The place was Ellen Glasgow Intermediate School in Fairfax County. The concept of middle school hadn't yet arrived, and intermediate school was for seventh- and eighth-graders. I was in the eighth grade, and sitting at my desk in Miss Eckhardt's history class, last period, 48 years ago today.
I was seated in the row of desks closest to the windows, which looked out upon, well, basically nothing, unless you found the driveway in front of the school particularly compelling. Seated three rows over from me, about the halfway point of the row, was Rick Fabiani, who wasn't a pal, just a classmate. Rick looms large in this story, because he was the initial messenger, though he didn't know that when class started.
About 15 minutes into class this Friday afternoon we were listening to Miss Eckhardt - a very attractive young woman, by the way - lecture us about something, the exact topic long since forgotten. Suddenly, Mr. Fabiani blurts out, "The President's been shot!"
Needless to say, this got everyone's attention, and if true, how did he know that? In those days, many of us owned small, pocket-sized transistor radios that received only AM radio signals, since FM radio - at least in our market - wasn't yet playing rock and roll. I don't know whether he was listening to WEAM or WEEL or WPGC, but surely it was one of those Top 40 stations we all listened to. Rick had the radio in his shirt pocket and had fished the earpiece through his shirtsleeve and had the earbud in his ear with his head resting on his hand so as to be almost completely undetectable. He had heard the DJ give the news about what had happened in Dallas and couldn't contain himself.
Miss Eckhardt was stunned, and, of course, the jig was up as far as the hidden radio was concerned. She asked Rick to unplug it from his ear and put it on her desk so we could all hear what was happening. I have the feeling the channel was switched to either WMAL or WTOP since they were network affiliates, but I don't recall if she actually did that or it's simply an assumption on my part. Nonetheless, we all sat quietly listening to the updates.
It didn't take long for the announcement to come that President Kennedy was dead. At that point what had been a very quiet classroom became anything but quiet. Miss Eckhardt slumped at her desk, weeping, and the girls in the room all followed suit. Open sobbing, non-stop crying, genuine grief was evident all over the room. It was a scene I'm sure none of us had ever encountered before at school; yet I don't recall any of the boys in class reacting that way. I doubt any of us were particularly current event-savvy; it was just something so out of our realm of reality, we simply didn't know how to react.
Miss Eckhardt's display of emotion was unsettling, and she must have realized that as she quickly attempted to calm herself down, but it was too late to get back to anything resembling normality. We were all, by this time, on our feet and shuffling around the room. Girls were crying on boy's shoulders, and for many of us, it was the first time we'd been that close to an unrelated female. There was probably another quarter-hour left in class when an assistant principal, Mr. York, walked past the open door of our classroom and figured out what had happened.
Mr. York - who handled discipline at Glasgow - walked in the door and over to Miss Eckhardt's desk, and picked up the tiny transistor radio. "You children know you're not allowed to bring radios to school," and walked out with it. In retrospect, I'm sure he thought that was the prudent thing to do, but it just made the situation worse. He took our information source away, and I recall thinking, "Hey, this is history class! What's wrong with you?"
The final bell sounded and by that time, the word had gotten around the school about what had happened. The bus ride home was full of 13-year-olds spouting early conspiracy theories. When I got home, my mom had the TV on, and it stayed on all weekend. We were watching when Air Force One returned the president's body to Washington, and when Jack Ruby shot presumed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on Sunday. We watched all of the following week. I'd never watched that much TV news before, and it made a pretty strong impression on me.
Returning to school, it didn't take long to re-establish some degree of normalcy. Yes, there were weeks that turned into blurs. Christmas that year came and went, but shortly after 1963 turned into 1964, the collective mood of American teenagers was energized by the British pop culture phenomenon known as the Beatles. The dark cloud that had arrived with the Kennedy assassination had been lifted. Life-changing occurrences? No question about it.
On the baseball front, two weeks after Dallas, the Senators bought first baseman Bill "Moose" Skowron from the Dodgers. Skowron had been a five-time All-Star with the Yankees, but had found National League pitching a mystery, hitting under .200 his lone year with Los Angeles. The 1963 Senators had won only 56 games, and Skowron seemed like a move in the right direction. Unfortunately, after getting off to good start in Washington - he was leading the club in HR's and RBI - he was traded to the White Sox for two players, a .217 hitting first baseman and a pitcher who won two games. The Senators lost 100 games, but miraculously finished ninth in a 10-team league. After that season they made another, much bigger, trade with the Dodgers, acquiring Frank Howard and four other players for pitcher Claude Osteen and infielder John Kennedy, who coincidentally, shared the same birthday - May 29 - as the late president.
You knew I'd find a baseball connection somewhere, right?