Looking back: Ocean City reacts to the assassination of JFK - News - OCSentinel

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Looking back: Ocean City reacts to the assassination of JFK


OCEAN CITY – The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas, riveted and saddened the nation, including Ocean City.

In the Nov. 28, 1963 edition, Sentinel-Ledger reporter Edward Gore described how the news hit the city, beginning at Essig’s Restaurant on Ninth Street diagonally across from City Hall.

The city commissioners, along with City Solicitor Josiah DuBois and City Treasurer Anthony Imbesi, were late for lunch following a meeting at the Ocean City Sewer Service Company, Gore reported.

“Just what was the time, no one noticed. But, for city officials the story started when Herman Selvagn, proprietor of a drug store directly across 9th St., the brother of the restaurant’s owner, Mrs. Irene Essig, rushed into the room.

‘The President – the President. He’s been shot,’ Selvagn shouted,” the paper reported. 

Gore described the “stunned silence” that followed for minutes, until someone turned on a small radio in a booth nearby. A television set in the back of the room was turned on and restaurant patrons learned the horrible truth. 

“The news poured out, reaching its climax with the word that Mr. Kennedy was dead. That was how Ocean City’s officials learned of the tragic event,” the newspaper reported. “In this city, as elsewhere, the exact moment and circumstances when individuals learned of the senseless tragedy are etched on millions of memories.” 

Gore observed a motorist on Asbury Avenue pull his car over and listen attentively to the radio announcer report the assassination. 

“A quick survey of central city stores on Friday disclosed that business had come to a virtual standstill. Everywhere clerks and customers grouped around radio sets,” the paper reported.

Gov. Richard J. Hughes ordered a day of mourning for the following Monday. In Ocean City, all schools, financial institutions, City Hall and most businesses would close. 

“Sunday in this religious city was a day of requiem – not limited to the churches of the late president’s faith, but in churches of all faiths. People were turning to God in a period of stunned sorrow and perplexity,” according to the paper. 

The Sentinel-Ledger reported that residents watched news reports of the assassination, and “the alleged murderer of the President” Lee Harvey Oswald was killed in the Dallas police headquarters “by a man who took the law in his own hands.”

The paper reported how Ocean City residents watched as Mrs. Kennedy and her daughter approached the president’s flag-draped coffin in the Capitol rotunda, kneeled and kissed the flag. 

“Ocean City watched it all prayerfully. Thousands here, in fact ‘participated’ in the ceremonies by radio and television,” the newspaper reported. “There was no way to sum up the tragically fantastic weekend. It was a weekend that will be discussed and studied and written about for centuries as long as there is a United States of America.” 

On the Monday following the assassination, 100 Ocean City High School students held a memorial observation in Veterans Memorial Park. A boy and a girl read from the Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles, and students sang a stanza of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The colors were lowered by a group of Boy Scouts and a Sea Scout and a bugler played taps. Students placed a wreath of white chrysanthemums and red carnations at the base of the memorial monument, the paper reported.

“A completely spontaneous movement among a small group of students resulted in the city’s only observance, outside of churches, of the day of mourning for the slain president,” according to the newspaper. “Sunday night a group of teenagers met to plan a ceremony by telephone and by personal contact. No newspaper or radio publicity was available to the young people.” 

The newspaper reported that the assassination had a special meaning for local paint dealer Phillip P. Turner, who supervised the decorations for four inaugural balls in Washington in 1961.

Turner, who had a national reputation for designing parade floats in the Atlantic City Pageant, was drafted by Washington firm Hargroves Displays to supervise transforming the National Guard Armory in Washington into a ballroom. 

Turner brought back mementoes from his time in Washington, including a replica of the White House crafted in spun sugar that decorated one of the cakes President Kennedy cut.

Turner also received thanks from President Kennedy for his creative supervision.

“I was given special invitations to attend the ball,” Turner told the Sentinel-Ledger. “I just couldn’t do it. To get the work done we had kept on the job for 24 hours straight. While the balls were in progress, I was sound asleep at my motel.” 

The paper editorialized on the assassination and the loss of President Kennedy.

“Our American system, fortunately, is designed to withstand the shock of disastrous events. Transition has been orderly, and the people have rallied behind their new president, Lyndon B. Johnson,” the editorial noted. “Our country is greater because of the three years Mr. Kennedy spent as chief executive. It may be said that his approach to his high office gave the presidency a new and vital influence, not alone in this country but throughout the world…All of us are grieved and horrified but determined the nation will not falter. This is as it should be, and the way President Kennedy would have wanted it.”