The excruciating images on the screen of her family’s black and white television are etched in Judy Hagadorn’s memory.
It was November 22 1963, exactly 60 years ago today. U.S. President John F. Kennedy, accompanied by his wife, Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and others were in a motorcade routed through downtown Dallas, when shots rang out, and the 46-year-old president slumped against his wife, mortally wounded.
“I was only 15 years old and attending Lakeport Secondary School in St. Catharines when Kennedy was assassinated,” said Hagadorn, who has lived on Rolling Meadows Boulevard with her husband, Wayne, for 32 years. “I was totally devastated.”
She admits to having a schoolgirl crush on the American president.
“I and all my friends were in complete shock when he was shot,” said Hagadorn. “We all loved him, and had been following his presidency since his inauguration. He was so youthful and good-looking. JFK wanted to have an open motorcade. He didn't want a bulletproof limousine. To this day, when programs come out on television about JFK and Jacqueline, I record them. His death is something I’ve never gotten out of my mind. I was just fascinated with them both.”
America mourned Kennedy’s loss as Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency. Marine Corps veteran Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested close to the scene of the shooting. Two days later, local nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald to death as Oswald was being transported from one detention facility to another.
Photographs and newsreels of the president’s grieving widow and children flooded the news media. A quarter million passed through the White House rotunda to view the fallen president lying in state, and 300,000 mourners lined Pennsylvania Avenue as JFK’s flag-draped, horse-drawn casket made its way to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Some 1,200 guests and representatives from 90 countries attended the funeral. After the service, Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Hagadorn was so moved by the outpouring of emotion for JFK and his family, that she decided to contribute her own personal words of sincere condolence.
“I typed out a letter expressing my sympathy, and sent it, with a poem I felt was appropriate, to the First Lady, care of the White House in Washington DC,” said Hagadorn. “I was amazed when she responded to my note, basically saying thank you for my thoughtfulness. When her note arrived, I was so excited, I ripped the envelope. I felt sad afterwards. I should have taken a knife and opened it up more carefully.”
She has retained the note from Jacqueline Kennedy, in the original envelope, for 60 years, and still treasures it.
"We all loved him, and had been following his presidency since his inauguration"
It remains unknown why Oswald shot the president, and the public’s fascination with the topic has fueling countless conspiracy theories. President Lyndon Johnson created the Warren Commission (led by chief Justice Earl Warren) to investigate the assassination, which ultimately concluded that Oswald had acted alone. But the president’s death spawned a climate of mistrust in the 1960s, fueled by the assassinations in 1968 of Martin Luther King, Jr. and JFK’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy. The conspiracy culture continued into the 1970s, as the Vietnam War (and over 50,000 American military deaths) dragged on, and the Watergate scandal in Washington, DC ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
One reason that JFK assassination conspiracy theories still persist is that not all of the files pertaining to that fateful day have been made publicly available by the U.S. government, said Hagadorn. All documents were supposed to be disclosed by 2017, but the release date has been postponed multiple times during the Trump and Biden administrations.
“My theory is that either the CIA or FBI were involved in the assassination,” said Hagadorn. “It possibly could have been a mob hit, at the request of someone high-up in the government. Some people are saying that the latest evidence indicates that were two shooters, one in front of the motorcade, and the other — Oswald — at the rear. But I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy, set-up by someone in the government.”
She reflected sadly on the tragedy surrounding generations of the Kennedy family, one of America’s dynasties. Both JFK and RFK were felled by assassin’s bullets, while JFK Jr., the late president’s son (and People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man of the Year’ in 1988) was killed with his wife and sister-in-law when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Atlantic off Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
“What happened to JFK and RFK was horrible,” said Hagadorn. “Now Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has announced his campaign for the 2024 United States presidential election. I’m genuinely worried for his safety.”
The message from Jacqueline Kennedy was not the only time Hagadorn has received a response to a condolence note for someone famous.
“I did the same thing when Elvis Presley died,” she said. “I wrote a note of condolence, and I got three newspapers with coverage of Elvis’ death back from his father, Aaron Presley. I still have them. But there was no personal note with the papers.”
Hagadorn said that the History Channel is airing a special feature about JFK for the 60th anniversary.
“I’ll be recording that one for sure,” she said.