I worked for IBM as a systems engineer in downtown Chicago at 80 East Lake Street in 1963. The IBM Data and Education Center occupied the three floors above an upscale Zenith TV showroom. The showroom windows along Lake Street and Michigan Avenue had dozens of TV models playing. Zenith even had speakers set up so passersby could stop, watch and hear what was on the TV’s all day and as long as TV stations in those days were broadcasting.
On November 22, 1963, around lunch time, I tried to call home from the office to see how wife and first-born, one year-old son David were doing. I got a message that all the lines were busy, so I decided to go get a sandwich and try calling later.
When I got downstairs all the traffic was stopped on Lake Street and people were standing 10-12 deep on the sidewalk watching the Zenith TV’s in the windows. I came out the door and turned just in time to see and hear Walter Cronkite, the best news anchors ever, announce that he had just learned that President Kennedy had died from the gunshot wounds he suffered in Dallas earlier that day. I hadn’t known the President had been shot. The news hit me and all the people watching the TV’s like a punch in the gut.
In a strange twist of fate, a few days later I learned that Lee Harvey Oswald had purchased the rifle he used to assassinate President Kennedy by mail order from Klein’s Sporting Goods, which was located across Lake Street from where I worked and the TV’s that informed me about the assassination. Several of my IBM pals and I had been in that store many times, including once when Gary Player, a famous pro golfer from South Africa, was demonstrating new golf equipment.
As I think about where I was and what I was doing when President Kennedy informed the nation of the Cuban missile blockade, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, when President Nixon resigned, when the Challenger spacecraft exploded on takeoff, when the Berlin Wall came down, when those airliners flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania, and when all the other historical events I’ve been privileged to experience took place, it never fails to surprise me that I still think the Kennedy assassination affected me the most.
Perhaps because I was still a young man when Kennedy was assassinated, he remains magical, even mythical to me. He inspired a generation with his words, his wit, his style and his grace. And I still believe the style and grace of our great country was set back years on that terrible sunny Dallas day in November of 1963.