Tears and Quiet Greet News of JFK Slaying in State Capitol

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013 - 11:54 am

Originally published in The Bee on Nov. 22, 1963

A strange, uncomfortable kind of quiet settled over California’s Capitol today when news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination arrived.

People walked swiftly but silently down corridors, passing on the news or trying to pick up some.

The telephones immediately were jammed.

Meetings quickly and quietly were recessed and wherever radios could be found crowds gathered.

Faces took on a sad, sober and almost sick look.

Many of President Kennedy’s friends work in the Capitol.

The first news of the shooting was rushed to Governor Edmund G. Brown by Jack Burby, the governor’s press secretary, who ripped the bulletin from the teletype news machine in his office.

“Just tell them I’m praying.”

This was the governor’s only statement when Burby told him that reporters were asking for his comment.

The governor remained in his office alone listening to radio newscasts. Burby said he was attempting to hold back tears.

Brown came out briefly and joined members of his staff in watching the wire service teletype machines.

“Oh, my God!” exclaimed Brown when a report quoting a secret service man as saying Kennedy was dead.

He returned to his office and all appointments were delayed.

Most of the first questions in the Capitol corridors were of utter disbelief.

“The president’s shot! The president’s shot!” were the whispers which went rapidly through state government.

“No, it can’t be,” were the first reactions.

As people waited for word of whether he lived or died, they now and then expressed a viewpoint.

Will Find Him

"They'll find who did it," said an elevator operator, a Negro. "And when they do it'll be that they're from that deep south!"

"How can anybody hate that much?" asked another bewildered bystander.

Secretary of State Frank M. Jordan, the only Republican in state constitutional office, said the episode is an evidence of the extent of hate on the part of some people.

"It is a silent thing," Jordan declared, "and you really don't know it's there until something like this happens."

Actors Crowd

Actors at work in the assembly chambers on a television show [Slattery's People] crowded into the Associated Press offices across the corridor.

Groups gathered around teletype machines as actor Richard Crenna, the show's star, read the bulletins in a quiet voice.

"This doesn't seem real," he said to his costar James Whitmore. "I can't shake the feeling somebody should shout 'Cut.'"

A girl distributing press releases to Capitol news bureaus walked from room to room with tears streaming down her face.

Private Grief

It was not until the positive news of his death that the tears appeared.

Then the clusters which had gathered around the radios and the teletype machines slowly walked away to attend to their private grief in their own ways.

Many people flocked to the governor's office on the first floor of the east wing of the Capitol, seemingly wanting to do something but not knowing what.

Only staff members were allowed entrance to the inside offices.

The Flags at the Capitol and all public buildings were lowered to half staff within moments after the news of the president's passing

The comments from passersby became more bitter.

"They should have kept him out of Texas!"

Very Similar

The reaction in the Capitol was very similar to the news of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in 1945.

At that time the state legislature was in session and immediately adjourned.

Women cried and men wept, then as now.

Anderson Comments

Lieutenant Governor Glenn M. Anderson described the assassination of President John F. Kennedy today as “the greatest tragedy of our lifetime.

“It is a deep personal shock to me. His death stuns not only our own country but also the entire world as well.”

Read more articles by The Bee’s Capitol Staff

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