50 Years Ago Today in the Umberg Home
An email from my dad
Erin Umberg, Brett, Tommy and Ellie:
I don’t know what my great grandfather, Jacob Stein, knew or thought when Lincoln was assassinated 148 years ago. He was alive at the time, but that story has not been passed on. I have often thought it would be interesting to know.
50 years ago today on Friday November 22, 1963 — I was a third grader in Miss Rydell’s class at Our Lady of Lourdes school in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Your Aunt Susan was in first grade at the same school; Uncle Jay in kindergarten in public school; Uncle Greg and Aunt Julie were at home. Your Mom, Robin, was in third grade in Texas — Amarillo.) About 2:00 pm Sister Phillipa, the principal, came over the PA system and announced President Kennedy had been shot. A few minutes later she came on again to say the President was dead. After a couple moments of stunned silence, Miss Rydell began weeping. Soon afterwards I heard other teachers (mostly nuns) in the hallway sobbing loudly. Not long after we were let out to take busses home. The kids were unusually quiet while waiting for the bus and while riding home.
When we arrived home, your grandmother Joan was crying and transfixed by the TV. I had never seen her so sad and so preoccupied. (The closest she came was when the Cincinnati Reds lost the 1961 World Series to the Yankees.) For the next three days the TV was on non-stop one of the three networks that existed at the time. There were no commercials for over three days on any network. I don’t recall if Mom made us watch or we did so on our own. Whatever the case, I remember sitting the couch watching the events in Dallas and Washington non-stop: Jacqueline Kennedy arriving back in Washington; the coffin lying in state with the military standing at attention around the coffin for 24 hours; Lee Harvey Oswald being shot on live TV; the funeral and young “John John” saluting the riderless horse and caisson.
I also recall grandma predicting that somebody was going to short Lee Harvey Oswald when they were transporting him out of the jail — a few minutes before he was actually shot. I think she predicted it because the TV networks were making a big deal out of his appearance and broadcasting the details of where Oswald was going to be and when.
For Catholics — in the early 1960’s — John Kennedy was the equivalent to Barack Obama to African Americans. Although she already had four children — your grandmother was only 27 when Kennedy was elected. She was crazy about Kennedy. She had gone to rallies for Kennedy in 1960 and apparently was in front of the crowd by the stage when he mispronounced a word and she shouted a correction. (I think the word was “Cincinnati.”) We had Kennedy straw like hats and campaign paraphernalia. I recall wearing a hat myself.
Maybe an additional reason she was so enamored of the Kennedy’s was a story she told about the Jansen family having a special connection to the Kennedy family. Her Uncle, my great uncle, Father Cornelius Jansen, was a diocesan priest and a scientist. According to her, Uncle “Corny” (no kidding that is what we called him) knew the Kennedy’s in Florida. Joe Kennedy, the father of John Kennedy, asked Uncle Corny to preserve a special coconut from John Kennedy. (John Kennedy was the skipper of a PT boat that was cut in two by a Japanese ship. The PT boat sunk and most of its crew swam to an island. They were rescued after natives delivered a coconut that had a message craved into it specifying their location.) Uncle Corny apparently preserved it and gave it back to Joe Kennedy Sr.)
Anyway, I thought I would pass this along so when you take your grandchildren to visit our graves at Arlington — and you better — you can also visit the Kennedy gravesite and tell them this story.