Nov. 22, 1963, was, for many of us, a day of sounds.
Horns: Helen McArthur of Arlington was driving west on Wilson Boulevard when the man in the car behind her gave "several loud blasts of his horn, and then pulled around me so we were side by side."
"He put down his window," Helen wrote, "and looked over at me, so I supposed he was going to chew me out for driving so slowly, but what he said was: 'Turn on your radio. The president has been shot.'"
Sirens: Daniel Wastler of Silver Spring was working in a store on Good Hope Road in Anacostia after school. He remembers "literally scores" of police and federal cars high-tailing it to Andrews Air Force Base, sirens screeching.
Crashes: Theresa Dejter of Northwest was with her family in Paris, where her father was stationed with the Air Force. The bulletin came across the radio as Theresa's mother was carrying a tray full of china. In her shock, she dropped it.
Clinks and clanks: H. J. Parrill of Northwest was having lunch at the Elks Club in Wheeling, W. Va., when someone rushed into the dining room with the news. "I recall a complete silence," he writes, " . . . broken only by the sound of utensils dropping to the plates."
And music: Depressed by the news from Dallas, Elizabeth Thornhill of Kensington bundled up her children and went for a walk. "In the stillness of the afternoon, I heard the carillon of St. Paul's Methodist Church playing 'The Navy Hymn,' " Elizabeth writes. "It was a moment that I shall always remember."
How did readers learn of the JFK shooting 19 years ago yesterday? How did they react? In all sorts of curious, memorable ways.
Robert B. Woodward of Merrifield was trying to find a business meeting in Frederick, Md. He didn't know his way, so he stopped to ask a traffic cop. The cop was crying. He told Bob why.
Devon McCluskie was taking a government quiz at Arlington's Washington-Lee High School. The teacher had just asked which president was assassinated by a disappointed office seeker (Garfield is the answer) when the intercom crackled with the news about JFK.
Charlotte Homan of Arlington was driving past the White House, of all places, when the radio announcer broke into the regularly scheduled program.
Anne E. Steele of Columbia writes: "All my life, I had dreamed of owning a mink hat. That afternoon . . . . I had just purchased the hat in a department store on State Street in Chicago when a stranger said to me, 'Isn't that too bad about Kennedy?' The hat never felt stylish any more."
Bill Kirchoff of West Hyattsville was helping to paint a new office for his boss when "a guy came in and asked, 'Have you heard? The president's been shot!' I jumped off the ladder, threatening to do great harm to him if he was kidding. He wasn't."
Pat Fitzgerald Wolfe of Arlington was standing on the corner of 16th and L streets NW, numbed by the news she had heard moments before. "I remember a stranger taking my hand and gripping it till it hurt and saying over and over, 'Oh, my God,' and both of us eventually wandering away with no other exchange of words," she writes.
For sheer spookiness, it's hard to top the story of Melvin Jackson of Beltsville. Late in the morning, Melvin and other U.S. Park Service laborers were raking leaves at Arlington National Cemetery. As they finished clearing a hillside area, Melvin "said to my coworkers, 'That would be a good place to put someone's grave.'"
Then they sat down to eat lunch and turned on the radio. The bulletin from Dallas came within minutes. The spot that Melvin pointed out? John F. Kennedy is buried there today.
Emerging from a college physics lab, Elizabeth Rodewald of Charlottesville noticed a flag flying at half staff. A student from an African country happened past, and Elizabeth asked him why.
"Because your president's been shot," he said.
"Nonsense," Elizabeth replied. "That sort of thing doesn't happen in this country."