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Four Days in November: The Original Coverage of the John F. Kennedy Assassination

Four Days in November: The Original Coverage of the John F. Kennedy Assassination

by The Staff of The New York Times, Robert B. Semple (Editor), Tom Wicker (Introduction), The Staff of the New York Times

The assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas forty years ago remains, and will always remain, indelible in the minds of those old enough to recall it. The youngest elected leader in American history, a charming man leading what seemed a charmed life, by general consensus a president whose administration, having survived its early crises, was now at last hitting


The assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas forty years ago remains, and will always remain, indelible in the minds of those old enough to recall it. The youngest elected leader in American history, a charming man leading what seemed a charmed life, by general consensus a president whose administration, having survived its early crises, was now at last hitting its stride, was shot and killed by a sniper firing a mail-order rifle from the southeast corner of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. So great was the shock that time seemed to freeze in the squinting glare of late-November sun. For four days in November 1963, the business of the nation ground to a halt.

The coverage provided by The New York Times is still generally considered the most complete of its day. Almost miraculously, Times reporters, writers, and editors produced 250 columns, or about 200,000 words, on and about the very first day. The other three days were no less exhaustive. Through the combined efforts of, among many others, Tom Wicker, James Reston, Max Frankel, Anthony Lewis, Harrison Salisbury, A. M. Rosenthal, and Arthur Gelb, The Times covered history as it was happening, from the assassination to the funeral. Here were the first portraits of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, the earliest speculation regarding the prospects of Lyndon Johnson's administration, the immediate reaction from world leaders, and, perhaps most of all, the pulse of a populace reeling from an event that surpassed both understanding and belief.

This commemorative volume provides a haunting, firsthand, and detailed chronology of the events that took place in Dallas and Washington from November 22 to November 25, 1963. Here is history being recorded in the moment—-a recitation not just of facts but of emotions and reactions as they were being experienced. The clarity of the writing is matched only by the almost desperate intensity of its occasion. Getting all the news that's fit to print seemed the only way of keeping the world from spinning further into chaos; The Times's coverage provided not just information but a sense of balance. Though no one would ultimately explain to everyone's satisfaction the why, the who, what, and how were brought with amazing speed and accuracy within our grasp.

f0With an introduction by Tom Wicker and edited by Robert B. Semple Jr., Four Days in November is an extraordinary book. It will serve as an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to remember, to understand, and most of all to feel what it was like, minute by minute, detail by detail, while one of the most traumatic events in recent American history unfolded.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
This collection also paints a powerful portrait of a nation on the brink. The articles in this volume discuss Oswald's ties to the Soviet Union as well as his connections to Castro's Cuba. They recall the botched invasion at the Bay of Pigs. And they convey people's affection for JFK as well as the hatred that he engendered in the minds of some of his enemies. —Matthew Dallek
Publishers Weekly
On the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, the New York Times is republishing all of its coverage from November 22, the day Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, to November 25, the day of the president's funeral. Readers who recall the assassination will find their memories jarred by long-forgotten details, such as the name of the Dallas police officer killed during the Oswald manhunt (it was Tippit). They will also be surprised by names of then unknown players that are now familiar (one is 29-year-old Bill Moyers, described as "[a]mong the closest and brightest of Mr. Johnson's intimates"), while the names of lions of the day, like Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, may be barely recalled. Many will also be struck with how unpredictable was the future that in retrospect seems inevitable. In the moment, there is no hint that a snippet of film taken by "home movie enthusiast" Abraham Zapruder would become the driving force for a cult of conspiracy theorists. Likewise, newly sworn-in President Johnson's fateful commitment to winning the war in Vietnam is buried in a "background" article. This is not a book to be read cover to cover many articles are of little interest but there are some examples of terrific writing: Tom Wicker, James Reston and Anthony Lewis were all in their prime. Overall, the more than 600 pages of coverage engenders a deep appreciation of how profound was the country's anguish at the loss of its young president. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
To commemorate the Kennedy assassination's 40th anniversary, St. Martin's is offering this title, which combines the full coverage of the event published in the New York Times. This also sports an introduction by Times Op-Ed columnist Tom Wicker. Solid. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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6.42(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.81(d)

Read an Excerpt



St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2003 The New York Times
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-312-32161-9

Chapter One

The Assassination


Gov. Connally Shot; Mrs. Kennedy Safe

President Is Struck Down by a Rifle Shot From Building on Motorcade Route-Johnson, Riding Behind, Is Unhurt

By TOM WICKER Special to The New York Times

DALLAS, Nov. 22-President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today. He died of a wound in the brain caused by a rifle bullet that was fired at him as he was riding through downtown Dallas in a motorcade. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was riding in the third car behind Mr. Kennedy's, was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States 99 minutes after Mr. Kennedy's death. Mr. Johnson is 55 years old; Mr. Kennedy was 46.

Shortly after the assassination, Lee H. Oswald, described as a onetime defector to the Soviet Union, active in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, was arrested by the Dallas police. Tonight he was accused of the killing. Oswald, 24 years old, was also accused of slaying a policeman who had approached him in the street. Oswald was subdued after a scuffle with a second policeman in a nearby theater.

The shooting took place at 12:30 P.M., Central standard time (1:30 P.M., New York time). Mr. Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1 P.M. and Mr. Johnson was sworn in at 2:39 P.M. Mr. Johnson, who was uninjured in the shooting, took his oath in the presidential jet plane as it stood on the runway at Love Field. The body of the president was aboard. Immediately after the oath-taking, the plane took off for Washington. Standing beside the new president as Mr. Johnson took the oath of office was Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Her stocking was saturated with her husband's blood. Gov. John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, who was riding in the same car with Mrs. Kennedy, was severely wounded in the chest, ribs and arm. His condition was serious, but not critical.

The killer fired the rifle from a building just off the motorcade route. Mr. Kennedy, Governor Connally and Mr. Johnson had just received an enthusiastic welcome from a large crowd in downtown Dallas. Mr. Kennedy apparently was hit by the first of what witnesses believed were three shots. He was driven at high speed to Dallas's Parkland Hospital. There, in an emergency operating room, with only physicians and nurses in attendance, he died without regaining consciousness. Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Connally and a Secret Service agent were in the car with Mr. Kennedy and Governor Connally. Two Secret Service agents flanked the car. Other than Mr. Connally, none of this group was injured in the shooting. Mrs. Kennedy cried, "Oh no!" immediately after her husband was struck.

Mrs. Kennedy was in the hospital near her husband when he died, but not in the operating room. When the body was taken from the hospital in a bronze coffin about 2 P.M., Mrs. Kennedy walked beside it. Her face was sorrowful. She looked steadily at the floor. She still wore the raspberry-colored suit in which she had greeted welcoming crowds in Fort Worth and Dallas. But she had taken off the matching pillbox hat she wore earlier in the day, and her dark hair was windblown and tangled. Her hand rested lightly on her husband's coffin as it was taken to a waiting hearse.

Mrs. Kennedy climbed in beside the coffin. Then the ambulance drove to Love Field, and Mr. Kennedy's body was placed aboard the presidential jet. Mrs. Kennedy then attended the swearing-in ceremony for Mr. Johnson. As Mr. Kennedy's body left Parkland Hospital, a few stunned persons stood outside. Nurses and doctors, whispering among themselves, looked from the window. A larger crowd that had gathered earlier, before it was known that the president was dead, had been dispersed by Secret Service men and policemen.

Two priests administered last rites to Mr. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic. They were the Very Rev. Oscar Huber, the pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Dallas, and the Rev. James Thompson.

Mr. Johnson was sworn in as president by Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes of the Northern District of Texas. She was appointed to the judgeship by Mr. Kennedy in October, 1961. The ceremony, delayed about five minutes for Mrs. Kennedy's arrival, took place in the private presidential cabin in the rear of the plane. About 25 to 30 persons-members of the late president's staff, members of Congress who had been accompanying the president on a two-day tour of Texas cities and a few reporters-crowded into the little room. No accurate listing of those present could be obtained. Mrs. Kennedy stood at the left of Mr. Johnson, her eyes and face showing the signs of weeping that had apparently shaken her since she left the hospital not long before. Mrs. Johnson, wearing a beige dress, stood at her husband's right.

As Judge Hughes read the brief oath of office, her eyes, too, were red from weeping. Mr. Johnson's hands rested on a black, leather-bound Bible as Judge Hughes read and he repeated: "I do solemnly swear that I will perform the duties of the President of the United States to the best of my ability and defend, protect and preserve the Constitution of the United States."

Those 34 words made Lyndon Baines Johnson, onetime farmboy and schoolteacher of Johnson City, the president. Mr. Johnson made no statement. He embraced Mrs. Kennedy and she held his hand for a long moment. He also embraced Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Evelyn Lincoln, Mr. Kennedy's private secretary. "O.K.," Mr. Johnson said. "Let's get this plane back to Washington."

At 2:46 P.M., seven minutes after he had become president, 106 minutes after Mr. Kennedy had become the fourth American president to succumb to an assassin's wounds, the white and red jet took off for Washington. In the cabin when Mr. Johnson took the oath was Cecil Stoughton, an armed forces photographer assigned to the White House.

Mr. Kennedy's staff members appeared stunned and bewildered. Lawrence F. O'Brien, the Congressional liaison officer, and P. Kenneth O'Donnell, the appointment secretary, both long associates of Mr. Kennedy, showed evidences of weeping. None had anything to say. Other staff members believed to be in the cabin for the swearing-in included David F. Powers, the White House receptionist, Miss Pamela Turnure, Mrs. Kennedy's press secretary, and Malcolm Kilduff, the assistant White House press secretary.

Mr. Kilduff announced the president's death, with choked voice and red-rimmed eyes, at about 1:36 P.M. "President John F. Kennedy died at approximately 1 o'clock Central standard time today here in Dallas," Mr. Kilduff said at the hospital. "He died of a gunshot wound in the brain. I have no other details regarding the assassination of the president." Mr. Kilduff also announced that Governor Connally had been hit by a bullet or bullets and that Mr. Johnson, who had not yet been sworn in, was safe in the protective custody of the Secret Service at an unannounced place, presumably the airplane at Love Field. Mr. Kilduff indicated that the president had been shot once. Later medical reports raised the possibility that there had been two wounds. But the death was caused, as far as could be learned, by a massive wound in the brain.

Later in the afternoon, Dr. Malcolm Perry, an attending surgeon, and Dr. Kemp Clark, chief of neurosurgery at Parkland Hospital, gave more details. Mr. Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat, just below the Adam's apple, they said. This wound had the appearance of a bullet's entry. Mr. Kennedy also had a massive, gaping wound in the back and one on the right side of the head. However, the doctors said it was impossible to determine immediately whether the wounds had been caused by one bullet or two. Dr. Perry, the first physician to treat the president, said a number of resuscitative measures had been attempted, including oxygen, anesthesia, an endotracheal tube, a tracheotomy, blood and fluids. An electrocardiogram monitor was attached to measure Mr. Kennedy's heartbeats. Dr. Clark was summoned and arrived in a minute or two. By then, Dr. Perry said, Mr. Kennedy was "critically ill and moribund," or near death. Dr. Clark said that on his first sight of the president, he had concluded immediately that Mr. Kennedy could not live. "It was apparent that the president had sustained a lethal wound," he said. "A missile had gone in and out of the back of his head causing external lacerations and loss of brain tissue." Shortly after he arrived, Dr. Clark said, "the president lost his heart action by the electrocardiogram." A closed-chest cardiograph massage was attempted, as were other emergency resuscitation measures. Dr. Clark said these had produced "palpable pulses" for a short time, but all were "to no avail." The president was on the emergency table at the hospital for about 40 minutes, the doctors said. At the end, perhaps eight physicians were in Operating Room No. 1, where Mr. Kennedy remained until his death. Dr. Clark said it was difficult to determine the exact moment of death, but the doctors said officially that it occurred at 1 P.M.

Later, there were unofficial reports that Mr. Kennedy had been killed instantly. The source of these reports, Dr. Tom Shires, chief surgeon at the hospital and professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwest Medical School, issued this statement tonight: "Medically, it was apparent the president was not alive when he was brought in. There was no spontaneous respiration. He had dilated, fixed pupils. It was obvious he had a lethal head wound. Technically, however, by using vigorous resuscitation, intravenous tubes and all the usual supportive measures, we were able to raise a semblance of a heartbeat." Dr. Shires said he was "positive it was impossible" that President Kennedy could have spoken after being shot. "I am absolutely sure he never knew what hit him," Dr. Shires said. Dr. Shires was not present when Mr. Kennedy was being treated at Parkland Hospital. He issued his statement, however, after lengthy conferences with the doctors who had attended the president.

Mr. Johnson remained in the hospital about 30 minutes after Mr. Kennedy died.

The details of what happened when shots first rang out, as the president's car moved along at about 25 miles an hour, were sketchy. Secret Service agents, who might have given more details, were unavailable to the press at first, and then returned to Washington with President Johnson.

Mr. Kennedy had opened his day in Fort Worth, first with a speech in a parking lot and then at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The breakfast appearance was a particular triumph for Mrs. Kennedy, who entered late and was given an ovation. Then the presidential party, including Governor and Mrs. Connally, flew on to Dallas, an eight-minute flight. Mr. Johnson, as is customary, flew in a separate plane. The president and the vice president do not travel together, out of fear of a double tragedy. At Love Field, Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy lingered for 10 minutes, shaking hands with an enthusiastic group lining the fence. The group called itself "Grassroots Democrats." Mr. Kennedy then entered his open Lincoln convertible at the head of the motorcade. He sat in the rear seat on the right-hand side. Mrs. Kennedy, who appeared to be enjoying one of the first political outings she had ever made with her husband, sat at his left. In the "jump" seat, directly ahead of Mr. Kennedy, sat Governor Connally, with Mrs. Connally at his left in another "jump" seat. A Secret Service agent was driving and the two others ran alongside.

Behind the president's limousine was an open sedan carrying a number of Secret Service agents. Behind them, in an open convertible, rode Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and Texas's senior senator, Ralph W. Yarborough, a Democrat. The motorcade proceeded uneventfully along a 10-mile route through downtown Dallas, aiming for the Merchandise Mart. Mr. Kennedy was to address a group of the city's leading citizens at a luncheon in his honor.

In downtown Dallas, crowds were thick, enthusiastic and cheering. The turnout was somewhat unusual for this center of conservatism, where only a month ago Adlai E. Stevenson was attacked by a rightist crowd. It was also in Dallas, during the 1960 campaign, that Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife were nearly mobbed in the lobby of the Baker Hotel.

As the motorcade neared its end and the president's car moved out of the thick crowds onto Stemmons Freeway near the Merchandise Mart, Mrs. Connally recalled later, "we were all very pleased with the reception in downtown Dallas." Behind the three leading cars were a string of others carrying Texas and Dallas dignitaries, two buses of reporters, several open cars carrying photographers and other reporters, and a bus for White House staff members.

As Mrs. Connally recalled later, the president's car was almost ready to go underneath a "triple underpass" beneath three streets-Elm, Commerce and Main-when the first shot was fired. That shot apparently struck Mr. Kennedy. Governor Connally turned in his seat at the sound and appeared immediately to be hit in the chest. Mrs. Mary Norman of Dallas was standing at the curb and at that moment was aiming her camera at the president. She saw him slump forward, then slide down in the seat. "My God," Mrs. Norman screamed, as she recalled it later, "he's shot!" Mrs. Connally said that Mrs. Kennedy had reached and "grabbed" her husband. Mrs. Connally put her arms around the governor. Mrs. Connally said that she and Mrs. Kennedy had then ducked low in the car as it sped off. Mrs. Connally's recollections were reported by Julian Read, an aide to the governor. Most reporters in the press buses were too far back to see the shootings, but they observed some quick scurrying by motor policemen accompanying the motorcade. It was noted that the president's car had picked up speed and raced away, but reporters were not aware that anything serious had occurred until they reached the Merchandise Mart two or three minutes later.

Rumors of the shooting already were spreading through the luncheon crowd of hundreds, which was having the first course. No White House officials or Secret Service agents were present, but the reporters were taken quickly to Parkland Hospital on the strength of the rumors. There they encountered Senator Yarborough, white, shaken and horrified. The shots, he said, seemed to have come from the right and the rear of the car in which he was riding, the third in the motorcade. Another eyewitness, Mel Crouch, a Dallas television reporter, reported that as the shots rang out he saw a rifle extended and then withdrawn from a window on the "fifth or sixth floor" of the Texas School Book Depository. This is a leased state building on Elm Street, to the right of the motorcade route.


Excerpted from FOUR DAYS IN NOVEMBER Copyright © 2003 by The New York Times . Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Tom Wicker, a former Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, is the author of several books, including Kennedy Without Tears, A Time to Die—-about the Attica, New York, prison uprising—-and, most recently, a biography of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Robert B. Semple Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of The Times's editorial board, worked in the Washington bureau of the paper in 1963.

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