Our Family Stories: JFK – Memories from the Webber Branch

I asked all of the branches of my family to send me their memories of President Kennedy and of his death. I shared my memories in a previous post. Here are the memories I received from the Webber (my paternal grandmother) side of the family – in the order in which I received them. (I have added photos and video clips.)

Bea Webber Haskins: 
university-of-marylandI was in a large lecture hall, one of those tiered rooms, at the University of Maryland, College Park. I don’t remember what class. All of a sudden, there was a gasp from someone way up high in the back. The professor stopped and asked very sarcastically if he was interrupting someone. A girl’s voice said, very haltingly and seriously, “Oh, my God. The President. The President. He’s been shot.” In the stunned silence that followed, the professor said something like, “How do you know?” or “What are you talking about,” something like that. She held up a transistor radio and said she was sorry, but she had been listening to it during the lecture and this news Zenith_8-transistor_radio.agrwas just announced. The professor, to his credit, realized the student was not fooling around and asked her to bring her radio to the front, where he turned it up as loud as he could so we could all hear it. I don’t know if he dismissed us or if an announcement came over the P.A. system, or what, but eventually we left. Classes were cancelled and it was almost time for the Thanksgiving break. My then boyfriend, later husband, picked me up. He was not a Kennedy fan, but he was as saddened by the assassination as I was.

Photo credit: By ArnoldReinhold (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tom Kessler:

Tom's parents - Woodrow Wilson Webber and Orville Kessler

Tom’s parents – Woodrow Wilson Webber and Orville Kessler

The election of 1960 when JFK was elected was the first one I remember.  I would have been 6 at that time, and Dad took me with him when he went to vote after work.  I have dim memories of a long voting line and feeling very excited about getting to go along. I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade in November 1963 and can remember learning about President Kennedy being killed from my teacher in school that day after lunch.  I don’t remember much about the discussion except for one boy saying that when he first heard about it he thought it was a bad joke.

riderless horse JFKcapitolNov25'63I had forgotten that the assassination was on a Friday, but that would explain why I have a sense of time sort of standing still and not going back to school until after the funeral which was on the following Monday when school was cancelled.  By that time we had a TV in the house, and I watched all the funeral coverage – including of course the iconic images of the funeral procession with the riderless horse, the flag draped casket and the Kennedy family with JFK, Jr. saluting the casket.

Wilda Morris:

Wilda's "Vava" - Myron D. Webber and Dorinda Webber (my ggrandparents)

Wilda’s “Vava” – Myron D. Webber and Dorinda Webber (my ggrandparents)

I graduated from high school in 1957 and went to American University in Washington DC to study political science. I grew up under the influence of Vava (Grandfather Webber), so of course I joined the Young Democrats (Vava named his youngest daughter Woodrow Wilson Webber; that is pretty strong evidence of his political proclivities).

In the fall of 1960, the Young Democrats succeeded in arranging for John F. Kennedy to speak briefly on campus on October 7, the same day as his second televised debate with Richard Nixon.  I was, of course, in the crowd of excited students listening to and cheering Kennedy. I was also among a small group of American U students who headed up Nebraska Avenue to WRC-TV, the NBC station where the Kennedy-Nixon debate took place. We stood along the

WRC-TV © by James G. Howes, 1962

WRC-TV © by James G. Howes, 1962

street by the driveway into the station and eagerly awaited the arrival of both candidates. Security wasn’t nearly as strict in those days as it is now. I could have reached out and touched Kennedy’s and Nixon’s cars when they arrived (though of course I didn’t). After the candidates went into the station, we returned to campus and watched the debate on the TV in the lounge of a dorm (In those days students did not have TV sets in their dorm rooms.).

The 1960 election was the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote. After I received my absentee ballot from Johnson County, Iowa, I went with a Republican friend to vote and have our ballots notarized. If my memory is correct, we did that at the Registrar’s Office. We joked about cancelling each other out, though we were voting in different states.

There were evidently not many Iowans vying for tickets to the Kennedy inauguration. At any rate, my Congressman responded favorably to my request for a ticket. I had to pick it up at his office the day before the inauguration. On that day, eight inches of snow fell in D.C., more that DC knows how to handle! A lot of cars were abandoned, and traffic was a mess. It took longer than I expected to get to the Capitol Office Building, but I succeeded in getting my ticket. Standing on a street corner, waiting for a bus that would take me back to campus, I got very cold. I decided it would be better to walk than just stand there. I hiked the bus route, so I could catch the next bus, but it was a long time before one got through.

My roommate had two reserved-seat tickets to the inaugural parade. The temperature had dropped drastically so she decided she did not want to go. A friend (whose name I cannot recall) and I were happy to receive the tickets. My friend did not have a ticket to the inauguration itself, but she stuck close to me. Whenever I had to show my ticket to go through a gate, she just followed me in. No one stopped her. My ticket was for a standing-room section—we had to stand through the whole ceremony, including the new president’s speech. But we were so happy to be there that we didn’t complain. The standing room area was pretty crowded, which helped keep us warm.

After the ceremony, my friend and I walked up Pennsylvania to find our seats. We were quite fortunate, for the seats were in front of the US Treasury Building, just east of the White House. As the parade approached our seats, every act came alive. The bands began to play their best songs. Everything designed for the delight of the new president and his family happened within our view. With our coats buttoned up, our scarves tied tightly, gloved hands in our pockets, and our legs wrapped in blankets, we stayed through the entire parade.

I graduated from American University in 1961, but stayed in DC for the summer, working fulltime in the Registrar’s Office. I met Edgar Morris briefly on the last Monday evening of the summer—shortly before we both started graduate school at the University of Illinois. After we were married on August 31, 1963, we moved to College Park, Maryland, because Ed had a job at the National Bureau of Standards. As a result, we were back in the Washington area at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy. I was at home, straightening up the apartment and listening to the radio when I heard the terrible news. I called Ed at work to tell him, but I think he had heard the news there. I remember the radio playing mournful music between updates. The Bureau of Standards closed and Ed came home early. This was the first big shared sorrow of our married life.

caisson_bearing_the_flag-draped_casket_of_President_John_F._Kennedy_leaving_the_White_House..._-_NARA_-_200455Ed and I went to DC to watch the procession that transferred the President’s body from the White House to the Capitol Building. We had the sense that we were witnessing a tragic piece of history as the riderless horse passed by.

Howard and Sue Rees who worked with Baptist students in the DC area knew we were pretty distraught by the president’s death. They also knew we didn’t own a TV, so they invited us to their home to watch the funeral with their family. Had it been just me, I might have gone downtown in hopes of seeing some of the world leaders who came for the funeral. Some of our friends from Calvary Baptist Church did go to the vicinity of Saint Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church, and saw Charles de Gaulle and Haile Selassie, as well as others who attended the service. We only saw them on TV.

I lost some of my naiveté and some of my optimism when Kennedy was assassinated. Before the assassination, I don’t think I believed things like that still happened—they were part of history but not the present. Would that it were so!

Yvonne Addis:
Yvonne's Grandmother n- Dorinda Webber

Yvonne’s Grandmother Dorinda Webber

On that November 22, I was at my sorority house in Iowa City eating lunch in the dining room downstairs when our house mother came into the doorway and said, “Girls, the president has been shot.”  It is a freeze-frame moment for me.  We all went up to her apartment and huddled around the TV. Another memory I have is that soon after he was killed, I took my Grandmother Webber for a ride in our car.  I remember her weeping and saying, “It’s like losing a member of the family.”
P.S. It’s not too late to share your memories, Webber (or any other branch) family. I’ll just add them on.
And any other readers – please share your memories too!
2013.11W.11I’m linking this to Sepia Saturday as it fits the prompt theme for today.
Please feel free to read my personal memories of JFK here and my memories of the space shuttle Challenger disaster here.
But, my all means, see what others are sharing at Sepia Saturday!

Sepia Saturday – Webber’s Mystery Parade No. 1

Sepia Sat 13 April 2013Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

Today’s prompt photo is entitled “Palmer’s Mystery Hike No. 2″. My contribution is a photograph from my grandmother’s (Abbie Webber) photo album. It features people walking in a parade wearing hats – and it is a mystery to me and my cousins.

Webber.Myron David.parade

My great-grandfather, Myron David Webber, is the man who turned to face the photographer and there is an X by his legs. M. D. Webber was a school teacher early in his life and served as a pastor in several churches. He also learned the trade of plastering and earned, or supplemented, his income as a plasterer for many years.

Our best guess is that this picture was taken in Iowa City, Iowa, where M. D. Webber lived from 1926 until his death in 1959. My cousin thinks it looks like it could be on Iowa Avenue near downtown. Google doesn’t provide a street view of Iowa City at this time, so I couldn’t go panning up and down the modern street to see if any buildings look like those in the picture.

Although none of us are aware of Great-grandfather belonging to a union, I’m guessing that this is the local chapter of a plasterer’s union he belonged to – and maybe this was part of a Labor Day parade.

There is another photograph from the same page of the album that looks like it was taken the same day based on Great-grandfather’s clothing.

Webber.Myron David and Strange.Dorinda Rebecca

The woman in the picture is M. D. Webber’s wife and my great-grandmother, Dorinda Rebecca Strange.

I once posted “Strange in a Strange Uniform“. Here we have “Strange in a Strange Hat”.
Strange.Dorinda Rebecca in funny hat copy

Looks like a homemade hat for whatever the occasion or celebration.

Date? I’m guessing 1930s?

Now join the parade, hit the trails, or take a leisurely stroll to see what others have prepared for Sepia Saturday today.

Sepia Saturday – Christmas Weddings

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

I’m glad that Sepia Saturday is “come-as-you-can” during the holidays as there are a couple of Christmas Day wedding anniversaries I had hoped to recognize but missed the day.

First is the 115th anniversary of the marriage of my paternal great-grandparents on Christmas Day 1897.

Wedding of Myron David Webber to Dorinda Rebecca Strange

Myron David Webber and Dorinda Rebecca Strange were married in the home of her parents, John Sylvester Strange and Susan Nancy Hendrickson, in Lincoln, Kansas. Unfortunately I don’t know who stood with them in the photo.

Myron and Dorinda had a large family of nine children – some of whom I have introduced previously:
John Norman
Abbie Elizabeth (my grandmother – she’s mentioned numerous times here!)
Aaron Ferrel
Geraldine Hattie
Fred Myron
Norrine Belle
Lottie Susan
Dora Ersel
Woodrow Wilson

M. D. and Dorinda celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at First Baptist Church in Iowa City, Iowa in 1947.

Aaron, Margaret, M. D., Dorinda, and Fred Webber

In my grandmother’s photo album I found a picture of some flowers sent for the celebration and of a “wedding cake” – which I assume was also a part of the anniversary festivities.

             

Fifty-five years after the marriage of her parents, Woodye (Woodrow Wilson Webber) married the love of her life, Orville Kessler, on Christmas Day 1952.

Woodye had two children from a previous marriage and she and Orville had three more, but all were Orville’s children. The adoptions took place when the older girls were no longer girls, but quite grown up – a joyous occasion! I don’t have a picture of their wedding, but their daughter Wilda supplied me with these pictures from Woodye and Orville’s 55th wedding anniversary.

Wilda said in her email: “The bells in the 2nd photo are from our grandparents 50th anniversary and if my memory is correct were hung for Mother and Dad’s wedding, Dorinda’s and mine.”

And to bring this full circle, I’ll end with a poem written by Woodye’s and Orville’s daughter, Wilda. The poem evokes a memory of her grandfather, Myron David Webber, on a Christmas morning.

Gift

Rising early,
Grandfather stoked the ashes
of yesterday’s fire,
added fresh coal,
our first gift
on Christmas morning.

by Wilda Morris
From Secret Place (Nov. 1998 – Jan. 1999).
Used with the author’s permission.

If you would like to see more holiday stories from sepia images, visit Sepia Saturday.