On Nov. 22, 1963, Concord residents planned for an ordinary day
Eager hands reach out to shake hands with President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as they visited San Antonio, Tex., where the president dedicated the Aerospace Medical Center at Brooks Air Force Base, Nov. 21, 1963. (AP Photo/Ted Powers)t
President John F. Kennedy attends the dedication ceremony of the Aerospace Medical Center at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex., Nov. 21, 1963. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Johnson's wife Lady Bird Johnson, Texas Gov. John Connally and his wife Nellie Connally, along with other dignitaries applaud at seats behind rostrum. (AP Photo)t
President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy walk through the rain at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Nov. 21, 1963, to board the presidential jet for a flight to San Antonio, Texas. The president and his wife plan to spend two days in Texas. (AP Photo/John Rous)t
President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy holding bouquet, are shown upon their arrival on Air Force One in Houston, Tex., Nov. 21, 1963. With them, from left are: Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson; Nellie Connally, wife of Texas Gov. John Connally, and Gov. Connally. Woman at far left is unidentified. (AP Photo)
On Nov. 22, 1963, Concord residents woke up to a warm fall day that held the promise of excitement.
That evening at the high school, the Harlem Globetrotters would play the San Francisco Golden Gaters in front of a sold-out crowd. Gibson’s Book Store had scheduled an afternoon book talk with a New Hampshire author, and St. Paul’s School planned a musical production of The Boyfriend to benefit the State Hospital Auxiliary.
All week, newspapers were abuzz with the upcoming visit of New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, who was scheduled to begin a three-day tour Sunday as part of his bid for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination.
But by day’s end on the 22nd, the Globetrotters game, Rockefeller’s visit and nearly all other upcoming events would be canceled as Concord and the world reeled from the news of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination.
In the days before the nation’s heartbeat stopped, newspapers from across the state revealed a New Hampshire that was consumed by a slate of issues rooted in the ordinary. Front-page headlines talked of legislative issues and foreign policy, sports sections reported on the selection of high school captains and advertisements encouraged consumers to seize Thanksgiving dinner deals and start their Christmas shopping early.
“N.H. Property Owners Pay $80.8 Million Local Taxes,” said one headline in the Nov. 21 edition of the Concord Daily Monitor. “Rocky Plans Busy
3 Days Around N.H.,” said another, and a third: “Veteran CHS Basketball Team Preparing For 1963-’64 Race.”
As Thanksgiving was approaching, stores took out full-page ads dedicated to their holiday food items, from turkeys selling at 33 cents a pound to 49-cent apple pies. Ads encouraged parents to put their Christmas items on “Layaway NOW,” while televisions sold for $129 and washing machines for $168.
Playing off the presidential election, Studebaker ran a “Studebaker ’64” campaign for its new sliding-roof station wagon, telling buyers “we do for you what others don’t.”
Locally, Concord High was hopeful for a successful basketball season. A Nov. 21 article said that tryouts had narrowed varsity players to 16, and that a final team of 12 would be named later in the week. In those days, news of a new Concord High football captain was big enough to make the front page in a story about athletes receiving their varsity letters. On the evening of the 22nd, Concord’s cross country team was set to be honored as state champion.
“The football team had a 1-7-1 record, while the cross-country team won both the state and New England championships for the second straight year,” the Monitor wrote.
In North Conway, an annual deer hunting contest with a town in Pennsylvania was under way. Teams of 10 hunters were competing to see which could shoot the largest number of points and poundage. The winning team would earn an all-expenses paid trip to the other community.
Statewide, papers reserved front-page space for news about Rockefeller’s upcoming visit. His trip was scheduled to start with a visit to Teamsters Hall in Manchester on Nov. 24 and a reception-dinner with reporters in Nashua. Then he and his wife, Margaretta “Happy” Rockefeller, planned to stop in Hollis, Derry, Conway, North Conway, Newport, Peterborough, Keene and Portsmouth. Rockefeller was known for his ability to connect with voters.
“In two visits to New Hampshire – once before he announced and once afterwards – Rockefeller has demonstrated a neat touch with folks on the street. For every voter who’ll stand still, he has a firm handclasp, a warm greeting, and a friendly parting wink,” the Associated Press wrote in advance of his visit.
“ ‘It’s wonderful to be here,’ Rockefeller will say. ‘Give me your vote in the primary, will you? I’d appreciate it.’ ”
Elsewhere, the Republican and Democratic state parties prepared for annual dinners. Tax rates were due to be set. Nashua was pushing for a new state liquor store, Concord was debating demolishing the fire-damaged Hotel Winsor and women from several towns were planning a protest at the State House over a Supreme Court ruling that limited prayer.
Across the country, attitudes about America’s standing were high. Gallup polling from the time shows that 82 percent thought American power in the world would increase, and 68 percent were satisfied with their income. Outside of the South, the president enjoyed approval ratings upwards of 60 percent in the month before his death. In March of that year, 74 percent of Americans thought he would be re-elected.
Amid these positive feelings, however, Kennedy’s call for civil rights legislation had caused his approval rating to slip, particularly in the South. In mid-1963, 52 percent of Americans said they felt racial tension was the country’s most important issue.
But the effects of that racial tension on Kennedy’s political future would never fully be known. And the plans that Concord residents made when they woke up on the morning of Nov. 22 would never come to fruition.
Instead, theirs would be days of disbelief – and newspaper headlines across the state and nation would be much darker than the ones they’d seen in the days before.
“President Dies by Killers’ Gun”
“NH Politicking Grinds to Halt; Rocky Trip Off”
“ALL WORLD MOURNS”
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kronayne.)