Timeline of the John F. Kennedy assassination
This article considers the detailed timeline of events before, during, and after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States.
- 1 Prelude
- 2 President Kennedy's Texas trip schedule
- 3 November 22: Arrival in Dallas
- 4 Presidential motorcade route
- 5 Immediate aftermath
- 6 Breaking the news
- 7 Television and radio coverage (from approx. 2:00 pm EST–2:40 pm EST)
- 8 Return to Washington
- 9 Charges laid on Oswald
- 10 References
- 11 External links
A presidential visit to the state of Texas was first agreed upon by Lyndon B. Johnson, President John F. Kennedy's vice president, and Texas native, and by Governor John Connally while all three men were together in a meeting in El Paso on June 5, 1963. (In 1978 Connally testified to the House Select Committee on Assassinations that in the spring of 1962 "Vice President Johnson told me then that President Kennedy wanted to come to Texas, he wanted to come to Texas to raise some money, have some fund-raising affairs over the State.")
President Kennedy later decided to embark on the trip with three basic goals in mind: the president wanted to help raise more Democratic Party presidential campaign fund contributions; he wanted to begin his quest for reelection in November 1964; and, because the Kennedy-Johnson ticket had barely won Texas in 1960 (and had even lost in Dallas), President Kennedy wanted to help mend political fences among several leading Texas Democratic party members who appeared to be fighting politically amongst themselves.
President Kennedy's trip to Dallas was first announced to the public in September 1963. The exact motorcade route was finalized on November 18 and announced to the public a few days before November 22.
During the third week of October 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald started working a seasonal, full-time job at the Texas School Book Depository as a $1.25/hour manual laborer, filling customer orders for books. Oswald had secured the job after a referral by Ruth Paine, with whom Lee's wife, Marina Oswald, and the Oswald children were living, after a marriage separation. Ruth had also separated from her husband, Michael Paine, at about the same time.
On October 24, 1963, when on a visit to Dallas to mark U.N. Day, U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson was jeered, jostled, hit by a sign, and spat upon. Dallas Police were fearful that similar demonstrations were going to happen to Kennedy when he visited Dallas. Several people, including Stevenson, warned JFK against coming to Dallas, but Kennedy refused their advice. Dallas Police, headed by chief Jesse Curry, did increase the level of security during Kennedy's visit, putting into effect the most stringent security precautions in the city's history. Curry even "deputized" citizens to take action for any suspicious acts that may be pointed towards the president.
President Kennedy's Texas trip schedule
Thursday, November 21
Friday, November 22
- Fort Worth: Chamber of Commerce breakfast speech at Hotel Texas.
- Dallas: Luncheon speech attended by Dallas Citizens Council, Dallas Assembly and Graduate Research Center of the Southwest at Trade Mart.
- Austin: Fundraising dinner speech at Municipal Auditorium.
- Johnson City: Weekend of relaxation at Lyndon Johnson's ranch.
November 22: Arrival in Dallas
On Friday, November 22, 1963, at 11:40 am CST, Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline, and the rest of the presidential entourage arrived at Love Field in northwest Dallas aboard Air Force One after a very short flight from nearby Carswell Air Force Base, west of Fort Worth. The motorcade cars had been lined up in a certain order earlier that morning. The original schedule was for the president to proceed in a long motorcade from Love Field through downtown Dallas, and end at the Dallas Business and Trade Mart.
The motorcade was scheduled to enter Dealey Plaza at 12:10 pm, followed by a 12:15 pm arrival at the Dallas Business and Trade Mart so President Kennedy could deliver a speech and share in a steak luncheon with Dallas government, business, religious, and civic leaders and their spouses. Invitations that were sent out specify a noon start time to the luncheon while SS agent Lawson told Chief Curry that after arriving at Love Field and leaving at 11:30 the 38-45 minute trip would get them to the Trade Mart on time. Air Force One touched down at 11:39 am and the Presidential motorcade did not leave Love Field until approximately fifteen minutes later.
Dallas/Fort Worth's television stations were given separate assignments. As Bob Walker of WFAA-TV 8 (ABC) was providing live coverage of the President's arrival at Love Field, KRLD-TV 4 (CBS) with Eddie Barker was set up at the Trade Mart for Kennedy's luncheon speech. KTVT Channel 11 (Independent), had originated live coverage of the President's breakfast speech in Fort Worth earlier that day. On hand to report the arrival on radio was Joe Long of KLIF 1190.
Motorcade vehicles and personnel
The following lists the order of the vehicles in the Nov. 22, 1963 Dallas Presidential motorcade, along with their occupants:
- The lead car, an unmarked white Ford:
- Presidential limousine, a 1961 Lincoln Continental (SS-100-X):
- Motorcycle escorts for the Presidential limousine
- Dallas Police Officer Billy Joe Martin (left)
- Dallas Police Officer Robert W. "Bobby" Hargis (left)
- Dallas Police Officer James M. Chaney (right)
- Dallas Police Officer Douglas L. Jackson (right)
- Presidential Secret Service follow-up car, a 1956 Cadillac convertible (SS-679-X) code-named “Halfback”:
- Driver Agent Sam Kinney (driver)
- ATSAIC Emory Roberts (right front)
- SA Clint Hill, in charge of the First Lady's security (left front running board)
- SA William T. McIntyre (left rear running board)
- SA Jack Ready (right front running board)
- SA Paul Landis (right rear running board)
- Presidential aide Kenneth O'Donnell (left middle)
- Presidential aide David Powers (right middle)
- Driver Agent George Hickey (left rear)
- SA Glen Bennett (right rear)
- Vice Presidential car, a Lincoln convertible:
- Vice Presidential Secret Service follow-up car, a Mercury hardtop code-named “Varsity":
- Mayor's car, a Mercury convertible:
- National press pool car, a Chevrolet hardtop (on loan from the telephone company):
- Telephone company employee (driver)
- Malcolm Kilduff, White House assistant press secretary (right front)
- Merriman Smith, UPI (middle front)
- Robert Baskin, The Dallas Morning News (left rear)
- Jack Bell, AP (middle rear)
- Bob Clark, ABC (right rear)
- Camera car #1, a Chevrolet convertible:
- Texas State Policeman Harlan E. Veasey (driver)
- John Hofan, NBC (middle front)
- Dave Wiegman, NBC (right front)
- Thomas Craven, CBS (left rear)
- Cleveland Ryan (middle rear)
- Thomas "Ollie" Atkins, U.S. Navy (right rear)
- Camera car #2, a Chevrolet convertible:
- Camera car #3, a Chevrolet convertible:
- Congressman's car #1, a Mercury convertible:
- Congressman's car #2, a Mercury convertible:
- Congressman's car #3, a Lincoln sedan:
- VIP car, a Mercury station wagon:
- Two press buses, a local press car, a Western Union car, the White House Signal Corps. car (carrying Warrant Officer Ira Gearhart, who carried the President’s Emergency Satchel, aka the "nuclear football"), the Official Party bus (carrying Evelyn Lincoln, the President's Personal Secretary, and Rear Admiral George Burkley, MD, the President's Physician), several extra cars, and police escorts follow.
- Abbreviations used above include:
- SA - Secret Service Special Agent
- SAIC - Special Agent in Charge
- ASAIC - Assistant Special Agent in Charge
- ATSAIC - Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge
- Driver Agent - Secret Service driver agents operated through their own command chain. Driver agents were typically recruited from the uniformed White House Police Force.
Presidential motorcade route
The route scheduled to be driven was as follows: left turn from the south end of Love Field to West Mockingbird Lane, right on Lemmon Ave., right at the "Y" on Turtle Creek Blvd, straight on Cedar Springs Rd, left on North Harwood St, right on Main St, right on Houston St, sharp left on Elm St, through Triple Underpass, right turn up ramp to North Stemmons Freeway, to Dallas Trade Mart at 2100 North Stemmons (This same exact route cannot be driven today; there is a "No right turn" sign on the corner of Main and Houston as well as highway progressions in other areas)
The presidential motorcade began its route without incident, stopping twice so President Kennedy could shake hands with some Catholic nuns, then some school children.
At 12:29 pm CST, the presidential limousine entered Dealey Plaza after a 90-degree right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street. Over two dozen known and unknown amateur and professional still and motion-picture photographers captured the last living images of President Kennedy.
Just before 12:30 pm CST, President Kennedy was riding on Houston Street and slowly approached the Texas School Book Depository head-on.
12:30 pm (CST): Shots are fired
According to witnesses, the shooting began shortly after the limousine made the sharp left-hand turn from Houston onto Elm Street. Most of these witnesses recalled the first shot happened after the president had started waving with his right hand. Most of these witnesses recalled hearing three shots, with the second and third shots bunched distinctly much closer together than the first and second shots. As seen in the Zapruder film, when the president first emerges from being temporarily hidden from Zapruder's camera behind the Stemmons Freeway sign at Zapruder film frame 224 to 225 his mouth has already widely opened in an anguished expression to his already having been impacted with a bullet and his hands clench into fists. He then quickly raised his fists dramatically in front of his face and throat as he turned leftwards towards his wife. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill testified that he heard one shot, then jumped off the running board of the Secret Service follow-up car directly behind Kennedy (Hill was filmed jumping off his follow-up car at the equivalent of Zapruder frame 308; about a quarter of a second before the president's head exploded at frame 313). Hill then rapidly ran towards the Presidential limo and then a shot hit Kennedy in the head, opening up the right side of his head. As the limousine began speeding up, Mrs. Kennedy was heard to scream and she climbed out of the back seat onto the rear of the limo. At the same time, Hill managed to climb aboard and hang onto the suddenly accelerating limo, and Mrs. Kennedy returned to the back seat. Hill then shielded her and the President. Both of the Connallys stated they heard Mrs. Kennedy say, "I have his brains in my hand!" The limo driver and police motorcycles turned on their sirens and raced at high speeds to Parkland Hospital, passing their intended destination of the Dallas Trade Mart along the way, and arriving at about 12:38 pm. (CST)
During the shots Governor Connally was also struck, and his wife pulled him closer to her. He suffered several severe wounds that he survived; a bullet entry wound in his upper right back located just behind his right armpit; four inches of his right, fifth chest rib was pulverised; a two-and-a-half inch sized chest exit wound; his right arm's wrist bone was fractured into seven pieces; and he had a bullet entry wound in his left inner thigh. Although there is controversy about exactly when he was wounded, analysts from both the Warren Commission (1964) and House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979) believed that his wounds had been inflicted nearly simultaneously with President Kennedy's in their theories that the two men were struck by a single bullet. The Commission theorized both men were hit nearly simultaneously between Zapruder film frames 210 to 225, while the Committee theorized it happened at frame 190.
During the shots a witness, James Tague, was also injured when he received a minor facial wound. The Main Street south curb he had been standing 23.5 feet away from was struck by a bullet or bullet fragment that had no copper sheath, and a fragment of the concrete curb or a bullet fragment struck Tague on his right cheek. At Zapruder frame 313 Tague's head top was located 271 feet away from and 16.4 feet below President Kennedy's head top and the limousine's front windshield and its pushed nearly vertically straight-upwards sun visor's were in between the president and the impacted curb point. The bullet or bullet fragment that struck the concrete curb was never found.
Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald was encountered by an armed Dallas policeman, Marrion Baker, in the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building's second floor lunchroom 74 to 90 seconds (according to a Warren Commission time recreation) after the last shot. Baker was assigned to serve as a motorcycle escort for the motorcade, riding just behind the camera cars. He testified that the first shot he could hear was fired after he turned from Main St. onto Houston St. and had traveled approximately 60 to 80 feet along Houston as he approached the Houston and Elm streets intersection. Baker stated that he recognized the first shot he could hear as the report of a high-powered rifle and that he thought the shots had originated from the building "either right in front of me [the Depository] or the one across to the right of it" [the Dallas Textile Building (DalTex)]. He said he also noticed pigeons take flight up from the roof of the Depository Building and start flying around. Baker then quickly drove to the corner of Houston and Elm St., parked his motorcycle, then looked westward into the aftermath of persons screaming, running and laying on the ground, then he listened to a radio broadcast by Chief Curry saying, "Get some men up on that railroad track", then he ran to the entrance of the Texas Schoolbook Depository, entered the building, and, led by building superintendent Roy Truly, made his way to the far northwest corner of the first floor. Once they reached there they started yelling for someone to send an elevator down from a higher floor. When there was no response he and Truly began climbing the stairs with Truly in the lead.
Upon stepping out onto the second floor a movement caught Baker's attention towards the lunch room vestibule that was across from the stairs. Baker drew his weapon, went to the outer lunch room vestibule and confronted Oswald, but Baker released Oswald when Oswald was identified as an employee by Mr. Truly. According to Baker, Oswald did not appear to be nervous or out of breath. Truly said that Oswald appeared "startled" when Baker aimed his gun at him. According to the Warren Commission, Oswald was next seen by a Depository secretary as he crossed through the second floor business office carrying a soda bottle. He left the Texas School Book Depository at an estimated 12:33 p.m. through its front door.
The Warren Commission theorized that Oswald had traveled from the sixth floor easternmost window, and hid an 8 pound, Italian-made 1940 Carcano, 6.5 millimeter rifle equipped with a four-power scope along the way. The rifle was reportedly discovered near the sixth floor northwest corner by a Dallas police detective at 1:22 pm, having been placed down between stacks of boxes, balanced-upright on the lowest edges of its barrel and wooden stock. After being discovered, the rifle was photographed before being touched and was filmed while it was being inspected by the police crime lab supervisor.
Estimates of when the Depository Building was sealed off by police range from 12:33 to 12:50 p.m. The Dealey Plaza immediate area streets and blocks were never sealed-off, and nine minutes after the assassination, photographs show that vehicles were still driving unhampered down Elm Street, through the crime scene kill zone.
After his leaving the Depository, Oswald tried to, first, secure a taxi ride (that he refused when he voluntarily gave the taxi to an elderly woman), he entered and rode on a bus for a short ride. He then got off the bus and found another taxi for a ride, arriving at his boarding room (1026 North Beckley Ave.) at around 1:00 p.m. According to his housekeeper Earlene Roberts, left then three or four minutes later. She last saw him standing and waiting at a bus stop outside the rooming house.
At 1:15 p.m, Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit was shot dead near the intersection of 10th St. and Patton Ave. This was 0.86 mile from Oswald's rooming house. Thirteen people witnessed the man shooting Tippit or fleeing the immediate scene. By that evening, five of the witnesses had identified Oswald in police lineups, and a sixth identified him the following day. Four others subsequently identified Oswald from a photograph.
After the Tippit murder, Oswald was witnessed traveling on foot toward the Texas Theatre on West Jefferson Blvd. About 1:35 p.m. Johnny Calvin Brewer, who worked as a manager at Hardy's Shoe Store in the same block as the Texas Theatre on Jefferson Blvd. saw Oswald turning his face away from the street and duck into the entranceway of the shoe store as Dallas squad cars drove up the street with sirens on. When Oswald left the store, Brewer followed Oswald and watched him go into the Texas Theater movie house without paying while ticket attendant Julie Postal was distracted. Brewer notified Postal, who in turn informed the Dallas Police at 1:40 p.m.
Almost two dozen policemen, sheriffs, and detectives in several patrol cars arrived at Texas Theatre because they believed Tippit's killer was inside. When an arrest attempt was made at 1:50 pm inside the theater, Oswald resisted arrest and, according to the police, attempted to shoot a patrolman after yelling once, "Well, it's all over now!" then punching a patrolman.
At Parkland Hospital, a Roman Catholic priest was summoned to perform the last rites for President Kennedy. Dr. Malcolm Perry, assistant professor of surgery at UT Southwestern and a vascular surgeon on the Parkland staff, was the first to treat Kennedy and he performed a tracheotomy, followed by a cardiopulmonary resuscitation performed with another surgeon. Other doctors and surgeons who gathered worked frantically to save the president's life, but his wounds were too great.
At 1:00 pm CST, after all the activity had ceased, and after the priest administered the last rites, President Kennedy was pronounced dead. Personnel at Parkland Hospital Trauma Room #1, who treated the President, observed that the president's condition was "moribund", meaning he had no chance of survival upon arrival at the hospital. "We never had any hope of saving his life," Dr. Perry said. "I am absolutely sure he never knew what hit him," said Dr. Tom Shires, Parkland's chief of surgery. The Very Reverend Oscar L. Huber, the priest who administered the last rites to the president, told The New York Times that the president was already dead upon the priest's arrival at the hospital and had to draw back a sheet covering the President's face so that the last rites could be given. Governor Connally, meanwhile, was soon taken to emergency surgery where he underwent two operations that day.
Although President Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm CST, the official announcement would not come for another half hour. Immediately after receiving word of the president's death, acting White House press secretary Malcolm Kilduff entered the room where Vice President Johnson, who was constitutionally now the President, and his wife were sitting. Kilduff approached them and said to Johnson, "Mr. President, I have to announce the death of President Kennedy. Is it OK with you that the announcement be made now?" The new president ordered that the announcement be made only after he left the hospital. When asking that the announcement be delayed, Johnson told Kilduff: "I think I had better get out of here.. .before you announce it. We don't know whether this is a worldwide conspiracy, whether they are after me as well as they were after President Kennedy, or whether they are after Speaker (John W.) McCormack, or Senator (Carl) Hayden. We just don't know."
|“||President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1:00 CST today, here in Dallas. He died of a gunshot wound to the brain. I have no other details regarding the assassination of the president.||”|
A few minutes after 2:00 pm CST, and after a ten to fifteen minute angry confrontation between Kennedy's special assistant Ken O'Donnell, backed by weapons-drawn and/or aimed Secret Service agents, and Parkland doctors and Medical Examiner Dr. Earl Rose, with a justice of the peace, President Kennedy's body was removed from Parkland Hospital and driven straight to Air Force One. This removal may have been illegal, as the body was removed before undergoing a forensic examination by the Dallas coroner, and against Texas state laws. The murder of the president was, at that time, listed on the books as a state-level crime and not a federal one, and as such legally occurred under Texas jurisdiction. To this date, however, no official legal body has ruled on this matter.
Breaking the news
Locally in Dallas
From Dallas, local listeners of top-rated Top 40 music station KLIF Radio were listening to The Rex Jones Show when they received the first bulletin at approximately 12:38 pm CST. A "bulletin alert" sounder faded in during the song "I Have A Boyfriend" by The Chiffons. The song was stopped and newscaster Gary Delaune made the first announcement over the bulletin signal:
|“||This KLIF Bulletin. From Dallas: Three shots reportedly were fired at the motorcade of President Kennedy today near the downtown section. KLIF News is checking out the report, we will have further reports, stay tuned.||”|
Down the dial, Dallas' CBS Radio affiliate, KRLD, was airing the nationally syndicated religious program Back to the Bible (which had already been pre-empted in part by coverage of the presidential party's arrival at Love Field) when the first reports of the shooting came through. WBAP played instrumental music, with interruptions for local bulletins, until NBC Radio's continuous coverage began.
Dallas' ABC television affiliate WFAA was airing a local lifestyle program, The Julie Benell Show, at the time. At 12:45 pm CST, the station abruptly cut from the prerecorded program to news director Jay Watson in the studio, who had been at Dealey Plaza and ran back to the station following the incident:
|“||Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You'll excuse the fact that I am out of breath, but about 10 or 15 minutes ago a tragic thing from all indications at this point has happened in the city of Dallas. Let me quote to you this [briefly looks at the bulletin sheet in his left hand], and I'll... you'll excuse me if I am out of breath. A bulletin, this is from the United Press from Dallas: (Reading UPI bulletin) 'President Kennedy and Governor John Connally [in his agitated state, he mispronounced Connally's name as "Colony"] have been cut down by assassins' bullets in downtown Dallas.'||”|
Watson then began anchoring continuous coverage of the tragedy with Jerry Haynes, better known as WFAA-TV children's TV show host "Mr. Peppermint," followed shortly by an interview with witnesses Bill and Gayle Newman.
In addition to the local Dallas radio and television coverage, recordings exist of coverage by various other radio stations nationwide. Four such stations are WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut; WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio; WCCO in Minneapolis – St. Paul, Minnesota; and KNX in Los Angeles, California.
CBS Radio Affiliates KNX, WCCO, and WCBS
KNX and WCCO both had local bulletins interrupting programming prior to the first CBS Radio network bulletin. Both stations momentarily returned to their scheduled programs after those bulletins; on KNX, it was the West Coast network feed of that morning's Arthur Godfrey Time program, while WCCO switched back to its agribusiness news hour in the middle of a commercial for a St. Paul stockyard and slaughterhouse.
When the news broke, WCBS in New York was in the middle of an interview with a local family court judge on the topic of juvenile delinquency. After the local bulletin announced by newsman Joseph Dembo, the interview resumed, with both interviewer and interviewee briefly acknowledging the shocking news, until the first CBS Radio "Net Alert" bulletin interrupted.
NBC Radio Affiliate WLW in Cincinnati
One of the longest recordings  exists from Cincinnati's WLW, then affiliated with NBC's radio news division and aired the five-minute national newscasts the station provided every half hour. The 1:30 EST newscast, apparently a tape delay of the 1:00 P.M. network newscast (so as not to interrupt the simulcast of WLWT's midday program The 50/50 Club featuring Ruth Lyons), was anchored by Martin Agronsky; as Kennedy was to have been delivering his speech at the Trade Mart at precisely that time, Agronsky described the speech in the past tense, as if it had already been delivered. Following the update, WLW began its regular Tunepike program, with disc jockey Fred Bernard playing mainly Broadway musical songs. At approximately 1:37 pm, the planned playing of the original cast album to the 1956 musical Li'l Abner was momentarily delayed by Bernard:
|“||We'll have to stand by here just a moment, there may be something... happening. Yes, there is. There's a bulletin just handed me from Dallas, Texas... an unknown sniper fired three shots at President Kennedy- this is, uh, in connection with President Kennedy, who is now touring Texas as you know- uh... I'll tell you exactly how this reads. "Dallas- an unknown sniper fired three shots at...", and then there's five letters: P-M-O-U-X, then a flash, Kennedy's name is misspelled, flash again, and at the bottom of this headline it says "Kennedy seriously wounded".||”|
After the flash was read and recapped, Bernard tried to return to the music. However, the overture to Li'l Abner was interrupted several times. After the first interruption, two staff members in WLW's news office were overheard conversing...
- Staff member #1: "He's been shot."
- Staff member #2: "Who?"
- Member #1: "Kennedy."
- Member #2: "The President?"
- Member #1: "Yeah."
This was immediately followed by a bulletin from the WLW newsroom, which was their first official bulletin and was read as follows:
|“||Here is a bulletin from the WLW Comex Newsroom: a late bulletin from Dallas where three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade today in downtown Dallas, no casualties reported at first however the latest flash indicates President Kennedy was seriously wounded, perhaps fatally, by an assassin's bullet. That's all the information we have; a bulletin, a sniper apparently seriously wounded President Kennedy in downtown Dallas today, perhaps fatally. We'll keep you posted as the news comes in to the WLW newsroom.||”|
WLW also interrupted to air an NBC network "Hotline" bulletin; after the Li'l Abner overture ended, Bernard played instrumental music by Percy Faith for some time before switching to NBC's nationwide radio coverage of the incident, adding relevant information where necessary.
NBC Radio Affiliate WTIC in Hartford
WTIC did not interrupt its local call-in listener question-and-answer program Mikeline until nearly 1:55 p.m. EST when guest host and WTIC-TV, Channel 3, evening news anchor Bob Ellsworth was handed his first bulletin. From that point forward, he and Mikeline co-host Floyd Richards took turns reading the latest information from the wire services until the 2:00 p.m. EST NBC Radio network newscast which was anchored from Washington, D.C. by Peter Hackes with White House correspondent Robert MacNeil reporting by phone from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. WTIC staff announcer Dick Bertel took the air from when the NBC newscast concluded at 2:05 p.m. EST until shortly before 2:11 p.m. EST when NBC News first offered continuous coverage to WTIC, WLW, and its other radio affiliates nationwide, anchored mainly by Edwin Newman from New York.
WGN in Chicago
The only record of JFK assassination coverage currently available from a Chicago radio station comes from a non-network station, WGN. Host Orion Samuelson was on the air with Country Fair, a program of agricultural news, when the first bulletins were received. After reading the bulletins, Samuelson resumed the regularly scheduled program, periodically interrupting with further bulletins, until a union record-turner arrived and Samuelson was able to end his program, at which time the station began playing somber easy-listening instrumental music as staff and listeners awaited further bulletins. Samuelson recalled years later that he had initially thought fellow staffers were playing a joke on him with the initial bulletins about the shooting, until he realized it was real.
WGBH-FM/Boston Symphony Orchestra Concert
The Boston Symphony Orchestra was performing a concert at Boston's Symphony Hall when conductor Erich Leinsdorf announced the tragic news to the audience and a last-minute program change replacing a suite from Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Golden Cockerel" with the Marcia funebre from Ludwig van Beethoven's Eroica Symphony:
|“||Ladies and gentlemen, we have a press report over the wires - we hope that it is unconfirmed, but we have to doubt it - that the President of the United States has been the victim of an assassination. [Gasps of shock and disbelief from audience] We will play the Funeral March from Beethoven's Third Symphony. [further shocked sounds from audience]||”|
The first national news bulletin of the shooting came over the ABC Radio Network at 12:36 pm CST/1:36 pm EST. The most complete recording of the initial ABC bulletins came from WRUL, a New York-based station transmitting to Latin America and Europe on shortwave, which was featuring a program of MOR album music when the shooting took place. At the time, Doris Day's recording of "Hooray for Hollywood" was playing when newscaster Don Gardiner broke in with this:
|“||We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin from ABC Radio. Here is a special bulletin from Dallas, Texas. (Reading UPI bulletin) 'THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S MOTORCADE TODAY IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS, TEXAS.' This is ABC Radio. To repeat: In Dallas Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade today, the president now making a two-day speaking tour of Texas. We're going to stand by for more details on the incident in Dallas, stay tuned to your ABC station for further details. Now we return you to your regular program.||”|
Four minutes following ABC's radio bulletin, CBS was the first to break the news over television at 12:40 pm CST/1:40 pm EST. The network interrupted its live broadcast of As the World Turns with a "CBS News Bulletin" bumper slide and Walter Cronkite filed an audio-only report over it as no camera was available at the time:
|“||Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting. More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously: President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called 'Oh, no!' The motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details.||”|
Cronkite remained at the CBS anchor desk the entire time and later filed two additional audio-only bulletins to interrupt programming, the last of which pre-empted the remaining running time of As The World Turns.
At that time, the ABC and NBC television networks weren't on the air in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Various programs were being broadcast through their affiliate stations. From their main headquarters in New York, WABC-TV's first bulletin came from Ed Silverman at 1:42 pm EST, also interrupting a rerun of Father Knows Best in the Mountain Time Zone and the game show Seven Keys along the West Coast on the ABC-TV network. Three minutes later, Don Pardo broke into WNBC-TV's local rerun of Bachelor Father with the news, saying (reading AP bulletin) 'PRESIDENT KENNEDY WAS SHOT TODAY JUST AS HIS MOTORCADE LEFT DOWNTOWN DALLAS. MRS. KENNEDY JUMPED UP AND GRABBED MR. KENNEDY. SHE CRIED 'OH NO!' THE MOTORCADE SPED ON.' (Videotape of the NBC bulletins have been assumed "lost" as they did not start recording coverage until minutes later. However, audio engineer Phil Gries rolled tape on a set of audio recordings on a 1/4" reel to reel audiotape recorder. These have been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. However, NBC, in its book on the coverage of the assassination, mentioned the bulletins.) At 1:53 pm (EST), NBC broke into programming with a NBC Network bumper slide and Chet Huntley, Bill Ryan, and Frank McGee informing the viewers what was going on as it happened. However, NBC's camera was not ready and the coverage was limited to audio-only reports as CBS' coverage had been to that point. Other than for two audio-only bulletins (one following the initial report), ABC did not break into its stations' programming at all, instead waiting until the network was to return to broadcasting at 2:00 pm Eastern to begin its coverage.
At 1:57 pm EST, while Ryan was speaking, NBC began broadcasting the report as their camera was ready and working. Three minutes later, at 2:00 EST, CBS' camera was finally ready and Cronkite appeared on the air after a brief station break, with ABC beginning its coverage at the same time. Radio coverage was reported by Don Gardiner (ABC), Alan Jackson (CBS), and, after a top-of-the-hour newscast by Peter Hackes and Edwin Newman (NBC).
Television and radio coverage (from approx. 2:00 pm EST–2:40 pm EST)
Providing the reports for ABC Television were Don Goddard, Ron Cochran, and Ed Silverman in New York, Edward P. Morgan in Washington, Bob Clark (who as noted above had been riding in the motorcade when Kennedy was shot) from Parkland Hospital, and Bill Lord from the Dallas County sheriff's office. As with the other networks, ABC interspersed with their Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV 8 for up-to-date information. Reporting from WFAA were Bob Walker (who had been at Love Field for live coverage of the President's arrival) and Jay Watson (who had remained on the air locally from the time he broke into local programming upon his return from Dealey Plaza). They were later joined by Bob Clark upon his arrival from the hospital.
ABC's initial coverage of the incident was very disorganized. Cochran, ABC's primary news anchor, was called back to the studio while out having lunch and had to hurry back to begin his reporting. Silverman was the voice accompanying ABC's first bulletin, broadcast during a rerun episode of Father Knows Best that was airing on a majority of the network's affiliates in the Mountain Time Zone at the time; the surviving videotape of ABC's initial bulletins appears to have been recorded by then-affiliate KTVK in Phoenix, as it contains the interruption of Father Knows Best. (Seven Keys was the scheduled ABC program on the West Coast, and no network programming had been scheduled in the Eastern and Central Time Zones during that half hour.) The first on-camera report was given by Goddard in the network's news studio, which was too far away from the teletype machines. Goddard then moved to the newsroom and was joined by the returning Cochran, and the technical crew began constructing an impromptu news set around them (ABC did not have studio space ready for such an occasion; NBC had a flash studio in its newsroom and CBS' reports came directly from their own newsroom as they had since they launched an evening newscast earlier in 1963). Cochran and Goddard were forced to stand and awkwardly hold microphones and headsets so they could report the information.
In addition to the disorganization in New York, ABC was not able to switch to Dallas to speak to its correspondents. Only one feed was available to them at first, which came from the Dallas Trade Mart and CBS affiliate KRLD reporter Eddie Barker. CBS had earlier aired snippets of Barker's report, but had cut it off to return to its own reporting of the incident before Barker finished; ABC aired the remainder of the report until the end. The reason that ABC was able to air the CBS affiliate's coverage was due to a pool arrangement the three major Dallas stations agreed to for the President's visit. WBAP was responsible for covering the President's visit to Fort Worth and his departure and landing at Love Field, WFAA was assigned to cover the parade through downtown Dallas, and KRLD was set up at the Dallas Trade Mart for the address the President was to give.
At 2:25 pm EST, while attempting to switch to Bob Clark in Dallas, ABC Radio reported that Parkland Hospital said President Kennedy was dead, and then stressed that it was unconfirmed. Upon reporting the news, anchor Don Gardiner said this to his audience:
|“||Ladies and gentlemen, this is a moment trying for all of us. Let us pause, and let us all pray.||”|
ABC Radio then stopped coverage to broadcast orchestral music.
At 2:33 pm EST, Cochran reported on ABC Television that the two priests who were called into the hospital to administer the last rites to the President said that he had died from his wounds. Although this was an unconfirmed report, ABC prematurely placed a photo of the President with the words "JOHN F. KENNEDY -- 1917-1963" on the screen.
Five minutes later, this photo was again prematurely placed when Cochran received an erroneous report that the President had died at 1:35 pm CST when, in fact, he had died at 1:00 pm CST. A few minutes following that, Cochran received further information regarding the President's condition and relayed the following to the ABC viewing audience:
|“||Government sources now confirm...we have this from Washington. Government sources now confirm that President Kennedy is dead. So that, apparently, is the final word and an incredible event that I am sure no one except the assassin himself could have possibly imagined would occur on this day.||”|
On ABC Radio, Gardiner reported the news, but did not say whether or not it was official. ABC then switched to Pete Clapper on Capitol Hill for an interview with the Senate's press liaison. Moments later, the interview was interrupted by Gardiner's report of the President's death:
|“||Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is dead. The President is dead. Let us pray.||”|
ABC Radio then returned to orchestral music.
From the time the CBS affiliates joined Walter Cronkite in the news room at around 2:00 pm EST to approximately 2:38 pm EST, the coverage alternated from the CBS Newsroom to KRLD-TV's Eddie Barker at the Dallas Trade Mart where President Kennedy was to give his luncheon address. In the 15 to 20 minutes before Kilduff's official announcement, rumors of the President's death were broadcast on radio and TV. At approximately 2:11 pm EST, CBS News correspondent Dan Rather telephoned one of the two priests who performed last rites on Kennedy to confirm that he had indeed been shot. "Yes, he's been shot and he is dead," the priest told Rather. Almost simultaneously at the Trade Mart, a doctor went up to Barker and whispered, "Eddie, he is dead... I called the emergency room and he is DOA." Moments later, as the news cameras panned throughout the Trade Mart crowds, Barker gave this report:
|“||As you can imagine, there are many stories that are coming in now as to the actual condition of the President. One is that he is dead; this cannot be confirmed. Another is that Governor Connally is in the operating room; this we have not confirmed.||”|
Several minutes later, when CBS switched back to KRLD and the Trade Mart for another report, Barker repeated the claim of the President's death, adding "the source would normally be a good one." During this report, as Barker was speaking of security precautions for the President's visit, a Trade Mart employee was shown removing the Presidential seal from the podium where President Kennedy was to speak.
Meanwhile, Rather proceeded to telephone CBS News officials in New York, telling executive Mort Dank, "I think he's dead." Despite the unofficial nature of Rather’s report, CBS Radio newsroom supervisor Robert Skedgell wrote "JFK DEAD" on a slip of paper and handed it to CBS Radio news anchor Alan Jackson. At 2:22 pm EST, eleven minutes before Kilduff's official announcement, Jackson made the following announcement:
|“||Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States is dead. John F. Kennedy has died of the wounds he received in an assassination in Dallas less than an hour ago. We repeat, it has just been announced that President Kennedy is dead.||”|
After the announcement, CBS Radio, apparently trying to play The Star Spangled Banner, inadvertently aired a brief excerpt of an LP Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings played at the wrong speed of 78 RPM. After a few seconds of silence, Jackson repeated the news:
|“||John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President Of The United States, is dead at the age of 46. Shot by an assassin as he drove through the streets of Dallas, Texas less than an hour ago. Repeating this, the President is dead, killed in Dallas, Texas by a gunshot wound.||”|
|“||We repeat our announcement that the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is dead in Dallas, Texas, of an assassin's bullets. He was shot, and governor Tom Connelly of the state of Texas was shot, as they rode in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas less than an hour ago. Governor Connelly is in serious condition, President John Kennedy is dead. The 35th president of the United States, he was 46 years old.
According to the constitution Vice President Lyndon Johnson will now succeed Mr. Kennedy in office. Mr. Johnson will become the 36th president of the United States, very probably within a few hours upon taking the oath of office.
The announcement was followed by "The Star Spangled Banner".
While CBS Radio had taken this to be confirmation of the president's death, there was a debate going on between CBS television network officials as to whether or not to report this development, as Rather's report was not a truly official confirmation. At 2:27 pm EST, they decided to give Rather's report to Cronkite, who relayed this to the nation:
|“||We just have a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas that he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead. There is still no official confirmation of this. However, it's a report from our correspondent, Dan Rather, in Dallas, Texas.||”|
Then, at approximately 2:32 pm EST, one of the newsroom staff members rushed to Cronkite's desk with another bulletin. As Cronkite read the bulletin, he had to re-read it as he stumbled over his words.
|“||The priest... who were with Kennedy... the two priests who were with Kennedy say that he is dead of his bullet wounds. That seems to be about as close to official as we can get at this time.||”|
Although Cronkite continued to stress that there was no official confirmation, the tone of Cronkite's words seemed to indicate that it would only be a matter of time before the official word came. Three minutes later, he received the same report that Ron Cochran on ABC had chosen to relay as official word. Cronkite did not do the same, and instead reported it in this context:
|“||And now, from Washington, government sources say that President Kennedy is dead. Those are government sources, still not an official announcement.||”|
Cronkite continued as before while still awaiting word of the official confirmation of the President's death, which at this time had been relayed by Kilduff at the hospital two minutes prior but had not made the press wires yet. After speaking about what Kennedy had done earlier that day in Fort Worth, Cronkite noted that the plane from Fort Worth flew the President to his "rendezvous with death, apparently, in Dallas", although the official bulletin still had not arrived yet.
Immediately after that, at 2:38 pm EST, Cronkite remarked on fearful concerns of demonstrations in Dallas similar to the attack of U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson in Dallas the previous month. At that moment, a CBS News employee seen in the background pulled off a sheet from the AP News ticker. He quickly relayed it (off-camera) to Cronkite, who put on his glasses, took a few seconds to read the sheet, and made the announcement:
|“||From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: [reading AP flash] 'PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED AT 1 P.M. (CST),' 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.||”|
After reading the flash, Cronkite took off his glasses so he could consult the studio clock, which established the lapse in time since Kennedy had died. He paused briefly and replaced his eyeglasses, visibly moved for a moment. Cronkite continued:
|“||Vice President Johnson... (clears throat) ...has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the thirty-sixth president of the United States.||”|
There was a sense of irony to CBS' coverage of the assassination. On September 2, 1963, Kennedy gave an interview with Cronkite, helping CBS inaugurate network television's first half hour evening newscast.
It should perhaps be noted that CBS did not include any further coverage from Dallas or Washington as the other networks had until after the announcement of Kennedy's death. As coverage continued following the announcement Charles Collingwood relieved Cronkite in New York while Neil Strawser reported from CBS' Washington bureau and Dan Rather and Eddie Barker provided reports from KRLD in Dallas.
At NBC-TV, Chet Huntley, Bill Ryan, and Frank McGee anchored from the network's emergency "flash" studio (code name 5HN) in New York, with reports from David Brinkley in Washington, Charles Murphy and Tom Whelan from NBC affiliate WBAP-TV (now KXAS-TV) in Fort Worth, Texas, and Robert MacNeil, who had been in the motorcade, at Parkland Hospital. Edwin Newman reported from NBC Radio with periodic simulcast with NBC-TV. NBC Radio's coverage was simulcast in Canada by CBC Radio. Also, the United States' international shortwave broadcaster, Voice of America, relayed portions of NBC's coverage (including the simulcast with the television coverage) as part of its English-language coverage of the tragic news. (A short aircheck of VOA exists in which the announcers on duty attempt to make sense of the conflicting reports about Kennedy's condition, and then the station briefly simulcasts NBC before heading into Polish language programming at 12:00pm Central Time.)
Throughout the first 35 minutes, there were technical difficulties with the Fort Worth TV relay as well as with the phone link MacNeil was using to report from the hospital. When the coverage began, McGee was waiting for MacNeil to call in with information. While Ryan and Huntley were recounting the information, McGee got MacNeil on the line and told him to recount chronologically what happened. However, NBC was using a studio that wasn't equipped to patch calls through to the air and MacNeil wasn't able to be heard in the studio. McGee then decided to have MacNeil speak slowly and relay what he said in fragments. While McGee and MacNeil were talking Huntley was handed a speaker and attached it to the phone's receiver, enabling MacNeil to be heard. However, just as the speaker was attached MacNeil decided to leave to gather more information and got a medical student to hold the line for him.
At approximately 2:35 pm EST, Huntley alluded to the last time a president had died in office:
|“||In just this momentary lull, I would assume that the memory of every person listening at this moment has flashed back to that day in April 1945 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt...||”|
Ryan then broke in with the first unofficial report of the president's death:
|“||Excuse me, Chet. Here is a flash from the Associated Press, dateline Dallas: 'Two priests who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds.' There is no further confirmation, but this is what we have on a flash basis from the Associated Press: 'Two priests in Dallas who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds.' There is no further confirmation. This is the only word we have indicating that the president may, in fact, have lost his life. It has just moved on the Associated Press wires from Dallas. The two priests were called to the hospital to administer the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church. And it is from them, we get the word, that the president has died, that the bullet wounds inflicted on him as he rode in a motorcade through downtown Dallas have been fatal. We will remind you that there is no official confirmation of this from any source as yet.||”|
McGee was then informed that Vice President Lyndon Johnson left the hospital in a motorcade and relayed that information to the public. which Ryan said might well be confirmation of the AP flash.
On NBC Radio and CBC Radio, Newman reported the same flash thus:
|“||Here is a flash from Dallas: Two priests who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds suffered in the assassination attempt today. I repeat, a flash from Dallas: 'Two priests who were with President Kennedy say he is dead of bullet wounds.' This is the latest information we have from Dallas. We are, of course, standing by to give you all available information as it comes to us. I will repeat, with the greatest regret, this flash: Two priests who were with President Kennedy say he has died of bullet wounds.||”|
At that exact moment, NBC Radio and CBC Radio relayed into simulcast with NBC television. Immediately following that, the network returned to Charles Murphy in Fort Worth who relayed that the Dallas police had been informed of the President's death just moments before on their radios.
While this was going on, Robert MacNeil had been at the press conference that Acting Press Secretary Kilduff had called to announce the death of President Kennedy. As coverage returned to the New York studio, MacNeil was again on the telephone and McGee informed Huntley and Ryan of his return and incoming report. As before, the report was relayed in fragments by McGee:
|“||White House (Acting) Press Secretary... Malcolm Kilduff... has just announced that President Kennedy... died at approximately 1:00 Central Standard Time, which is about 35 minutes ago...||”|
At that point the crew finished working on the audio link, allowing MacNeil to be heard in the studio. McGee continued to relay the information, unaware of this:
|“||...after being shot at (after being shot)... by an unknown assailant (by an unknown assailant) ...during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas (during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas).||”|
MacNeil continued to give McGee information for four minutes, which McGee relayed as he had before. After MacNeil relayed all the relevant information he had he left to get further news, and McGee was seen wiping a tear from his eye.
KLIF Radio, Dallas
From local radio station KLIF, Gary Delaune relayed the bulletins as received with reports from Joe Long from KLIF News Mobile Unit #4. Long, who had reported the President's arrival at Love Field earlier, later joined Delaune in the studio; Roy Nichols took over the #4 mobile unit and headed for Parkland Hospital. After a report from the Trade Mart, radio broadcaster and KLIF founder Gordon McLendon returned to the radio station to relieve Delaune. The reporters continuously stressed, as a strict radio station rule of McLendon's, whether the information received is from official or unofficial sources, especially concerning reports of the President's death. At approximately 1:38 pm CST, KLIF's Teletype sounded ten bells (indicating an incoming bulletin of utmost importance) and Long was given the official flash:
Gordon McLendon: "The President is clearly, gravely, critically, and perhaps fatally wounded. There are strong indications that he may already have expired, although that is not official, we repeat, not official. But, the extent of the injuries to Governor Connally is, uh, a closely shrouded secret at the moment..."
Joe Long: "President Kennedy is dead, Gordon. This is official word."
Gordon McLendon: "Ladies and gentlemen, the President is dead. The President, ladies and gentlemen, is dead at Parkland Hospital in Dallas."
Following the official announcement of President Kennedy's death, all three networks cancelled their regular programming and commercials for the first time in the short history of television and ran coverage on a non-stop basis for four days. The assassination of President Kennedy was the longest uninterrupted news event in the history of American television until just before 9:00 am EDT, September 11, 2001, when the networks were on the air for 72 hours straight covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Return to Washington
Once back at Air Force One, and only after Mrs. Kennedy and President Kennedy’s body had also returned to the plane, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in by Sarah T. Hughes as the thirty-sixth President of the United States of America at 2:38 pm CST. One of President Kennedy's aides stayed with his coffin during the swearing-in of Johnson.
At about 6:00 pm EST, Air Force One arrived at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington D.C. The television networks made the switch to the AFB just as the plane touched down. Reporting the arrival for the TV networks were Richard Bate (ABC), Charles Von Fremd (CBS), and Bob Abernethy & Nancy Dickerson (NBC).
After President Kennedy's brother, Robert Kennedy, boarded the plane, Kennedy's casket was removed from the rear entrance and loaded into a light gray US Navy ambulance for its transport to the Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy and mortician's preparations. When Jackie Kennedy stepped off the plane with her brother-in-law, her pink suit and legs were still stained with her husband's blood. All that long afternoon and into the early morning hours of the next day, the widow objected to leaving her husband's body, except for the swearing in of Johnson. She also refused to change out of her blood-stained suit; Lady Bird Johnson, in her audio diary, quoted Mrs. Kennedy as saying "I want them to see what they have done to Jack."
Shortly after the ambulance with the casket and Mrs. Kennedy departed, President Johnson and the First Lady exited Air Force One. They were led to a podium clustered with microphones where Lyndon Johnson made his first official statement as president of the United States:
|“||This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. I know the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best; that is all I can do. I ask for your help and God's.||”|
President Johnson himself ordered the arrival to be televised live. While en route to Washington from Dallas, he and Kilduff told the other assistant press secretary, Andrew Hatcher, that he was going to make his statement and that he wanted the arrival to be televised live. As the new president boarded his helicopter, he said that Mrs. Kennedy was in his heart and remarked about the presidency, and recounted, "Then the door of the helicopter slammed shut behind me and thus ended a tragic chapter in American history."
Charges laid on Oswald
At 7:05 pm CST Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with "murder with malice" in the killing of police officer J.D. Tippit.
At 11:26 pm CST Oswald was charged with the murder of President Kennedy in the furtherance of a Communist conspiracy. (the reference to a Communist conspiracy was soon dropped from the language of the murder charge, reportedly on orders from someone in the White House)
On November 24, 1963, in a memo J. Edgar Hoover wrote for the record, Hoover stated, "The thing I am most concerned about, and so is Mr. Katzenbach, is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."
On November 24, 1963, at 11:21 am CST, before live television cameras, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and mortally wounded in the basement of Dallas Police headquarters by a local nightclub owner with mafia ties, Jack Ruby.
On a November 26, 1963 memo from Courtney Evans, the Assistant FBI Director (Mafia Section), to Assistant to the FBI Director, Alan Belmont, the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover hand-wrote in the memo's margin, "Just how long do you estimate it will take? It seems to me we have all the basic facts now."
The Warren Commission's 888-page final report was presented to President Johnson on September 24, 1964, and made public three days later, saying one shot wounded President Kennedy and Governor Connally, and a subsequent shot hit Kennedy in the head, killing him. The Commission also concluded a third shot was fired, but made no conclusion as to whether it was the first, second or third shot fired. The Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald fired all three shots.
- Inline citations
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