Goshen News, Goshen, IN

November 23, 2013

Former Goshen News editor recalls frantic finish to sad news day


---- — In the early afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, City Editor Bob Conrad and the rest of The Goshen News staff were busy putting the finishing touches on that day’s edition.

The top story was about a fire that gutted the Jessup’s Candies plant on Ind. 15, just south of U.S. 6. The editorial on Page Four urged readers to get used to using zip codes when mailing their letters. A photo of Goshen Civic Theatre performers promoting the opening of “Brigadoon” later that night at Elkhart Township Junior High School was tucked away on Page Five. And “The Women’s Page” recognized the 50th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Everest of New Paris.

It was a pretty normal day in small town America, Conrad remembers. Then, the bells started to ring.

“We were on deadline,” Conrad said this week via telephone from his home in Florida. “All of a sudden the teletype machine started going, DING! DING! DING! DING!”

For Conrad, who would later spend 19 of his 43 years with the News as managing editor, those bells meant something serious. They sounded so rarely, in fact, that during his four decades in the newsroom, Conrad said he can hardly remember another time they went off.

Back in those days the teletype was the machine in which newspapers received national and world wire news from the major news organizations. Conrad, just 33 years old at the time, walked over and read the bulletin the machine had spit out. It blared that President John F. Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Conrad said. “We didn’t have a television in the newsroom, so we went downstairs to Publisher Bud Hascall’s office. He had a TV down there in his office and we turned on CBS.”

Meanwhile, Conrad said managing editor Dale Peffley decided to hold up the press so more information on the assassination attempt could be gathered by the wire services.

“CBS was covering a parade and (Walter) Cronkite came on directly,” Conrad said. “We had to wait for some time to hear whether or not (Kennedy) was dead or alive. When we finally got the word, that’s when we swung into action."

Conrad and the other editors rushed back upstairs to await further updates and remake the paper. This was no easy feat in the days of hot-metal linotype, a process that required production from an entire composing department.

But Conrad had an idea.

“I remembered we had this big block type down in the basement,” he said. “So I said, 'Why don’t we go down there and get that type?' ”

Down to the basement they went, and they were able to find the large letters. The result was a bold, block headline, 4 inches deep running the width of the page declaring to the community, “JFK IS DEAD!!”

The paper back in those days was nearly 16 inches wide. The width of The Goshen News today is about 11½ inches wide

“The stories started coming in on the wire,” Conrad said. “I guess we waited until we had enough and ran with it. We didn’t have a lot of time. We waited about as long as we could as far as the stories were concerned.”

The News didn’t have AP photos back then, so the editors found a four-column photo of President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy from the president's inauguration nearly three years earlier. The wire updates they were able to piece together ran down the left column under the subheads, “President Shot Fatally During Texas Caravan,” “Assassin Still At Large; Nation In Deepest Shock.” The story continued inside on page 2, column 2.

There wasn't enough time or information to remake the entire front page, so the Kennedy photo ran over a campaign story that was already on the page with the headline, "Mrs. Kennedy Returns Reluctantly To Campaign Trail With President."

Conrad says he has trouble recalling just how detailed the News coverage got during that time.

“It was sadness and obviously it was a shock,” Conrad remembers. “It didn’t involve party lines back then. The old conservative Republicans hated Kennedy, but when this happened nobody could believe it and everybody felt bad about it. It was a sad time.”

It was one of those days that time heals into a scraggly national scar separating before from after – Dec. 7, 1941; Nov. 22, 1963; Sept. 11, 2001.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, America comforted each other around their living room radios. When Kennedy was assassinated, the world huddled around black & white Zenith TVs waiting for Cronkite to tell them something. When terrorists knocked down the World Trade Center towers, The world went to their computers and cable TV networks for the latest real-time updates.

Today, Twitter and Facebook are the great informers. Raise your hand if you learned of Osama bin Laden’s death through social media.

Even with such astounding advances in technology, there is something about Volume 125, number 227 of The Goshen News — a 14-page, one section masterpiece – that remains iconic in my eyes. So many of its copies have survived five decades in damp basements, dark closets and drafty attics.

Few newspapers ever accomplish what that Nov. 22, 1963, edition did, bundling such an uncertain future into the final documentation of a peaceful past.

Michael Wanbaugh has been managing editor of The Goshen News since 2008. Contact him at michael.wanbaugh@goshennews.com and follow him on Twitter @mwanbaugh.