A shopper walked out of a store in downtown Schenectady — he had just learned President John F. Kennedy had died in Dallas.
“I’m shocked,” the man told reporter Pete Jacobs from the Schenectady Gazette. “I hoped the poor guy would pull through. But he didn’t.”
It was Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, and people downtown had similar feelings about the assassination. They stood silently at bus stops; they cried openly in the streets. They said prayers inside local houses of worship and listened as church bells rang late into the afternoon.
“It’s a shame taking a man from his family for no apparent reason and a sad commentary on our times when something like this happens,” another man told Jacobs.
“I feel like crying,” a woman said. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” asked her young daughter.
In an age before instant news access, people gathered by the front window of the former Schenectady Gazette building on State Street to read news bulletins. Some schools, nearing dismissal time, released students early.
“Words fail to express the shock, pain and grief that all of us in Schenectady County feel, regardless of our party affiliation, religion or race, on this terrible event which has caused the death of our president,” said Wolfgang J. Riemer, chairman of the Schenectady County Board.
Businesses began making plans for a weekend, anticipating great interest in memorial services for the 46-year-old departed president, decided to change hours for Monday.
Weekend sales may have been off at the new Plaine Boys building at 123 State St. Joe, Lou and Hy Plaine had just opened their store on Thursday, and had the place stocked with bicycles, clock radios, television and auto parts.
Closed on Monday
Over the weekend, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller proclaimed Monday, Nov. 25, a legal holiday. That allowed local governments, banks and private firms to close. Post offices and banks shut down for the day; school and municipal offices were closed.
Wallace’s, the big department store on State Street, didn’t open at all on Monday. Central Markets, A&P markets and Grand Union-Empire closed from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The Firestone tire store at 151 Lafayette St. didn’t open until 1 p.m. on Monday.
Several churches and synagogues conducted memorial services that Monday. In the afternoon, 300 people were inside Beth Israel Synagogue on Eastern Parkway. During the evening, more than 1,000 people attended a service at First Reformed Church on North Church Street.
“We remember his courage, his commitment and his concern,” said the Rev. Lee A. Howe Jr., executive director of the Schenectady Area Council of Churches, at First Reformed. “We cannot but ask, ‘Whence came these qualities in our president?’ And we cannot but answer Mr. John F. Kennedy was a man of faith and religious sensitivity whose qualities of character were rooted deep in his relationship to God.”
Howe also said the country had lost a leader, a champion of peace and a person who defended the rights of all.
“There will be thousands of words paid in tribute to him,” Howe said. “But the most fitting memorial will be our personal cultivation of courage, to stand for what we believe to be right; of commitment, to serve the causes of peace and brotherhood, and of concern for human welfare to the point of sacrifice for others.”