As the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination approaches, many of us will be moved to remember, “Where was I when it happened?” My story is perhaps one of the more unusual ones.
November 22, 1963 was on a Friday. I was sitting in Mr. Ed Schneider’s Social Studies class at JHS 80 in The Bronx. The time was somewhere around 11:30 a.m., Eastern Standard Time. My class had just finished a syllabus on the Presidents of the United States. There were about 10 minutes left to the period and not enough time for Mr. Schneider to start a new subject of study. That would have to wait until Monday.
To fill the remaining time before the bell rang, he shared with the class a piece of historical trivia, which is also explained by Robert Caro in his most recent installment of Lyndon Johnson’s biography, “The Passage of Power”:
“During the last hundred years before 1960, five presidents had died in office, approximately 20 years apart from the time they were elected – Abraham Lincoln in 1865, James Garfield in 1881, William McKinley in 1901, Warren Harding in 1923 and FDR in 1945.”
As the bell rang to end the period, Mr. Schneider finished with the statement “Who knows what will happen to JFK? Will he be able to serve out his presidency or will something happen to him?”
With the bell, we all ran out of the room and on to the next period. At 12:30 p.m. Central Time (1:30 Eastern), JFK’s life is cut short by the assassin’s bullet.
At around 2:00 Eastern, an announcement goes out over the P.A. for everyone to return to their homeroom classrooms. At this point the death of JFK begins to percolate throughout the school. We were kept in our classrooms for about 30 minutes, where we were informed that the President had been shot. Another announcement came over the P.A. “There will be a rapid dismissal and all students are to leave the building immediately and go home – except Mr. Schneider’s Social Studies class! You are to report to his classroom immediately!!!”
We all entered his classroom from various parts of the school building. The silence in the room was scary, as we were generally a noisy group. We were all seated and beginning to speculate what we did wrong. How come we couldn’t go home like everyone else? Waiting for us was Mr. Schneider, his student teacher, the Social Studies Assistant Principal and the school’s principal. Ed walked up to the front of the class; all the grownups stood at the back of the room. Their faces were very somber and looking a wee bit frightened.
Ed, clearly shaken, looks at us all for a few heartbeats and then begins to tell us that he had nothing to do with the shooting, that it was all very coincidental, and that he had been telling us a rare piece of history trivia. As a side note, if President Reagan died from his shooting in 1981, this historical anomaly would have continued. He asked that we please not tell anyone that he predicted what would happen to JFK.
Several years ago, I was able to track down Mr. Schneider. I was watching a PBS show about The Bronx Historical Society in which he was interviewed on another topic. I called the museum and asked to give him my contact information. I gave as the message, “I was in your class on November 22, 1963.”
A couple of hours later, he called! He said, “Finally, I have someone who can prove my story.” He explained that for many years he would repeat this story, but no one would believe him. Now he had corroboration!!
I just tried calling him to review the events of 50 years ago in his classroom, but all I got was his voicemail. Hopefully he’ll be able to call me back.