Richmond’s square a different place before and after JFK was killed

By Linda Emley

This postcard shows what downtown Richmond looked like in the 1960s. One of the most memorable events from that era happened 50 years ago on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot.
This was in the Ray County Conservator, Nov. 25, 1963, “Richmond and Ray Country joined the nation today in paying tribute to the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, felled by a sniper’s bullet shortly before noon Friday in Dallas, Texas. Mayor Charles A. Foster issued a proclamation urging the business houses to close between the hours of noon and 1 p.m. today. The courthouse was closed all day. There was a prayer service at the Presbyterian Church between noon and 1 p.m. and many of the other churches had their doors open for silent prayer. This was truly a moment in time that none of us will ever forget.”
I got a call from my friend Bill Greer a few days ago and he told that he was in Dallas the day Kennedy was shot. Bill was working in the advertising department at the Nieman Marcus store that was a block away from JFK’s parade route. He and two friends took their lunch break and walked over to the corner of Main Street and watched JFK’s limo drive by. He said they were about 10 feet away from the president. None of the street were blocked off and the city buses were still running on the same street that Kennedy was on, but they were traveling the opposite direction.
After the parade moved on, Bill and his friends were walking to a café a few blocks away when they saw a women running down the street screaming, “They shot him in the head.” Everyone thought the lady was crazy. A policeman was standing near by and they asked him what was going on and he said he didn’t know.
Bill and his friends went back to Neiman Marcus and were watching a TV in the gift shop when they heard the news. The store was soon shut down and black ribbons were put on all the doors.
JFK was taken to Parkland Hospital, which seemed strange to everyone because St. Mary’s Hospital was right across the street from where he was shot. One of Bill’s friends had a husband who worked at Parkland Hospital and they were able to get ahold of him and he told them that the president had died. He later told the story about his conversation with Jackie Kennedy. She was sitting all alone in a hall and he asked her if he could get her anything. She asked for a black coffee and a cigarette, which he quickly got for the first lady.
Bill offered a few more tales from this memoriable day in Dallas. Stanley Marcus, who was known as “Mr. Stanley,” wasn’t in Dallas that day because he was in Washington, D.C. waiting for the President to return because he was hoping to be appointed Ambassador to France. I checked the list of French ambassadors and “Mr. Stanley” was never appointed, but he did keep close ties to the new President.
Nieman Marcus would later provide the wedding dresses for both of Johnson’s daughters. Marcus’s own daughter, Wendy, worked a short time for Mrs. Johnson’s staff in 1963.
Now back to 1963 Richmond. The following businesses and organizations on the square are still the same after all these years: Pointer’s Jewelers, The Richmond News, Garner-McCauley Abstract, Machine Supply and The 2nd Baptist Church. The Jones Store is just around the corner from where they were in 1963.
When you get away from the square we have a few that are still in the same location – Swafford Ford, Harrison Body Shop, The Rose Court Motel, (Ray-Carroll) CO-OP, Thurman Funeral Home, Richmond Bowl, The Methodist Church, Ray County Hospital, and The Farris Theatre, which is even better today than it was in 1963.
There are some that are still open for business but have moved, like Derstler Lumber and Ray Country Implement.
Many things have changed since 1963. Richmond had nine Grocery Stores, three jewelry stores, 14 service stations, Virgil’s Cab, Bagley TV Repair, Lillard Ice Cream, Drinkmore Beverage Co., four new car dealers and a Woman‘s Club. The sheriff was Arthur Lee Elliott. I don’t remember life before Sheriff J.R. Stockton and Deputy Don Swafford. Deputy Don was Ray County Coroner in 1963.
Back then, many people checked the newspapers for the daily hospital report. It listed who was admitted and who was dismissed . It even told where they were from, for example, “Dismissed on Monday, Mrs. John Smith and daughter, from Polo.”
Another amusing thing in the paper was called, “These Things Will Happen. Lenvil Elliott Jr., 11, required 30 sutures on his right hand when he fell and cut his hand. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Lenvil Elliott. “Little did we know that he would grow up and play pro football in a Super Bowl game.
IGA was giving away a free ice tea tumbler with each $5 purchase. I am sure these tumblers can be found in an antique store today and they are not free anymore. Ground Beef was 37 cents a pound and cantaloupes were three for a dollar.
Two names that remind me of 1963 are The Pink Poodle and Toots Mooney. The Pink Poodle was the place to be and Toots was still doing the high style thing with hair. Remember when a lady got her hair done and it did not move until she went back the next week? I thought the Pink Poodle was too cool to do high styles, then I found their Yellow Page ads and they said, “High Styles by Ronnie,” so I guess Ronnie Stockton and Toots Mooney were both doing high styles.
At that time, stores on the south side of the square were Gerald’s Barber Shop, Ray’s Jewelry, Richmond Drug, Davis Paint, The Memory Gardens office and several insurance companies at 125 E’ Main, Duvals, Walls, Williams Shoes, Mode O Day, Carps, Jackson’s, Mattingly’s, Pointer’s Jewelers and Central Drug.
I could not find a phone number for Gerald’s Barber Shop. I was beginning to think they did not have a phone because they didn’t need one. No one ever called a barbershop to make an appointment, you just walked in and waited your turn. This question was driving me crazy and then one day my mother said, “Call Mae.” I called Mae and now the mystery is solved. Gerald’s Barber Shop had a pay phone. Mae said they ran the Barber shop from 1958-1989.
The east side of the square was North Thornton Street, which had Smith Hardware, Blair’s Gift Shop, Economy Drug, Rader‘s, Carter-Brown Real Estate and Cordray Supply. The west side was North College Street, the site of Home Savings, Garner-McCauley, Jim Farris Real Estate, Dick Dale attorney, Hunt Jewelers and The Jones Store. The north side was North Main Street, home to Carter Funeral Home, Mo Pub, Farmer’s Home Insurance, The Masonic Lodge (upstairs), Jay’s Auto Parts, Ray County Farm Bureau, The Town Tavern, Helen Thompson Antiques, Thompson Printing, Curly’s Liquor and Rader’s Tavern upstairs.
We can’t forget the four corners of the square. In 1963, The Richmond Hotel was still going to be around another year. Herefords and The Christian Church were on the next two corners. The Exchange Bank moved to its final corner of the square July 22, 1963.
There was another whole block of stores on West Main Street. Some of those were JC Penney, Harrell’s Sundry, Herefords, The Special Shop, The Style Shop and one of our favorites, F. G. Weary’s  Variety Store, which had a talking bird. There were other creatures uptown. Someone else mentioned the black raven at The Style Shop and the huge sailfish at Jackson’s. It is funny the things we remember many years later.
Central Drug seems to be one of those places that everyone loved. It was a hangout for high school kids for several generations. The Spartan Café was upstairs and it had a dumb waiter. In later years, the soda fountain was on the main floor.
The 1960s were a time of innocence. Little did we know that in a few short years some of us would turn into hippies as we welcomed the 1970s.
There are a few more chapters to this story, which I will share with everyone next week.

Have memories of Richmond or Ray County in the 1960s and 70s? Share them with Linda at

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