’63 Lariat staff looks back on assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy
By Ada Zhang
Baylor Lariat staffers Ed DeLong and Ray Hubener hopped in DeLong’s car on Friday, Nov. 22 1963, and drove to the Dallas Trade Mart. The Lariat had been covering Kennedy’s entire trip through Texas. In fact, DeLong and Hubener had just covered Kennedy’s speech in San Antonio on Thursday, where they actually saw Kennedy and the first lady step off the plane.
They were in the Trade Mart, waiting for the president to arrive. In the mean time, DeLong was looking for someone to release a copy of the President’s speech. He went into the press room on the fourth floor and heard the news that completely altered his assignment for The Lariat: “The President has been shot.”
From that point on, the story became much larger than just Kennedy’s tour of Texas.
“Ed came up to me, pulled me away and said, ‘I need to tell you something,’” said Hubener, currently in his 70’s and living in New York. “As soon as we were in a quiet place, he said, ‘Kennedy’s been shot.’”
Hubener was shocked to hear the news, but he understood that he and DeLong had a job to do.
“We said OK, let’s do the job,” Hubener said. “And we just did the job, which was start collecting facts and information and start talking to people.”
Security was loose back then compared to how it is now. Their Kennedy-trip press tags looped DeLong and Hubener into the same category as the rest of the reporters present at the scene that day. No one could tell they were student reporters.
“The aftermath of the events in Dallas was the end of a time when you could just stroll in pretty much anywhere — the end of one era and the beginning of another when you had to get identification or be escorted to get in many places,” DeLong said. DeLong, who is now in his 70’s and lives in Australia, described his memories of covering the assassination by way of email to the Lariat.
A policeman, who took notice of their press tags, hailed a car for them to take to Parkland Hospital where Kennedy had been taken.
Outside the hospital, DeLong jotted down Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough’s description of Kennedy’s shooting. Yarborough was weeping as he retold what he saw.
Professor David McHam, a journalism professor at the University of Houston who was the Lariat faculty advisor for DeLong and Hubener, said portable recorders were not around at that time, so taking notes on a notepad was the only way to record the quotes.
“He had a notebook,” McHam said. “He practiced taking notes in class. That was one of the skills you learned in those days.”
DeLong and Hubener worked independently — Hubener outside the hospital and DeLong inside.
DeLong observed the scene in the hospital, but he did not feel emotional as he covered the assassination. He was too busy working.
“A woman on a stretcher in the hall watched puzzled as nurses and interns gathered in hushed groups and newsmen scurried around searching for telephones,” Delong wrote in his original report.
Later, Delong heard the Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff announce Kennedy’s death.
“The several hundred newsmen — tough veterans who are not usually affected by the stories they cover — let out a gasp even though they already knew unofficially that the President was dead,” DeLong wrote.
A nurse had secured a telephone for DeLong to use to call the Lariat office. Once DeLong heard the news, he bolted for the telephone.
“She fought off all others who tried to use the phone while I went in search of more info and attended the briefing where Malcolm Kilduff announced to a teary-eyed press corps that the president was dead,” DeLong said, thankful for her help.
The closest equivalent to today’s cell phone in 1963 were radio phones. These large radio phones were rare, DeLong said.
“On a breaking story, locating a pay phone booth or a pay phone on the wall in a building was often the first thing a good reporter tried to do,” DeLong said.
He said McHam had taught him to always have at least one dime on him in case he needed to make a call.
DeLong was calling the story in, which meant he was reading his reports over the phone to a Lariat staff member in Waco.
“There were no such things as computers,” Hubener said. “He called it in and someone was there typing it up on a typewriter.”
A special one-page issue of the Lariat was planned to run that afternoon to relay the breaking news of America’s fallen leader.
After spending a few more hours in the hospital gathering information and relaying it to Waco, DeLong and Hubener headed to the Dallas Police Station.
Because of their press tags, they were granted immediate access to suite 317, where the Homicide and Robbery office was located. DeLong said a policewoman had directed them to the suite without batting an eye.
Amidst a mob of reporters, they could see Kennedy’s alleged shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald.
“Oswald was a little man,” Hubener said. “I remember seeing him behind bars.”
In his original report, DeLong wrote that Oswald kept screaming, “I didn’t shoot anybody. I don’t know anything about it.”
DeLong worked diligently straight through the night, constantly listening for updates. Reporters came in and out. Witnesses were brought in. Rumors spread as police continued their investigation.
DeLong said he still remembers “the way the police paraded Oswald’s rifle through a hallway choked with reporters.”
At some point during the night, Jack Ruby came into the police station and offered DeLong a couple of White Castle burgers and a coke.
DeLong said he was well acquainted with Ruby. When DeLong had time during the school year, he would drive from Waco to Dallas to visit Ruby’s Carousel Club, which is a bar in Dallas, and drive back to Waco in the same night. DeLong had been visiting Ruby’s club for two years, a secret he said he kept from his strict Baptist parents.
“He brought me back a couple of White Castle burgers and took a bag of others into a room where police officers were carrying out their investigations,” DeLong said.
At midnight, District Attorney Henry Wade announced that Oswald had been charged with Kennedy’s murder.
Reporters made another rush to the telephones. However, the intensity of the President’s death waned with time.
“By Saturday the immediate shock had passed,” DeLong wrote in his original report.
DeLong and Hubener checked into a hotel at 3 a.m. Sunday and slept until noon. They learned through the television that they had missed Ruby shooting Oswald.
“All I can say is that it’s a small world — a fact that I’ve experienced many times since,” DeLong said.
DeLong and Hubener drove back to Waco Sunday afternoon.
“The real world came crashing in when I got back to Waco on Sunday evening and had to start cramming for a Constitution Law examination that was coming up on Monday or Tuesday, as well as attending Monday classes and work at the Lariat,” DeLong said.
For its superb coverage of the Kennedy assassination, the Lariat won a national award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
Looking back on that experience 50 years later, Hubener said it was both traumatic and fantastic. It was traumatic for him personally because he was a supporter of Kennedy.
“It was a fantastic experience from a reporter’s point of view,” Hubener said.