47 Years Later, Remembering Nov. 22, 1963 in Cecil County

As evening arrives on this autumn day in 2010,  and another November 22nd slowly begins to fade into the past, it’s hard to believe it’s been 47 years since the county’s tranquility was disturbed by broadcasters sorrowfully announcing “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard time. . . .”  Practically everyone alive remembers those unforgettable moments as shock turned to sorrow while radios carried a near continuous stream of bulletins. 

Most people immediately recalled that it had been eight days earlier that President Kennedy had been in the county to snip a ribbon, marking the ceremonial opening of the Northeastern Expressway (I-95).  As the sun sank behind the western Cecil horizon on that joyful day, he lifted off in his helicopter.  With those memories fresh on everyone’s mind, news that an assassin’s bullet had struck down the President was even more shocking.    

The late November day got off to a foggy, mild start in Elkton as Police Officers Jerry Secor & Thomas Dunford reported for the day-watch.  During an uneventful morning, by law enforcement standards, the handwritten police blotter, providing a cops-eye view of activities that unforgettable day, shows they escorted a  DuBose Funeral Home detail, arrested a man for shoplifting, and recovered a stolen car.

Elkton police blotter Nov. 22, 1963

The patrolmen dutifully scrawled notations on the blotter, all largely unremarkable, but the entry at 1:30 p.m. was jarring as it marks a change for the Eastern shore and the nation.  In a careful hand in the official police record for the county seat, one of the men wrote,  “President Kennedy shot and killed in Dallas Texas.” For the remainder of that heartbreaking day, there is something about the unsettling quiet reflected in the complaint register as a deep dark, sadness penetrates the town and few calls come in for the remainder of the evening on that dark, dark night nearly 50 years ago.

Elsewhere, one of Rising Sun’s telephone operators recalled a slow morning as the new automatic dialing system for the Farmers Telephone Company handled the few calls that came over the system  that Friday morning.  But suddenly, there was an enormous surge, as people used to talking to the operator or needing assistance with long distance connections called to ask if the ladies had heard the news.  As the entire system lit up, she recalls she’d never seen anything like it.  People were saying have you heard, President Kennedy was shot or something like connect me with my husband in California, Massachusetts, or some other place. 

In Chesapeake City, a couple living along the canal, said they’d never forget the day.  Just before the news broke from Dallas, two federal men in dark suits visited their home.  Representing the Army Corps of Engineers, they were there to discuss the purchase of their property in Bethel as the canal was being expanded.

Back in the county seat, H. Wirt Bouchelle, the county’s weatherman, dutifully recorded Friday’s metrological conditions, confirming the observations of the Elkton police as they started the 8:00 a.m. shift.  The temperature climbed to an unseasonably high of 63 degrees F., while sinking back to 40 overnight.  There was no precipitation on that gloomy day in Elkton.

Since it was the middle of the workday many people first received news from the radio. At Elkton’s top 40 AM Station, WSER, the mid-day disc jockey worked the turntable playing the hits of ’63 when a network flash interrupted his entertaining routine.  Once the first flash got everyone’s attention, listeners huddled near receivers at home, work, and in cars to hear the latest.  As the hours unfolded the network kept up a steady stream of bulletins and flashes.

Les Coleman, had opened the county’s first station, but was working as a sales representative at WDOV in Dover that day.  When he checked with the station, they told him that they were going to pull all commercial programming.  Les recalled in a conversation a few years ago that his job that afternoon was to call advertisers and let them know the station was cancelling all commercial programming. 
That November 22, 1963, as people returned home for the evening and gathered their families close everyone anxiously watched the television for more news.  On that day nearly a half-century ago, the deep gloom that settled over the county is still recalled by so many.

John F. Kennedy in the county during the 1960 campaign


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