John F. Kennedy was shot at 2 p.m. on a Friday. The Village Voice came out on a Thursday in those days, which meant the staff had close to a week to gather their thoughts about the assassination of the president, and the subsequent assassination of his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
A struggle to make sense of the events — and life at all, in their wake — is still palpable in the musty pages. “Nothing I can say about these events will be any less banal or more profound than what has been said,” Mary Perot Nichols wrote. “Yet other events that I write about seem suddenly trivial. What of it if Robert Moses’ World’s Fair is milking the public of millions that could be spent on other things! What of it if rats bite people in the tenements in the West Village!”
Fitted into narrow corridors between a melancholic Miss Lonelyhearts column and an item asking, “Was Oswald in the Village?” are small remembrances (Monday, 11.15: The day of the funeral has an appropriately bleak and wintry cast to it, p. 5), and sweeping declarations (The absurdity of our lives has been exposed, p. 1), and talk of conspiracy (The “Manchurian Candidate” plot (a Communist-hypnotized assassin) and the Reichstag fire (set by Hitler to gain absolute power) are frequently mentioned, p. 4).
Suzanne Kiplinger recounted the day itself:
Early that afternoon I had been in a room 20 stories up in a mid-Manhattan building, when the man to whom I was talking was interrupted by a telephone call which told him of the shooting but not the death. He rushed to get a small transistor radio, which he put between us. We listened, tears standing in our eyes. Nothing was definite, and neither of us felt like continuing our discussion. I took the elevator down the 20 floors to the street; realizing I was around the corner from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I went there to see if an announcement had been made. I entered at one of the side doors near the high altar. Already people were beginning to come; the nave at the Fifth Avenue entrance was crowded.
Four priests in black cassocks were kneeling at the altar, one of them announcing over the public address system that the condition of both the President and the Governor was serious, and asking for prayers. Then all four of them filed out of the room at the rear left of the altar. In the short interval that followed, many more people came hurrying in, women not even waiting to find a covering for their heads, only crossing themselves, and kneeling to wait. In a very few minutes the four priests appeared in the doorway of the room, conferred, and walked back in. All four knelt again, facing the altar. They glanced briefly at each other, then faced the crucifix as the eldest picked up a microphone. There was a clicking and bumping on the loudspeakers as he lifted it to his mouth. “We have just received word,” he said in firm tones, “that the President has died.”
Read the Voice‘s coverage of JFK’s assassination.