On This Day: John F Kennedy assassinated

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: John F Kennedy assassinated

NOVEMBER 22, 1963: President John F Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today – triggering a wave of shock, conspiracy theories and claims of a family curse that remain hotly debated.

The 46-year-old U.S. leader, who inspired unique optimism and brought unparalleled glamour to the White House, was shot three times while touring Dallas in an open car.

He slumped into the arms of his fashion icon wife Jackie, who was heard to cry 'they have killed my husband' and 'I have his brains in my hand'.

Within hours, suspected sniper Lee Harvey Oswald, 21, was arrested – but was gunned down by alleged Mafia man Jack Ruby in front of TV cameras two days later.

The FBI and a 1964 official report concluded that Oswald, a communist, had acted alone and shot Kennedy from the Texas School Book Depository where he worked.

But a subsequent Congress investigation found in 1978 that those investigations were flawed and that the assassination was probably the result of a conspiracy.

However, the other possible culprits have never been found and – while debate still rages - polls consistently reveal that most Americans think there was a cover-up.

Yet, at the time of Kennedy’s death, most people were stunned into silence and few could believe he would join Abraham Lincoln as one of four murdered presidents.

A British Pathé newsreel conveys this shock as it reveals how the event unfolded on that day, which some say marked the moment the U.S. nation lost its innocence.

Kennedy and his wife are filmed displaying their usual charm as they greet Democratic Texas governor John Connally, who was wounded in the shooting.

The smiling president is then filmed in the back of a Lincoln limo as the motorcade approaches the spot where he would be fired at along crowd-lined Dealey Plaza.

The 12.30pm shooting itself – in which Kennedy was shot in the throat,upper back, and, fatally, in the head – was not shown.


[On This Day: Jackie Kennedy marries Aristotle Onassis]


But the ensuing panic was filmed - along with police searching the book depository, despite eyewitness claims that shots were fired from the Grassy Knoll slope opposite.

Detectives are then seen inspecting the president's car, which still had the blood-splattered flowers Mrs Kennedy was holding when her husband was hit.

It was not long before the murder weapon – an Italian, bolt-action Carcano rifle –was discovered and paraded for the world’s cameras.



Soon afterwards, Oswald, a former Marine sniper who four years earlier had defected to the Soviet Union, is filmed inside police headquarters after being arrested.

Mrs Kennedy, who was still wearing her bloodstained pink dress, was then seen stepping into an ambulance as her husband’s body in a coffin was taken from hospital.

He was pronounced dead at 1pm and at 2pm his remains were loaded on to Air Force One to be taken back to Washington – and thus avoided a local forensic examination.


[On This Day: Robert Kennedy dies after being shot on the campaign trail]


On board was Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who in midair was sworn in as President at 2.38pm and said: 'We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed.'

Kennedy, the first non-Protestant U.S. leader, was seen by 250,000 people while lying in state before his funeral at St Matthew’s Catholic Cathedral on November 25.

The newsreel showed three-year-old John F Kennedy Jr touchingly saluting his father’s coffin while standing with his sister Caroline, five, and their veiled mother.

The remains of the youngest 20th century president, who had served in the U.S. Navy during World War Two, were taken down by gun carriage to Arlington Cemetery.


[On This Day: John F Kennedy makes 'Ich bin ein Berliner' speech]


He was buried beside his infant son Patrick, who had died just three months earlier when just two days old.

This event and of course the former senator’s death remain two of the most seminal events in global history – deeply affecting many who lived through them.

The tragedy furthered a belief that the Kennedy clan were affected by a curse.
It began with the wartime death of JFK’s eldest brother Joseph Jr, who was being groomed for the presidency by their father, Joe Sr, the grandchild of Irish immigrants.

Robert Kennedy, the third son who had served his brother as Attorney General, would also be assassinated as he campaigned for Democrat presidential nomination in 1968.

The fourth son Ted survived a deadly plane crash in 1964 – but his own chances of becoming the U.S. leader were ruined after a passenger in his car died in 1969.


[On This Day: Marilyn Monroe found dead aged 36]


And there have been a host of other deaths in the wealthy Bostonian family – often in horrific accidents – including that of John Jr in a 1999 plane crash.

Yet the most intriguing of all these tragedies remains the loss of JFK.