WESTCHESTER, COUNTY, N.Y. – Fifty years ago today, the world, and American history, was changed forever when President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while in a motorcade with his wife, Jacqueline, in Dallas.
Following the assassination – which the Warren Commission concluded was the act of former United States Marine Lee Harvey Oswald – Westchester County, and the rest of the country, plunged into a state of shock and sorrow as they mourned the country’s 35th president.
Cynthia Cooper, 82, a White Plains resident, said that she was a homemaker when the president was shot. She remembers being “glued to the television,” and the fear she felt when Oswald was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
“At first, we weren’t sure what was going on when the president died. Then this lunatic went and killed the killer. It just felt like the world was going crazy,” she said. “It was scary. If the president wasn’t safe, then who was?”
Rye Brook resident Dick Adolfson, now 80 years old, was working in an art department in Tuckahoe when the news broke over the radio. He said that employees were sent home early that day to mourn the president.
“We went around telling everybody," he said. "A lot of people couldn’t believe it. When I got home, we had to go to my niece’s birthday party. All the kids were crying. Greif struck everyone. From there on, we watched the television the entire weekend.”
Reverberations from the assassination were felt around the country. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, who now represents Cortlandt, Peekskill and Ossining, was a second-grade teacher in Albermarie County in Virginia when her principal let her know what had happened. She recalls not being sure how to handle the situation with her 35 students.
“We had no television, we couldn’t have heard it any other way," she said. "I didn’t know what to do, so we went outside and I let them play on the playground. I don’t think I said anything. I figured their parents could tell them.
"I really just didn’t know what to do or how to respond to it. I felt like I was really there. I was just glued to the television. I remember everything that happened to Lee Harvey Oswald. I don’t need to be reminded, it’s hard for me to be reminded.”
The Kennedy family has a history in Westchester County, having had a home in Bronxville that stood for more than 25 years on Pondfield Road. John F. Kennedy's brother, Teddy, would eventually marry village native Joan Bennett at the Siwanoy Country Club.
Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin reminisced about the heavy emotions that were felt during the tumultuous time. She said the harrowing event has left a firm imprint on her mind.
“I remember being in my little Catholic school when the principal came in crying to tell us the news,” she said. “We all walked to the adjourning church to pray. I still remember it as if it were yesterday.”
Marilynn Hill, a historian and co-author of “Around Bronxville,” has done extensive research into the life of the Kennedys, specifically during their time in Westchester. She was a graduate student in Norway, and struggled to hear news from the states following the assassination.
“It was the most frustrating thing. I stayed up all night listening to the BBC, because this was the one time you wanted to hear the news in your own language,” she said. “There was a lot of speculation and it was quite frustrating to hear what was going on. They didn’t know the constitution, and the question was whether Robert Kennedy would be taking over his presidency.”
Lifelong Westchester County resident Peter Brancucci met Kennedy through his brother, who was a Harvard student at the same time as the future president. He heard the news of the assassination while having a cup of coffee at home in Yonkers with his three sons.
“He was very charming, very intelligent. When he walked into a room, everybody looked at Jack,” he said. “It was a shock.”
Where were you when JFK was assassinated? Share your memories and recollections of the seminal event in our comments section.
Sam Barron and Casey Donahue contributed to this report.