From the Vineyard Gazette edition of Nov. 29, 1963:
Like the rest of the world, the Vineyard was stunned by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy last Friday afternoon. In disbelief and then in fear and dismay, they heard the news over the radio in homes and in cars. It seemed as if the world had stopped in the period between the first news broadcast and the subsequent one announcing the President’s death.
The tributes paid on the Vineyard to the late President had a special distinction, since the Island’s relationship to him was closer than that of many other parts of the country. President Kennedy was a neighbor, with a home just across the Sound at Hyannis Port, and he and his family often visited Edgartown harbor to swim and waterski. During the last three seasons, Vineyarders came to expect the President’s boat in the harbor from time to time as a notable but not particularly newsworthy event.
Island memories go back to the assassination of President William McKinley sixty-four years ago, and the shock manifested by Islanders at that time. The special services in the churches are recalled, with altars and pulpit desks draped in black and the general atmosphere of mourning which could everywhere be felt, plus a strange sense of apprehension.
Last Friday, this same feeling was apparent, and was accentuated for the reason that the news came swiftly and with shocking impact, following so closely upon reports of the warm welcome that the President had received on arriving in Dallas.
The effect of this nationwide tragedy was reflected in just about every phase of Island life and the actual movements of individuals from the tragic Friday afternoon until the end of Monday. It was wholly apparent on Sunday in the churches where emotions were variously stirred by the reading of President Kennedy’s Thanksgiving proclamation.
There have been many such proclamations composed by the Chief Executives of this nation which have been read to congregations and gatherings throughout the land. But there has never been one quite like this; perhaps never has one been composed under circumstances comparable with those of the present day.
Framed in simple phrases, the traditional resume of history composed the forward and opening address but it wound up with a reference to the present day situation wherein the United States exists in an atmosphere of “Prosperity and peril.” A profound sense of solemnity seized upon the hearers of this proclamation as they realized that the man who had signed the document was lying dead as a result of the peril of which he warned but a few days before.
On Monday the majority of Island business places closed at least for a portion of the day, while some did not open at all. The Island schools were also closed.
Although the shock of the loss of President Kennedy abated somewhat as the week progressed, Edgartown continued to feel the loss acutely. On Wednesday, there was talk of a memorial to the President who had often visited the harbor.
Much of the inspiration for a memorial came from an expected quarter, Judge Abner L. Braley, a lifelong student of history, particularly the history of the United States.
The kind of memorial was the question that naturally followed. Someone suggested that perhaps the triangular park bordered by Main and Cooke streets and West Tisbury road might be a fitting location. This park is usually thought of as a memorial to those who fought in the Civil War, but Judge Braley is not sure that it was ever officially dedicated exclusively to the Civil War.
Someone else has suggested the town wharf, which already memorializes those who fought in the World Wars. The late President himself fought in World War II. It was pointed out that the wharf would be a fitting memorial for one who served in the Navy during the war and one who had continued to demonstrate a love for sailing.
Another suggestion as a memorial was the area which now gives access to a number of finger piers but is otherwise used as a parking lot almost exclusively. If it became a memorial to the late President, it would almost certainly have to undergo some beautification, a step which, many citizens have felt, the area could have benefited from long before now.
Two selectmen, Robert J. Carroll and John W. Osborn, were considering these suggestions on Wednesday, and no doubt the third selectman, Edward F. Case, has been brought into the deliberation by this time. Mr. Carroll said that he and his fellows would like to hear other suggestions.
In a letter to the editors, another suggestion is made by Winfield S. Smith: to name the Edgartown-Oak Bluffs Beach Road the John F. Kennedy Drive.
Compiled by Hilary Wall