by Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer (retired)

It was my day off and I don't know why I didn't have my car radio on that day; I just didn't. So I didn't hear the news until I returned home from a food shopping trip with my wife, and answered the phone. It was the Day Photo Editor. I could sense the urgency in his voice. He all but shouted, "Where have you been? The President's been shot and he is not expected to live. We need you to work, today."

It took a few minutes for his words to register, but I quickly changed clothes and did as he had instructed. I lived about 20 miles from the paper and he told me to head in that direction and photograph anything that I saw that would tell the story of that terrible day. I stopped at
several churches and synagogues to see if there were any prayer services, but, it was too soon and none were in progress. I looked for groups of people gathered on corners or maybe watching the news unfold on tv sets in store windows, but that wasn't happening. The only sense that I had that something was amiss was when I stopped for traffic lights in the downtowns of the communities through which I was passing. I could see other drivers, waiting at the lights, hunched forward; faces grim, obviously listening to the news on their car radios. But, this didn't make a picture, either.

Since we had no mobile phones, car radios or beepers in 1963, I was told to phone in often. But every time I called from public phones, I would get busy signals, even before I finished dialing. I would have to call the Operator and explain that I was a journalist, and then she would connect me with the paper.

After getting a few shots, of whatever I could find, the desk told me to bring it in. When I got back to my newspaper I couldn't believe the pandemonium that I found when I walked through our newsroom. People were running around shouting. People were throwing crumpled copy paper in the air. Editors were screaming for the latest wire copy and the paper on the floor was ankle deep. One news editor just sat at his desk, staring blankly into space and chewing the ends of pencils down to stubs, one after another.

When I got to the Photo Dept., the Director of Photography was there.

"Give your film to a darkroom tech. You, Ike and Cavanaugh are booked on a flight to Washington. Kennedy is dead. Your plane leaves from Laguardia Airport in an hour. Someone will drive you guys there. Here's the plan. Cavanaugh will shoot a few quick rolls of whatever presents itself at the airport and grab the next flight back to NY. Ike will head to the center of Washington and spend an hour getting the mood there and head back to NY. You are to go to Bethesda Naval Hospital, and hopefully get something of the President's body being brought there. And, if you can, maybe something of Jackie. Then get back to Washington and hand your film off to Ike, who will bring it back here. You stay in Washington for the next few days and get what you can."

The three of us got to the airport in record time, and just got on our flight before the door shut and we taxied onto the runway. And there we sat for the next two hours. Eventually, the Captain made an announcement to the effect that our flight was being held for a VIP who was coming in from Canada and was to connect with our flight to Washington. The three of us wondered what the people back at the paper and our Bureau Chief in Washington would think when we failed to show up for our tightly choreographed coverage. There was no way that we could inform them of the delay, so we sat back and enjoyed the free drinks that the flight attendants offered to take the sting out of our delay.

After two hours, our flight was released without our ever knowing who the mystery VIP was.
Cavanaugh left us to do his thing as soon as we landed. Ike and I grabbed a cab and headed for our bureau office in the National Press Building to see what our Bureau Chief wanted to do. The place was dark and deserted by the time we got there. It was after 10 PM. I expected the scene there to be more of an asylum than our home office was, given that this was now the center of the World's attention. But, Bob Rhodes, our Bureau Chief was alone in his office, reading copy when we walked in. He took his feet off the desk and gestured us towards chairs. He reached into a desk drawer and retrieved a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and some paper cups and poured us each a short drink.

"I'm sure that you have good reasons for your being delayed and there's no sense wasting time going over it. Let's see what we can salvage. Dick, you head out to Bethesda and see if there's anything to be made. I'm sure that the President's body has already been brought in, but see if you can get any of the mood of the place. Ike, you walk around town, here, and see what you can make and then we'll get you Dick's film and you can head back."

I couldn't believe how calm and rational this man was behaving, compared to what I had seen back on Long Island. I grabbed a cab to Bethesda Naval Hospital only to find out that no news people were being allowed on the grounds. So, I phoned the news back to the bureau and Bob Rhodes let Ike head for NY. I shot a few frames of the hospital through the
fence and headed back to the bureau.

Bob listened sympathetically to my recounting of the day's woes, poured me another scotch and we planned our coverage for the next day. That would be Saturday, Nov. 23rd. In those days we had no Sunday paper and because of that, Bob didn't see any sense of urgency for coverage that day, since by Monday it would be two day old news. But, he suggested that I
sleep late, and at some time during the day, head over to the White House and get pictures of the dignitaries arriving to pay condolence calls.


Dick Kraus





Contents Page Part 2

Contents Page Editorials The Platypus Links Copyright
Portfolios Camera Corner War Stories  Dirck's Gallery Comments
Issue Archives Columns Forums Mailing List E-mail Us
 This site is sponsored and powered by Hewlett Packard