Disbelief and Mourning: Looking Back at Nov. 22, 1963

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John F. Kennedy in the 1935 Freshman Herald. (Photo: Freshman Herald)

“These days 9 South Reunion is a janitor’s closet in a building that is soon to be torn down,” James M. Markham ’65 wrote in PAW’s On the Campus column following the death of president John F. Kennedy. “It is at the very top of a set of creaky, worn stairs, on the fifth floor, and if you want to get in you have to get the janitor, Fabiano, to open the padlock. Inside, there is dust and a few boxes half-filled with rags and discarded books; pigeons are obviously no strangers to the place. Through the dirty windows there is a nice view of Cannon Green and the backside of Nassau Hall. In earlier years the occupants of 9 South Reunion probably enjoyed the view from their three-room suite, if not the long hike up. Who knows, in the fall of 1935 Le Moyne Billings, ‘Rip’ Horton, and John Kennedy, all freshmen just out of Choate, may have sat around the room talking, looking out at Old Nassau. But then John — ‘Ken’ to his friends — became ill and had to leave school after midterms. Now, 28 years later, the view from 9 South Reunion was a sad one. The flag over Nassau Hall was at half-mast in respect to John Kennedy, killed in Dallas, Texas.”

Markham’s column highlighted the disbelief of undergraduates, who went from prepping for a big football weekend (Princeton vs. Dartmouth) to mourning the young president, a man who briefly walked the same halls as a Princeton student three decades earlier. The comment of one unnamed junior summarizes what many were feeling: “If this can happen to that man … well, the world doesn’t make sense, that’s all.”

Click here to read the full column as a PDF, and read more in W. Barksdale Maynard ’88’s That Was Then feature from the Nov. 13 issue. Also, see a digitized version of Kennedy’s undergraduate file, released today by the Mudd Manuscript Library.