Mendel Letters 35 — The Day JFK was Shot

The Dallas motorcade just before President Kennedy was shot.

June 26, 2021

We had a lot of Irish teachers at JHS 82. Many were older women. Many were Miss. I don’t remember any were Mrs.

On November 22, 1963, I was in ninth-grade, I think we were in social studies, when the principal announced an emergency dismissal over the loudspeaker. We returned to our official classrooms to get coats and saw teachers crying in the halls, but no one spoke to us. The kids poured out into the streets, it was a beautiful Friday afternoon, and no one minded getting out of school early. My friends and I headed down Macombs Road and stopped in a candy store for snacks. It was the first we realized that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I remember us being curious about what happened and would happen, but never very upset. There was no Hebrew school on Fridays and the temperature was in the 60s, so that meant we had extra time to play street stickball.

That night and the next morning there was nothing on television except news reports about the assassination. My brother and I went to Saturday services at the University Heights Jewish Center on Nelson and 174th and then headed home for lunch and television. You were at work. My plan was to play ball either in the street or PS 104 schoolyard all afternoon.

The NBA schedule was not canceled and the Knicks were playing the Detroit Pistons that night at the old Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th streets. Both teams were pretty bad that year so a big crowd was not anticipated. We liked the Knicks, they were the local team, and their top scorer was Art Heyman, one of the last Jewish players to be a regular starter in the NBA.

We all had school GO cards, which meant admission to the upper-upper deck obstructed view section in the Garden for a Knicks game was only fifty cents. We took the Lexington Ave IRT 4 train on 170th and Jerome to 161st, changed for the IND D train to Columbus Circle, and walked to the Garden from there. I remember the school seats were packed with middle school and high school students. Apparently other kids had the same idea. I think the rest of the arena was empty but I’m not sure. The Knicks won 108–99 and Heyman led Knick scorers with 23 points, so we went home happy.

On Sunday, Jack Ruby murdered Lee Harvey Oswald, who had assassinated President Kennedy, so there were a lot of new developments to watch on television. The Kennedy funeral was held on Monday and it was an all-day television event. We got to miss another day of school, but the temperature was in the low 40s so it was a little cold to play ball outside.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later