Bill Tracy ’64 remembers where he was 50 years ago on November 22 when President John F. Kennedy was shot.
The English education major sat in a second floor classroom in Schroeder Hall on that fateful Friday afternoon, listening to a lecture when the calm of the classroom was shattered as a student ran through the halls shouting, “The president has been shot! The president has been shot!”
The Paul Revere-like announcement halted the lecture and prompted Tracy, his classmates, and the professor to turn on a classroom television. All stations were reporting on the shooting, though the footage was from moments before the tragedy.
“Everyone was fixed to the set,” Tracy said. “We knew that he had been shot, but we didn’t know that he had died.”
After class had been dismissed, Tracy crossed the Quad and headed to the Vidette office, where he had previously been editor, in hopes that there might be additional information. News had already spread to the other students, and the cool, gray, ugly weather seemed to reflect the mood that had swept over campus.
“It was sort of surreal,” Tracy said. “People were crying and totally in shock. You couldn’t imagine anything like this happening.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Upon learning that Kennedy had died, administrators and student leaders were quick to cancel all extracurricular activities scheduled that evening and over the next several days, including Monday classes.
An extra edition of the Vidette released on Sunday, November 24, announced a convocation the next day in Horton Field House to coincide with the national day of mourning declared by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Illinois State University President Robert Bone issued a statement in the paper calling the event “a tragic period in the life of our country.” Bone went on to encourage students and faculty to “be present at the formal events planned to pay tribute to a great American—John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”
Fifty years have passed since the tragedy, but it has not been forgotten at Illinois State. Memorabilia from Kennedy’s campaign, inauguration, and other artifacts are on display in Milner Library in commemoration of the historic event. But even more prominent is the clock on the side of Schroeder Hall, which was dedicated to Kennedy shortly after his assassination. After half a century the clock continues to tick and serves as a reminder of what few are ever likely to forget.
“It’s something you will never forget,” Tracy said. “Everyone says they remember exactly where they were during key points in our history, and this was one of those times.”
Were you on campus the day Kennedy was shot? Share your story in the comments section below.
Steven Barcus can be reached at srbarcu@IllinoisState.edu.