November 18, 2013

A stunned state: ‘What are we going to do now?’

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

Most Mainers marked the death of President John F. Kennedy with solemn vigils in front of their television sets and at church services across the state.

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Copies of the Portland Press Herald from November 1963.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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When JFK was killed in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, it was 1:30 p.m. in Maine. The daily Portland Evening Express was well on its way to being printed. Staff members scrambled to get local reaction and to remake the front page as news services reported that the president had been shot and then that he was dead.

The Evening Express and the Portland Press Herald, which was published in the morning, recorded the comments of stunned and distraught citizens.

“What are we going to do now?” asked John DiBiase, a restaurant worker, in the Evening Express. “He was the greatest man I’ve ever known and anybody else has ever known. What are we going to do about this horrible thing?”

Two days after the assassination, Sunday sermons focused on grief, loss and the need to work against hatred.

“All of us have experienced the great and terrible sense of loss. All of us are participants in the deep feeling of national grief,” said the Rev. Richard Barnett in his sermon at State Street Congregational Church in Portland.

Later that Sunday, an ecumenical service was held at Portland City Hall, filling what is Merrill Auditorium today.

Most schools, businesses and government offices were closed on Monday for JFK’s funeral and burial. Many churches held local services and students of parochial schools attended Mass. On Tuesday, the Press Herald carried a fervent banner headline, “Martyred President Is Buried,” above photos of Kennedy’s casket and little John-John’s heartbreaking salute.

Gov. John Reed and Maine’s congressional delegation – Sen. Edmund Muskie, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, Rep. Clifford McIntire and Rep. Stanley Tupper – attended the services in Washington, D.C.

“We have lost a great leader, and I, a good friend,” Muskie told the Evening Express. “I’m sure (the president) would be the first to say that now is the time to pray for our country.”

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