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The death of John F. Kennedy, 50 years later
President visited Platteville as senator, county as presidential candidate
JFK Boscobel
Two months after Kennedy began running, he made an appearance in Boscobel in March 25, 1960. Kennedy is pictured with Mel Olson, chairman of the Grant County Democratic Party. - photo by Photo courtesy John Olson

The Platteville Journal did not report in its Nov. 21, 1963 issue that President John F. Kennedy was touring Texas.

In that issue of The Journal was local news. The Grant County Board of Supervisors cut $14,146 from the county’s property tax levy. Platteville High School drama students earned an A grade at the Wisconsin State College and Institute of Technology, now known as UW–Platteville. Two men were hurt in separate crashes within four hours of each other at U.S. 151 and “the Platteville township road.”

The B&B Fur store opened on North Third Street just north of Main Street. An open house was scheduled at PHS that evening. The Platteville Orchestra scheduled a concert for Nov. 25. Barber Delbert Doyle, 53, died suddenly.

One day after The Journal reached subscribers, Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade was driving through downtown Dallas. Kennedy was shot at 12:29 p.m., and was pronounced dead at 1 p.m.

Kennedy had appeared in Grant County several times before the 1960 election. On Sept. 24, 1959, Kennedy visited the campus, speaking to a reported crowd of 675 in the WSCIT auditorium.

The UW–Platteville Archives has a copy of the first page of Kennedy’s speech:

It is a pleasure to be in Platteville. I wish, however, I could come to you with some assurance that the surrounding farms will not suffer this year as they have so many times in the past from depressed prices — that the hog prices will rise to a level that makes it possible for the farmer to keep pace with the increasing cost of living.

There is no better example of the lack of imagination and leadersip in Washington than the helpless attitude toward hog production. With prices at the $13 level and sinking toward the disastrous $10 level received by producers four years ago it is shocking to note the absence of positive action.

Contrast this with the attitude of the Democratic administration eight or nine years ago when a similar calamity approached. The Democratic Secretary of Agriculture quickly initiated a hot lunch purchase program. It both halted the slump in prices and helped improve the diets of many needy families.

This is the kind of leadership we need in Washington today.

The WSCIT Exponent Sept. 29, 1959 story on Kennedy’s speech was headlined “A Man in Earnest.”
The following Pioneer Yearbook had a photo of Kennedy with two members of the Young Democrats’ Club.

On Nov. 22, 1963, the news of Kennedy’s shooting and then death reached people through radio and TV, and then through word of mouth.

Jack O’Neill was working at WSWW radio in Platteville — “I was sports, news, sign-on — you name it.” WSWW received word through the Associated Press teletype, reported by AP photographer James Altgens, who witnessed the shooting:

DALLAS, Texas (AP) — President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed him. She cried: “Oh, no!” The motorcade sped on.

“I saw it come over the AP telegraph wire,” said O’Neill. He handed it to the on-air announcer to read.
WISC-TV (channel 3) in Madison was carrying its daily “Farm Hour” when CBS-TV’s Walter Cronkite reported Kennedy’s shooting around 12:40 p.m.

Those watching KWWL-TV (channel 7) in Waterloo watched NBC report the shooting at 12:45 p.m. NBC’s first report was read by announcer Don Pardo, later famous for being the announcer on the original “Jeopardy!” and “Saturday Night Live.”

“I stayed around for a while to see if anything else came over, and then I went home shortly after to watch TV to get coverage,” said O’Neill. “It was pretty astonishing. I couldn’t believe it.”

One of the events that was canceled that evening was a high school basketball game between Hollandale and Gratiot. The game was to be the first for Gratiot’s new head coach, Jerry Petitgoue.

The Journal reported Nov. 28, 1963:

Platteville reacted to the news last Friday noon of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination as the rest of the nation did — in stunned disbelief. As details of the fatal shooting came in, people slowly realized that it did happen — here in the United States in 1963!

WSCIT canceled weekend activities. The Jaycees entertainment show was canceled Friday night, though the Saturday performance went on.

All the Masses at St. Mary’s Catholic Church were said for Kennedy Sunday, with two requiem Masses held Monday morning. “Most protestant pastors prepared special sermons for Sunday services and offered prayers for the bereaved family,” The Journal reported.

On Monday, the day of Kennedy’s nationally broadcast funeral, businesses closed in the morning. Platteville schools, St. Mary’s School and UW–Platteville canceled classes Monday. A memorial service was held on the lawn of the Grant County Courthouse Monday at 2 p.m. as Kennedy was being buried in Arlington National Cemetery. American Legion and VFW members from throughout Grant County attended the ceremony, along with 150 members of the 32nd Division (now the Army National Guard 229th Engineering Company), some of whom acted as the firing squad for the ceremony.

The Nov. 26, 1963 WSCIT Exponent ran a story headlined “President’s Death Stuns Campus”:

The campus, as well as the rest of the country, was shocked, then deeply bereaved by the murder of President John F. Kennedy.

As the news of the assassination was broadcast over the public address system of the student center, the usual chatter and clinking of coffee cups became hushed. One student sat upright in his chair, his eyes staring straight ahead. He kept repeating over and over, “They shot Kennedy — he was OK — he was a good president …” All were stunned.

The Nov. 28, 1963 Journal reported about the Harry Brecker family, which had two connections to Kennedy. Harry Brecker spoke to then-Sen. Kennedy when he visited Platteville in 1959. A photo showed Kennedy and Brecker shaking hands. Before then, Brecker had met Kennedy’s father, Joseph.

Brecker’s wife, meanwhile, had met Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald two days after Kennedy’s assassination. She was in Dallas with a group that were guests of Chevrolet at Ruby’s nightclub, the Carousel, for a show introducing 1964 Chevrolets. The Breckers’ daughter, Susan, performed in the show, The Journal reported.

The Journal also ran an editorial headlined “He Gave His Life”:

Words … words … words …

Millions of them have been written and spoken the past few days following the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy last Friday noon.

The world’s greatest statesman — here and abroad — have eulogized the leader of not only the United States but of the entire free world. Eminent speakers and profound writers have admitted their inability to properly express their shock and sorrow, as well as their respect for the departed president.

What chance, then, have we to find adequate words? It was a dastardly deed — the shooting of a president of the United States. It is hard to believe that we live in a country in this day and age where such a thing could happen.

The shooting of the man who was charged with the assassination of the president adds disgrace to disgrace, and as this is written, considerable mystery to the debacle.

We ask over and over, “How could such a thing happen?”

John Kennedy was an energetic president. He dedicated his life to solving the country’s and the free world’s problems. He was sincere and vigorous in attacking those problems he believed should be resolved.

The conclusion of his inaugural address now stands out more than ever: He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

John Kennedy gave his life for his country.

One newspaper found itself in a touchy situation. Two weeks before Kennedy’s death, the Grant County Independent in Lancaster editorialized in favor of a potential 1964 opponent for Kennedy, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R–Arizona):

The people, the voters, must have a choice. We have now a president leading a government of expediency; a government of stop and start and stutter and retreat; a government of love everybody, don’t hurt anybody … let Big Brother watch out for you. A government that is desperately seeking to perpetuate itself by the means of the greatest give-away in the history of politics.

The irony was that the Independent was previously owned by Norman Clapp, who ran for Congress in 1960 and later headed the federal Rural Electrification Administration.

The week after the assassination, the Independent wrote:

We voted against him and would again, and he fought for the rights of all Americans to have that privilege. …

Terrible shock that this was to all of our citizens, it must be borne and must be overcome. A sad, sad lesson to all Americans from which we must learn and grow in order that such a thing can never happen again.

One week later, The Journal reported news of Grant County Undersheriff Roy Graney running for sheriff, a proposed recreation area on the Little Platte River at Fountain Bluff, and Platteville’s Elizabeth Rogers’ plans to tour England and Scotland in a band.

But the world The Journal had reported on had changed. The 1960s, the most turbulent decade in the U.S. since the Civil War, had begun.