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.