In 1963, the wire room at the Beacon Journal was the newspaper’s lifeline to news from beyond Akron.
Teletype machines clattered incessantly, spitting out long sheets of paper printed with stories supplied by wire services. The black boxes, one for each news service, resembled oversized typewriters without keyboards.
The machines occupied a room near the copy desk — far enough away that the noise wouldn’t disturb editors as they polished stories and wrote headlines, but close enough that those editors could hear the bells that would ring on the machines to alert the newsroom to stories of particular importance.
It wasn’t unusual to hear three or four bells signifying an advisory or a high-priority story. But on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, the bells rang with a frantic urgency.
Art Krummel was a 20-year-old copy boy at the paper that day, responsible for carrying printouts of stories from the wire room to the copy desk. He’d witnessed the fury of the wire machines during the Cuban missile crisis, but this was different.
“It was way crazier,” remembered Krummel, who went on to become art director at the Beacon Journal and retired in 2001 as the newspaper’s technology editor. “All the wire machines were dinging and just jumping off their stands.”
The first bulletin moved shortly after 1:30 p.m., normally a quiet time in the newsroom back then. The newspaper was published in the afternoon, and by then the day’s biggest edition had been put to bed. The deadline rush was over, and most of the reporters and editors who remained were working at a more leisurely pace on the next day’s stories.
Before the chaos
Krummel’s longtime colleague Tom Moore was a copy editor then and was assigned to lay out the night final, a smaller edition intended for street sale rather than home delivery. He remembers the unflappable wire editor, Russ McLean, calmly handing him a piece of wire copy and suggesting that maybe Moore could use it.
“It was one paragraph: President Kennedy had been shot,” said Moore, who retired from the paper in 1992. He looked at it for a moment, muttered a few words under his breath and was just about to tell his colleagues when chief artist Joe Grace shot from his office and shouted the news he’d just heard on the radio.
“Immediately, the newsroom was in an uproar,” Moore said.
News editor Ed Schoenleb took control of the havoc. Someone turned on the only TV set, a tiny black-and-white model in the newsroom’s library, called the morgue.
Moore remembers veteran copy editor Bob Ryan penciling editing marks on the story, which was handed to him paragraph by paragraph as it was ripped from the teletype machine. A crowd hovered, struggling to read over his shoulder. The crusty Ryan ordered the group to scatter.
“I need some breathing room,” Moore remembers him saying. “And everybody did. Even [Publisher Ben] Maidenburg.”
Krummel said the scene lacked the high drama of movies, but “it just was a beehive of activity, people flying around.” He remembers someone picking up the phone and saying, “Stop the presses. We’ve got a story. The president’s been shot.”
Moore recalls that Maidenburg didn’t order the presses stopped immediately, but rather slowed. That allowed the pressmen to halt the hulking machines quickly each time plates of new pages arrived, he explained. And that meant more newspapers would carry the most up-to-date news.
The decision was made to publish extra editions, the newspaper’s first since Japan surrendered to end World War II.
All the news staff knew for certain by the time the first extra rolled off the Beacon Journal’s presses was that Kennedy had been shot. A story from United Press International described the president’s limp body cradled in his wife’s arms as his limousine rushed to Parkland Hospital and quoted a Secret Service agent as saying, “He’s dead.” But those reports were unconfirmed, and the headline still reported only that Kennedy had been wounded.
A story about a foiled jail break at the county jail was scrapped to make way for the news, but a photo of volunteers stocking an Akron thrift shop still dominated the front page.
About an hour after the first bulletin arrived, confirmation of the president’s death came from UPI. A second extra was published, followed by a third containing more details — among them, the slaying of a Dallas policeman and the arrest of a suspect identified as Lee H. Oswald. The extra also contained the first photo the newspaper would publish from the scene, a picture of Jackie Kennedy leaning over the dying president in the back seat of their open car.
Around downtown Akron that afternoon and evening, hawkers stood on street corners, selling the papers to passersby and holding them up so motorists could see the bold headline:
“JFK IS ASSASSINATED BY SNIPER IN DALLAS.”
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.