the day the music died

Photo by irisale87 from

Sometimes things don’t work out as planned… the early 60’s Roller Derby was struggling to survive.  It was not unusual.  Since I had taken over the league with virtual no cash in 1959, we always had to try to raise money to start the next season.

What we did in the Bay Area was sell season tickets to our venues for the next season:  for games in San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. And take advantage of every opportunity to make money where we could.

So in early fall of 1963 (not many of you were alive at that time) we received an offer for 4 Bay Bomber dates in Salt Lake City.  Our season had ended in September and our road trip wasn’t scheduled until January, so we hustled, got two teams together and arranged for a bus to taken them to Salt Lake City.

Now our skaters hated to take the bus……they all knew and related to THE bus trip  in 1937 in which 19 died;  even in later years when skaters traveled throughout the country, we paid them mileage to take their own cars…..However, we managed to pull 28 together.

We received the deposit check (very little in today’s dollars), and on November 19th sent the track on a truck (30-foot trailer) and the bus on its way.  I had a plane reservation to leave on the 22nd.

On the morning of the 22nd I left for the airport (SFO) and boarded the United flight which flew to Salt Lake with a stop in Reno.  After we re-boarded the flight and took off for Salt Lake City, the pilot made an announcement, the impact of which I have never stopped remembering:  “We just received word that the President has been shot in Dallas.  We will let you know of his condition when we know.”

It is hard to explain to people what JFK meant to all of us……after coming out of World War !!, after the drabness of the Eisenhower presidency, we had the first President born in the 20th century:  a beautiful man with a beautiful wife and family, modern, inspiring us all;  he was going to do great things and take us to the moon.   Shot.

The flight seemed to take forever.  Just before we landed in Utah the confirmation came in, President Kennedy was dead.  Governor Connally, who had asked him to come to Dallas to bolster the Democratic Party chances the following year had been wounded.

After landing and going to the hotel I immediately met with Hal Janowitz and the skaters.  A number wanted to return home.  We took a vote (and with much pressure from the promoter) the majority felt they would rather skate so at least they had something to do.

I went to the Arena (some small facility) and watched the start of the game……then I went back to the hotel and started a continuous watch on television….at that time there were no satellite facilities for instant news, so it would be fed in a bit at a time……there was apparently a shooter from the Texas book Depository.  No one knew if the Russians were behind it.  Terrorism as we know today was not even thought of.   The police had tips, someone saw someone running, the suspected shooter was in a movie theater.  He was arrested.  I cannot even remember all the details in succession.

I was finally able to go to bed.  I woke up the next morning and when I shaved I just broke down.  Tears were streaming down my face.  this is where memory fails me.  I know I watched the bizarre proceedings, including Oswald being brought in to police headquarters by two men in white stetsons, suddenly Jack Ruby lurches forward and shoots Oswald (all live and in living black and white)…..then jumbled.  Lyndon Johnson met Jackie Kennedy, still in her bloody dress (my time sequence is all wrong) accompanying Kennedy’s body, they boarded the plane, and on the flight he took the oath of Presidency.

After that we saw more killings and shootings: Martin Luther King, George Wallace, Bobbie Kennedy, Malcolm X, Reagan, Brady, Giffords,and maybe I am missing a few.  America has never been the same.

November 22, 1963.    The date is too close to Thanksgiving this year.

7 comments on “the day the music died

  1. Great post, Jerry.

    I was in first grade in Irving, Texas that day. We had the day off from school so that we could go to the Kennedy parade. We did not go to the parade, but were watching television for news reports of his visit that would appear as he made his various stops that day. I still remember the newsman coming on and saying, “The president has been shot.” My mother became very distressed, which I couldn’t understand. “What’s the big deal?” – or words to that effect – I recall asking her. “Why would they report that the president got a shot?”

    My only context for “shot” was what kids experience at the doctor’s office. My mother had to explain the other context to me. I am pretty sure that was my first inkling that real people are sometimes shot and badly injured (or killed) with guns. That was an innocent time.

    By Sunday, I was considerably more aware of reality and paying keen attention to the news. I was walking down the stairs from the Sunday school classroom at our church, my father holding my hand so I wouldn’t fall, when I man he knew came running up, saying “Oswald’s been shot! Oswald’s been shot.”

    By then, I knew who Oswald was and what it meant to be shot.

    For the next twelve years, until I left for college, I remained fascinated with the Kennedy assassination. I grew up listening to all-night, talk-radio shows, where assassination theories were discussed endlessly. I read books and magazine articles. I followed the Warren Commission.

    I learned enough to know that Kennedy did not die by Oswald’s hand alone. His murder was the result of a conspiracy. We now know not just the broad outlines but much of the detail of that conspiracy.

    Years after the fact, the United States Congress studied the matter and concluded that more likely than not, Kennedy was felled by a conspiracy. That was the end of the matter. No effort has been made by government to find and prosecute other individuals. That’s because the truth would force the American people to make some difficult decisions. The American people do not like uncomfortable facts or difficult decisions.

    And that is what is even more remarkable about Kennedy’s murder than the fact that a president was murdered: a lot of people, perhaps most, just do not want to know the truth of the matter.

  2. Jerry and John-

    Two great posts! I was in 3rd grade in Alameda CA. The principal made an announcement over the PA- I remember a couple of girls started crying, and most of the rest of us just looked at each other until our teacher told us what all this meant.

    I also remember that one of the cable networks did a real-time program from the existing network footage, for the 25th anniversary of the assassination, The image of Walter Cronkite nearly breaking down is something I’ll never forget.

    I also will never forget the footage of the funeral procession, for both him and Robert Kennedy, whose assassination hit me even harder. Wow, I’m tearing up just typing this…

  3. Former U.C. Berkeley professor Peter Dale Scott is one of the most thorough investigators of “deep cover” events such as Kennedy’s murder. His essay published today “The Doomsday Project and Deep Events: JFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and 9/11” provides vital background for anyone interested in the events surrounding 11/22/1963 and how they are linked to later events:

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