10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments

Larry Holzwarth - April 20, 2018

For Americans who grew up reading them, the demise of newspapers is saddening. They were once the primary source of news, with some newspapers printing several editions daily. Major cities had competing morning and evening newspapers, delivered to homes and newsstands still smelling of news ink. They were the source of national news, local news, entertainment, and opinion. Some were nationally known, others were local institutions. Before television 24 hours a day they were eagerly awaited for sports scores, their coverage of national events, and their reporting on the activities of national figures.

The United States learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor by radio, and eagerly awaited the Monday morning newspapers to find the details. When American troops went overseas news correspondents went with them, all of them trained in writing for newspapers. It was from their work, despite censorship, that Americans learned of the conditions encountered by the troops. Today, in most cities, newspapers are all but gone, replaced by television and social media. The days of detailed stories appearing under bold headlines which all but thundered from the page are gone, replaced by shouting talking heads who want to be as much of the story as what they are reporting.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Despite most of Hawaii being aware of the Japanese raid, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin announced the attack in huge type. Library of Congress

Here are ten storied headlines from newspapers in history.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
East Coast papers had already reported the Titanic as sunk when The World ran this front page story. Library of Congress

TITANIC SINKING; NO LIVES LOST

The Vancouver Daily World, known simply as the World, as it published under that banner, was founded in 1888 by John McLagan, who served as its editor and publisher. It was a popular newspaper in Washington and Oregon, as well as British Columbia. A former contributor to the Toronto Globe, and a writer of fiction and plays, McLagan built the World into a major voice in Western Canada and the northwestern United States by the end of the century, though illness confined him to his bed by 1900, from whence he continued to edit each edition. When he died in 1901 control of the paper passed to his wife, and it continued to do well financially.

In 1905 the paper was taken over by a group led by Louis Denison Taylor, who preferred to be addressed as L.D. and cherished political ambitions. In 1910 he was elected mayor of Vancouver and his newspaper was threatening the Vancouver Daily Province in circulation figures. Construction was underway for the World Tower (today the Sun Tower) which when completed in 1912 was the tallest building in the British Empire. Taylor was elected Mayor of Vancouver in 1910, the first of eleven one-year terms he would serve, though not consecutively, supported politically by the views expressed in the World.

When the Royal Mail Steamer (RMS) Titanic struck an iceberg shortly before midnight (ship’s time) on the night of April 14, 1912, the evaluation of the damage by the ship’s carpenter quickly revealed the inevitability of the ship sinking. An evacuation of the passengers via lifeboats was immediately ordered by Captain Smith, but the operation was poorly managed. Many boats were lowered over the side less than half full. The evacuation plan was intended to use the ship’s boats to carry passengers to vessels standing by for the purpose, but the only vessel in sight, SS Californian did not close with Titanic, having been ordered by its Captain to remain stopped for the night.

When RMS Carpathia arrived at the scene after daylight it took aboard 705 survivors. Californian belatedly realized the extent of the disaster when it turned its radio on after sunrise, and joined in the search for survivors, as did other vessels. Carpathia radioed its owners that it had survivors aboard. This signal was interpreted by some to mean that all of Titanic’s passengers and crew had been brought aboard the other ships, in accordance with rescue plans. The World was not the only newspaper to report the rescue, but it displayed the news more prominently, even as the New York Times and other papers were reporting the true extent of the disaster.

Nor was the headline in the World the only error concerning the disaster to appear on its front page. A subhead in the article describing the sinking announced that Titanic was on its way to Halifax under tow. The following day the World’s front page described the enormity of the tragedy, but a retraction or explanation of its original reporting of the event was never offered. The World continued to publish for another dozen years following the Titanic tragedy, but financial problems encountered by its owner led to similar problems suffered by the newspaper and in 1924 to was sold to the Vancouver Sun.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
The San Antonio Express headline foretold later events on Wake Island, the Philippines, and throughout the Pacific Theater. Library of Congress

JAPS BUTCHER AMERICANS

It was thus that the San Antonio Express, then a Hearst Newspaper, announced the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in its Monday, December 8, 1941 Final Edition. Whether any editor would allow such a headline in a daily newspaper today is highly doubtful, given its racial tone and its shock value, but it accurately describes the general feeling of the American public, who later that same day would hear the American President ask Congress for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. The Congress voted to declare war with only one vote in the House dissenting. The Senate vote was unanimous.

The American anti-Japanese feeling did not peak after Pearl Harbor. It grew steadily throughout the war. Later that same week, as the Japanese onslaught targeted Wake Island in the Pacific, numerous newspapers and radio outlets reported that in reply to a query whether the defenders on Wake Island needed anything, Naval Aviator Commander Winfield Cunningham replied, “Send us more Japs.” Cunningham in fact sent a lengthy dispatch of what was desperately needed on the embattled island, but the message, created by the Navy as propaganda, was a morale booster for the American people.

The earliest days of the Pacific War saw defeat after defeat. As American newspapers presented the increasingly bad news from the Pacific, which was censored, what were in fact significant military losses were covered as heroic resistance. The troops fighting in the Philippines were heroic from the beginning of the campaign until the end, but mistakes of leadership led to the crushing loss of the islands, from the destruction of the air forces on the first day of the campaign to the surrender. Rather than reveal the errors of judgment by American commanders, news reports concentrated on Japanese treachery and butchery, both of which were real.

The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported the attack on Pearl Harbor with the headline; WAR! OAHU BOMBED BY JAPANESE PLANES, perhaps as a nod to the large Japanese population on the island, and the number of Japanese workers on its own staff. 1500 DEAD IN HAWAII CONGRESS VOTES WAR was the headline in the New York World Telegram, which in its text also referred to the enemy as the Japanese. The Baltimore News Post preferred the pejorative “Japs” in its headline covering the attack. The Milwaukee Sentinel announced the attack in the Philippines as being conducted by “Nips” in its headline. The San Francisco Examiner’s huge headline simply read U.S.-JAP WAR.

Throughout the Second World War many newspapers referred to the Japanese enemy as Japs, and advertising and propaganda messages made the practice common as the war dragged on. Young men of 16 years of age in December 1941 were entering the service by December 1943 (some earlier) and entered the war in the Pacific fortified by the anti-Japanese feeling which the enemy brought upon themselves by the nature of their assault, reinforced by the negative references to them in the American press. The San Antonio Express headline, while not perhaps what is now considered politically correct, was nonetheless accurate.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Rudolph Valentino’s first funeral in New York led to rioting and suicides among distraught fans. Wikimedia

VALENTINO DEAD

At least two extra editions of the Los Angeles Record carried the above headline following the death of silent film star Rudolph Valentino at New York’s Polyclinic Hospital. Valentino had been hospitalized since collapsing in the Hotel Ambassador, but the official announcements of his condition were that he would recover fully from the perforated ulcers which had stricken him. The last reports given to the media were that he was recovering on August 18, and unless there were negative developments, the press were informed there would be no further announcements. On August 23 Valentino died. The reports of his death led to mass hysteria in New York and across the nation.

The funeral home in New York which handled his service was surrounded by bereft fans, who smashed windows in an attempt to jump the long lines of those wishing to pay their respects. As Valentino was laid out in the Campbell Funeral Home a riot erupted on the street outside, over 100 New York City Policemen were dispatched to control the crowd, composed mainly of hysterical women (The Campbell Funeral Home has long experience in handling celebrity funerals, over the years they conducted the services for Fatty Arbuckle, Greta Garbo, Bat Masterson, Walter Cronkite, Nikola Tesla, Ayn Rand, and Heath Ledger, to name just a very few).

After a funeral Mass in New York, Valentino’s remains traveled to Los Angeles for a second funeral Mass and interment. The second Mass was by invitation only, but not without drama dutifully reported in the press. Valentino’s friend and possibly lover, Pola Negri, collapsed in hysterics at the Mass. There were reports of suicides following Valentino’s death, with at least two women attempting suicide in front of the hospital as his body was being removed in New York, and others reported as the casket was carried to its place of interment in Los Angeles. The reports of the number of suicides around the country were exaggerated, but some did take place.

Valentino was interred in a crypt which a friend had purchased for the eventual use of her husband, before she divorced him. Although the arrangement was supposed to be temporary, the late actor’s estate was complicated by debt, leading to the re-release of some of his films to raise money. When his friend died before the estate was settled she was interred in the crypt next to his, which she had purchased at the same time as the one occupied by the actor. They remain there to this day, in the Hollywood Forever cemetery.

In life, Valentino was never as popular with men – who largely considered him effeminate – as he was with women. Men preferred his rival Douglas Fairbanks as a symbol of masculinity. According to interviews conducted during the height of his fame women considered Valentino to be “triumphantly seductive.” H.L. Mencken called Valentino “catnip to women.” Since his death, there have been attempts to label the actor as gay, but no substantive evidence has been produced that establishes the twice married star of the silent film era as being anything but heterosexual.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
The entry of German troops into Paris in 1940 signaled increased isolationism in the United States and the formation of the America First Committee. German Federal Archives

PARIS FALLS!

Subtitled ‘France Doomed, Britain Next’ the Chicago Daily News report of the fall of the French capital after a short campaign, which included the ignominious defeat of the British Expeditionary Force, was an alarm bell for both sides of the American divide. America’s President began attempting to find ways to aid the embattled British, who with France out of the war were left to face the Nazi onslaught alone. A large America First movement, led by many Republican politicians and celebrities like Charles Lindbergh, stood in opposition.

The American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Joseph P. Kennedy, was convinced that Britain could not defend itself against the Nazis and that in any event America should not help defend the British Empire. In 1937 Charles Lindbergh was invited to visit Germany and was allowed to inspect installations and aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Although some apologists for Lindbergh claim that he accepted the invitation in order to obtain information for the US Army Air Corps there is little evidence he did so, and in numerous speeches he condemned any support of the British or of European Jews.

Lindbergh exhorted his audiences to consider the ownership of newspapers and radio stations that condemned Nazi antisemitism, implying that they were motivated by Zionism. As the United States was gradually drawn closer to war Lindbergh’s rhetoric increased, but his audiences decreased as activities such as Lend-Lease gained popularity because of the increase in American employment. Lindbergh was one of the primary spokespersons for the America First Committee, which formed in September 1940. He was joined by Lillian Gish, Senator Burton Wheeler, and Robert McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune.

The America First committee was supported by a young John F. Kennedy, whose book, Why England Slept, achieved some success in the United States and the United Kingdom in 1940, and by another future American President, Gerald R. Ford. Both young men later served in the US Navy during World War II. When Lindbergh, in a speech in Des Moines, claimed that the America First committee had identified the sources trying to get America into the war as agents of Britain, FDR and his administration, and American Jewish organizations, Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the group waned.

Even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor a large number of Americans opposed going to war in Europe, and during his declaration of war message of December 8, 1941, Roosevelt did not mention Germany, despite American destroyers and German U-boats having been in open combat for months preceding Pearl Harbor. Hitler made things considerably easier for the American President by choosing to declare war on the United States on December 11, and America and its allies quickly adopted a Germany first strategy for prosecuting the war. That same day, December 11, 1941, the America First Committee voted to dissolve.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Soldiers there to prevent looting were photographed looting shoes as the city continued to burn. National Archives

3000 DEAD; $300,000,000 LOST SAN FRANCISCO IS OBLITERATED

The Cincinnati Post used the above headline to announce the destruction of the City of San Francisco in its night edition of Thursday, April 19, 1906. The destruction, unfortunately, had only begun. The earthquake began just after 5 AM on April 18, and was strong enough to be felt in Los Angeles, almost 400 miles to the south. Heavy shaking lasted for almost a full minute, with several violent sudden shocks adding to the tremors. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami which was recorded at the Presidio, but it did little damage because much of what it could have destroyed was already destroyed.

Even as the Cincinnati Post was reporting the damage from the earthquake, San Francisco was exploding, literally, in fires caused mostly by ruptured gas mains, and ruptured water mains prevented the fire department from fighting them. Firemen attempted to use explosives, chiefly dynamite, to create firebreaks by blowing up the remnants of damaged buildings. Their inexperience and lack of proper leadership led to the explosives starting additional fires. The fires created a windstorm as they sucked oxygen from the air, allowing them to leap firebreaks successfully established.

Other fires were started deliberately, as acts of arson committed by property owners who were insured against fire, but not against earthquake damage. Home and business property owners with damaged buildings sought to redress this problem by destroying earthquake damaged properties and the evidence of such, with the knowledge that the fire department could do little to put out the flames. The fire department was without leadership, its chief had been badly hurt in the initial earthquake and later died. Police were too busy trying to assist people trapped in rubble to deal with the arsonists.

Army troops were quickly ordered into the city to assist with security and with rescue efforts. On April 18 the Mayor of San Francisco authorized the Army and the city police and auxiliaries to shoot looters on sight. This was complicated by the fact that many of the troops had been reported as looting themselves, and raised the ominous specter of gun battles between regular Army troops, National Guard troops, and police officers. Despite the reports of looting, primary responsibility for feeding and sheltering the homeless fell to the Army until relieved by the Red Cross many days after the event.

Rebuilding the shattered city was never questioned, planning steps were underway as the city still burned. Actual damages were over $400,000,000 in 1906 dollars, the Post’s headline being somewhat optimistic, but it didn’t anticipate much of the fire damage. More than 20 insurance companies went bankrupt over claims, though most claims were honored, even for those which were the result of arson. Part of this was a result of pressure from political entities and banks eager to encourage reinvestment in the city and speed rebuilding. By 1915 the city had recovered sufficiently to host the Panama – Pacific International Exposition.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Though not the worst airship disaster in history, the Hindenburg fire was the most visible. US Navy

HINDENBURG TOLL IS SET AT 35

The Asbury Park Evening Press led its final edition for Friday, May 7, with a headline confirming the death toll from the preceding evening’s disastrous crash of the German Airship Hindenburg. The crash had occurred at the US Navy’s airship facility, Naval Station Lakehurst, only about 25 miles from the newspaper’s offices, and its reporters had witnessed the fire which destroyed the airship in less than a minute. Its cause was the subject of speculation in its day, and remains the subject of speculation today, but one thing known for sure is that the fire was fueled by the hydrogen used in the Hindenburg’s lifting bags.

Helium was a safer alternative to hydrogen in Airships and the United States had at the time a virtual monopoly on helium. However, despite German pleas to allow them to purchase helium for use in its commercial airships, the United States was prevented by law from selling the gas to Germany. The Helium Gas Control Act of 1927 banned sale of the gas for export. Helium was difficult to produce and expensive to procure and since it was the preferred gas for use in US Navy airships, the United States had little strategic interest in providing the gas to the Germans.

The Hindenburg is often believed to have crashed on its first voyage to America, which is incorrect. The airship operated successfully, and profitably, for 14 months prior to the disaster. The ship’s sister in operation, but not in design, the Graf Zeppelin, had successfully circumnavigated the globe. Both airships were noted for the luxurious accommodations for their passengers, the sumptuousness of their cuisine, and the efficiency of the German staff. They competed with the transatlantic liners of day, such as Queen Mary, France’s Normandie, and Germany’s own Bremen, offering an advantage of speed.

Hindenburg’s crash was filmed and broadcast live on radio as it occurred, two eventualities which make it the most famous airship crash, given the spectacular ball of flame which it produced. It was neither the first nor the worst airship crash in terms of casualties. The US Navy lost its airship R38 in 1921, when 44 were killed. Fifty were killed in the explosion of France’s Dixmude in 1923, and the loss of the US Navy airship USS Akron in 1933 resulted in 73 deaths. Hindenburg’s accident, in which 35 died and 62 survived, was permanently scored into the minds of all who saw the film, and it spelled the end of airship travel.

But maybe not the end, maybe just a lengthy coma. In 2017 more than a dozen airships were in operation and several companies offered tourist flights in Europe and North America. In this they are following the example of the Hindenburg, which in 1936 took wealthy tourists, including Pan American World Airways President Juan Trippe, on a tourist flight from Lakehurst to Boston and back, a trip intended to stimulate investment in the company. Airships may well again become a factor in commercial aviation, not for their speed, but for their novelty and luxury.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Taken during a press conference from the President’s private railcar, this photo shows Truman’s exuberance at proving the Chicago Daily Tribune wrong. National Archives

DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN

The Chicago Tribune’s famous headline erroneously trumpeting Republican Thomas E. Dewey’s electoral victory over incumbent Harry S. Truman is one of the most well-known newspaper errors in all American history. There is a little more to the story than it being a simple premature error in judgment on the part of the Tribune’s editors. Nor was the Tribune the only newspaper to publish that morning reporting a Dewey victory, the New York based Journal of Commerce, a biweekly publication, led its November 3 edition with an article listing what to expect from Dewey’s incoming administration.

The Chicago Tribune – then known as the Chicago Daily Tribune – was a long-time Republican leaning publication which had excoriated Truman’s predecessor FDR in its opinion pages and had once referred to Truman as a nincompoop in print. During the campaign leading up to the election the Tribune roundly slammed the three plus years of the Truman presidency and endorsed Dewey and Republican candidates at all levels. Throughout the campaign the Tribune published articles which misrepresented the size of the crowds attending Truman rallies across the nation.

The Tribune’s publisher, Robert R. McCormick, was an isolationist and a leading financial supporter of the America First movement prior to World War II. Following the war McCormick was distrustful of Truman’s support for the Marshall Plan and the president’s own Truman Doctrine for the containment of communism. The White House correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, hardly a liberal publication, referred to the coverage of the campaign by the Tribune as “snide journalism.” Truman complained of the unfair and inaccurate coverage by the Tribune, but his complaints only led McCormick to redouble his efforts.

A year before Election Day, a strike hit the Tribune in the press room, and the manner in which the newspaper went to press changed. Rather than have type set for linotype machines, articles were photographed and then etched onto printing plates. It took longer to etch the plates than set type and the printing deadlines were moved up, meaning articles for the day’s print run needed to be completed earlier in the day preceding the first morning edition. When early returns indicated that Dewey had a significant lead in major cities, and the Tribune’s own analyst anticipated a Republican victory, the Tribune ran with the story.

Later editions the following day carried the correct story, Truman had pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in American electoral history. It was Truman who made the incorrect headline famous, holding the front page for all to see from the back of his private train car and grinning with what was no doubt a sense of vindication. The thrill of vengeance against the newspaper which had tormented him for so long can be seen in his grin. The Tribune never did become an ally of the President and continued to torment him in its pages throughout his second term in office.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
Although the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced they were on the moon, they were in fact in this building in downtown Pittsburgh. Wikimedia

WE’RE ON THE MOON

So announced the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, July 21, 1969, although the newspaper was in fact still in its offices in the Post-Gazette building in downtown Pittsburgh. The “we” either referred to the United States or possibly the human race as the front page story ran down the events of the preceding day, which most of the world watched live on television as they transpired. Those events were the culmination of the nation’s efforts to rise to a challenge made by President Kennedy, that of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth by the end of the decade.

When Kennedy issued his challenge, only one American had flown in space, and that was for a short suborbital flight of just fifteen minutes duration. The Russians had already successfully orbited the earth and appeared to be ahead of the United States in nearly every area of manned spaceflight. A new term entered the American lexicon – the space race. American engineering and scientific leaders were heavily recruited to join the American space program, either through working directly for NASA or for its many contractors and subcontractors. As the sixties went on, American successes mounted and the goal looked to be achievable.

During John Glenn’s first American orbital flight in early 1962 he consumed a commercially available but poorly selling drink from General Foods called Tang. Its link to the space program vaulted it into a leading seller, especially popular with children. Late in the decade Pillsbury developed a commercial product it called Space Food Sticks, a snack food marketed to children based on some of the foods developed for the space program. The space program drove the development of the toy market, television programs, comic books, and motion pictures.

In January 1967, a fire during training for the first Apollo mission, which was the program destined to carry Americans to the moon, killed three astronauts, and the space program was roiled by the deaths of their own and the investigations that followed. A revamped program and redesigned space capsule were introduced when the astronauts began flying again the following year. In December 1968 the Apollo capsule orbited the moon. A dramatic broadcast by the astronauts that Christmas Eve showed the Earth from the perspective of lunar orbit as the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis.

When the Apollo 11 mission placed astronauts on the moon and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their footprints on its surface in July 1969 it initiated a burst of national pride. Subsequent moon flights failed to generate the fevered interest in the space program which had existed in the mid-1960s. Only the Apollo 13 near disaster received much airplay. The space program has never achieved the popularity and interest it captured in the 1960s, despite its enormous contributions to science, medicine, and our understanding of the universe.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
The reward offered by the New York Journal was never paid. The amount is prominently displayed multiple times on the front page. Library of Congress

DESTRUCTION OF THE WAR SHIP MAINE WAS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY

The New York Journal reported the sinking of the USS Maine in February 1898, claiming that US Naval officers believed the sinking to be the result of a mine, and that it was clearly caused by enemy action. Maine was stationary in Havana harbor at the time of the sinking, lying at anchor, which would all but rule out a mine as the cause of its destruction. But an accidental sinking would not lead to war and New York Journal publisher William Randolph Hearst wanted a war against Spain. The sinking of the American armored cruiser was the best chance he would get and he made the most of it.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wanted war too, an opportunity for him to demonstrate the power of his new and modern fleet against the Spanish in both Cuba and the Philippines. Roosevelt fed the Hearst chain with information regarding the Spanish in Cuba and with the internal discussions in the Navy over the Maine loss. According to the Hearst newspapers the Navy was unanimous in agreement that the Maine had been sunk due to enemy activity. In fact the Navy was investigating the possibility of internal explosions of magazines and coal bunkers.

Under pressure from above the official Navy Board of Inquiry found that Maine was destroyed by the detonation of her forward magazines, probably caused by a mine. The shrill voice of the New York Journal convicted Spain in print long before the Navy finding was released and by April Hearst had his war. The United States Navy destroyed the Spanish squadrons in the Caribbean and Manila Bay and when the war ended the United States had acquired the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and held temporary control of the island of Cuba. The United States also annexed Hawaii to provide a Naval coaling station to support the Pacific fleet.

The New York Journal spurred its reporting of the Maine affair and other Spanish “atrocities” leading up to the Spanish American war in several ways. It offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the identification of those responsible for the loss of the ship. It called the ship America’s newest and best, in fact Maine and ships of its design were obsolete at the time they were launched, thanks to British naval innovations. The Journal, and other newspapers which practiced what became known as yellow journalism, devoted a great deal of space to publish rumors and outright falsifications to incite anger against Spain and patriotic fervor.

Whether there would have been a war with Spain over Cuba and the Philippines had it not been for the practice of yellow journalism is questionable. Numerous politicians were looking to expand American influence and territory beyond the North American continent. A Pacific empire and trade with Asia beckoned. The Spanish American War was sold to the American people as a war to free the Cubans and Filipinos from Spanish oppression. It led to a protracted war between American troops and Filipinos who didn’t much care for American control of their islands either. The reporting of that war in the yellow journals was every bit as lurid as that which led up to the Spanish American War, except by then it was the Filipinos committing the atrocities.

10 Archival Newspaper Headlines that Transport You Back to Major Historical Moments
JFK and Jackie arriving at Dallas’ Love Field on November 22, 1963. Pleased by the large crowd, the President interrupted his schedule to shake the hands of many there. National Archives

KENNEDY DEAD!

The final edition of the Newark Star-Ledger for Saturday, November 23, 1963 used its largest typeface to announce what the entire world already knew, that President John F. Kennedy had been killed and Lyndon Johnson sworn in as President of the United States. The same headline was repeated by newspapers around the country. By the time the Ledger-Star went to press the late President’s body had been returned to Washington, disembarked at Andrews Air Force Base accompanied by his blood-spattered widow, an event shown on live television. Indeed for all of that Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, television showed little else but the events surrounding the assassination of the President.

Despite the intense media crush which surrounded the events of the Kennedy assassination, facts emerged slowly, and rumors of others being involved besides the suspect in custody, Lee Harvey Oswald, abounded. When Oswald was shot and silenced the rumors intensified. On the same Saturday that the Newark Star-Ledger announced the President’s death, Dan Rather, then a CBS correspondent in Dallas, reported the existence of the Zapruder film, and having seen it, its content including the violent motion of the Presidents head backwards when impacted by one of the shots.

Eyewitness interviews revealed reports of shots coming from multiple directions, but no other suspects were announced and by Saturday the Dallas Police were announcing their certainty that Oswald was the sole assassin. There was at the time no federal statute making it a crime to assassinate the President, the murder was a local case, the jurisdiction in which it would be tried was Dallas. Eventually two men would be tried in connection with the Kennedy assassination, Jack Ruby, convicted for murdering Oswald, and Clayton Shaw, acquitted in New Orleans of conspiracy. For over five decades the assassination has been tried in the court of public opinion, and the jury has yet to reach a verdict.

One week following the assassination, in response to the rumors and conflicting statements of so many, Lyndon Johnson established the Warren Commission to answer all the questions regarding Kennedy’s murder. Its 888 page report released in September 1964 has been analyzed and dissected by conspiracy theorists, Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968, the Rockefeller Commission in 1975, and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in 1978-79. The result of the HSCA was that Oswald fired the fatal shot, but that another gunmen fired at the President from behind a picket fence, and missed. Eyewitnesses at the scene in 1963 had informed Dallas Police, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents of a gunshot from the picket fence, but their reports were dismissed.

Since the assassination, the murder and President Kennedy himself have become divisive subjects among Americans. Many dismiss JFK as nothing more than a womanizer, his presidency as inconsequential, his political skills simply being his father’s money. Others cite his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis as evidence of his presidential skills and abilities. Some believe Oswald acted alone, others think the President was killed by conspirators. Fiction, innuendo, prejudice, and time have obscured the facts of Kennedy’s life as well as his death. None of that was known when the Newark Star-Ledger went to press that Saturday in November, unable to do anything but express its shock that Kennedy was dead.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Vancouver Daily World” entry, City of Vancouver Archives, online

“Did the Titanic Sink Because of an Optical Illusion?”, by Tim Maltin, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2012

“Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific 1941-1942”, by Ian W. Toll, 2012

“Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino”, by Emily Leider, 2003

“America First: The Battle against Intervention 1940-1941”, by Wayne S. Cole, 1953

“The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire”, by Eric Niderost, American History Magazine, April 2006

“The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters”, by John Toland, 1972

“Dewey Defeats Truman”, by Tim Jones, The Chicago Tribune, online

“Gemini: Stepping Stone to the Moon”, by Sarah Loff, NASA, online

“How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed”, by Adm. Hyman T. Rickover USN (ret), 1976

“Decade of Disillusionment: The Kennedy-Johnson Years”, by Jim F. Heath, 1976

Advertisement