with our second daughter who had been born Nov. 9,” Settle said. “That was, what, 12 days earlier. She (his wife) told her mother and her mother didn’t believe her.”

Settle said he went back to talk with his class about the shooting. He said he didn’t recall what was said, but there probably was a lot of sadness and disbelief among students. Settle said he was teaching school as he worked his way through law school.

Cherokee Elementary Principal Suzie Orton was a third-grader in Granbury, Texas, about 70 miles from Dallas.

“We were out on the playground playing, and they brought us all into the building,” Orton said. “I remember coming home from school and my mom was there. She had the TV on and she was watching it in black and white. It was a real sad day.”

Orton said she also remembers watching the funeral.

“We did not go to school that day,” she said. “It was probably real to me because Granbury was so close. Kids did cry. That had never happened in my lifetime.”

The news broke into people’s workplaces.

Lee Roy Reynolds of Okay was a brakeman for Midland Valley Railroad, working in Pawhuska. He recalled seeing the news on TV while waiting to be called to work.

Reynolds, 82, recalled different reactions when he got to work and told people about Kennedy’s assassination.

“There was an old conductor who lived on a caboose, Sid Taylor,” Reynolds said. “He was sitting up on the bunk and he was crying.”

Reynolds said he later told someone who owned a feed store.

“And he was mouthing off saying he was glad Kennedy got killed,” Reynolds said.

He said that when the conductor heard what the feed store owner had said “he had a pistol under his pillow. He grabbed his pistol and said, “I’ll kill the S.O.B.”

Ben Robinson, senior vice president at American Bank of Oklahoma, recalled being in the office of the president of Western Casualty and Surety.

Robinson said the company president’s main question was “Where was the vice president?”

“He was concerned with the transfer of power, if we were going to stay civil,” Robinson said. “There was an immediate outpouring of sadness from everyone. Grown men in tears.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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