A former Lexington newspaper editor remembers Kennedy's assassination

Special to the Herald-LeaderNovember 21, 2013 

It was a routine Friday except that as city editor of The Lexington Leader, I took a reporter to lunch. The reporter, Dick Wilson, was leaving my city staff, and our lunch was a parting gesture.

When we returned to the Herald-Leader building (Short and Market in those days), a lady at the front counter said that President Kennedy had been shot.

Dick and I hurried to the third-floor newsroom. We learned that the report was true and that President Kennedy was taken to a Dallas hospital.

Word came to the newsroom that an "extra" edition of the afternoon final would be published.

News editor Bob Fain took the lead in making over Page One, editing the copy and writing headlines for the extra. Fain was all cool professionalism, but I knew he was churning inside. This was the biggest occasion in our professional lives.

Fain recently recalled searching for type big enough for the extra. Our headline machines didn't produce that size, so Fain had to search the old hand-set cabinets to find a suitable typeface. (The extra's headline would read, "President Slain.")

Other preparations were made. Composing room foreman Bill Tevis told me he had his best Linotype operators and makeup men standing by. The circulation department was geared for big street sales. (I was later told that the extra sold out in a matter of several hours.)

The late Bob Horine, another Leader colleague, wrote an article in November 2008 about that day. In Chevy Chaser Magazine, Horine wrote: "Management had been pushing to publish the extra with only the news that the president had been shot, but Fain and Hanna kept asking for another couple of minutes."

Our pleas fell on deaf ears, because minutes later the order came through that we were going to press in 15 minutes. Shortly thereafter, the flash came on the teletypes that Kennedy was dead. Then we really went to work to put out the extra.

A few minutes earlier, while waiting for the inevitable, several of us were standing in the "wire room" where news-service teletype machines were located. A Marine captain we knew came in and asked if he could read the wire stories with us.

"I won't get in the way," he promised.

He was head of the local Marine Corps recruiting office, located on Market Street near our building. I don't recall his name, but he was a tough bird — he once ran from Lexington to Frankfort just to prove a Marine could do it.

When the words flashed on the teletype that Kennedy was dead, I glanced at the Marine officer, who had also read those words. He was standing at rigid attention with tears in his eyes and streaming down his face. His commander-in-chief had been killed.

It is my most vivid memory of that fateful day.

Bill Hanna, 91, lives in Lexington.

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