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50 years later, ceremonies pay tribute to JFK

Jay Karasik turned 11 the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and every Nov. 22 takes him back to that day. He remembers being let out of school early, and how his mom burst into tears when he got off the bus.

“I can visualize the whole thing,” he said, waiting in the rain to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston Friday morning. He had never been, but on this day he felt he should.

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“It’s been part of my life for 50 years,” said Karasik, who drove up Thursday from Middletown, N.Y.

From Kennedy’s birthplace in Brookline to his memorial near the harbor in Hyannis, the region took pause Friday to observe the 50th anniversary of the president’s death, marking the occasion in solemn ceremony and personal tributes.

A wreath-laying ceremony was held outside the Massachusetts State House on Friday.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A wreath-laying ceremony was held outside the Massachusetts State House on Friday.

At the JFK library, visitors lined up early to see an exhibit of artifacts from the 35th president’s funeral, and later observed a moment of silence commemorating the time Kennedy’s death was announced to the nation.

At a State House ceremony near a statue of Kennedy, where a wreath of white roses lay, a bugler played taps.

And in Hyannis, the town Kennedy called home, large crowds visited the JFK Museum, where the flag flew at half-staff. Many expressed a sense of lingering sorrow, even after so many years.

“It’s just profound sadness when I think what the world might be today if he lived,” said Meg Loughran, 62, of West Barnstable, standing amid photos of Kennedy and his family.

At Kennedy’s birthplace on Beals Street in Brookline, employees at the national historic site decided to open its doors to the public after dozens of visitors unexpectedly showed up.

The site will be open this weekend from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free admission. At 2 p.m. Sunday, a brief memorial ceremony will be held, featuring reflections from local religious leaders and a rendition of “America the Beautiful” from students at the Edward Devotion School, which Kennedy attended as a boy.

Visiting from Maine, Allan Benson and Nancy Hill said the anniversary was a time to reflect on the family’s legacy — their dedication to public service, the arts, and people with special needs.

“The Kennedy family is part of our lives — our history,” said Hill, an artist who was in middle school 50 years ago.

At the JFK Library, more than 1,000 visitors came to pay tribute and reflect upon Kennedy’s legacy. Many said his death robbed the nation of its innocence.

A group from City Year waited to sign the guest books at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, where they paid respects on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

A group from City Year waited to sign the guest books at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, where they paid respects on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.

“It changed everything,” said Betty Noble, 73, visiting from New Hampshire. “It made us feel vulnerable.”

Many recalled the day vividly, the shock deeply etched in their memory.

Joe Monast, 58, of Attleboro, said he was home sick from school that Friday. He remembered his parents gathering around the television as the news broke, and remembered watching his father cry.

“It was the first time I saw an adult cry,” he said.

Paul Doyle, part of a contingent of exhibit visitors from the New England Center for Homeless Veterans in Boston, recalled the overwhelming grief of that day, and said it lingers.

“It’s still sad,” he said.

In the afternoon, a large crowd attended a musical tribute honoring Kennedy, which included readings from several famous speeches and a moment of silence.

In Hyannis, the day was marked with sadness, reflection, and fond reminiscences.

“It’s a very sad day for us,” said Rebecca Pierce-Merrick, cofounder and curator of the John F. Kennedy Museum. “To those of us who were around, he represents to us that great feeling of hope. That kind of hope and belief in our nation and the world is not so prevalent today.”

More than 150 people gathered for the ceremony in a room filled with photographs showing the Kennedys at Hyannis Port in happy, vibrant times.

Rick and Jim Penn, brothers, co-own Puritan Cape Cod, a third-generation clothing store across the street from the museum. Their father, Howard, knew the Kennedys well, and the store provided black dresses to the family after the assassination.

“They were our neighbors, they were our friends, and they were ordinary people,” Jim Penn said. “That’s why, 50 years later, it still affects the people here.”

Elizabeth Gardella, who worked as a restaurant hostess in Hyannis in the summer of 1961, recalled that she would “sneak a peek” at St. Francis Xavier Church to watch the president and Jacqueline Kennedy step out of a limousine and enter for Mass.

When the president was shot, a co-worker tried to console her, she said, by reminding her that the president “is only a man.” A half-century later, the Sandwich resident still finds those words inadequate.

“He was so much bigger than that in so many ways,” said Gardella, 72.

Across Hyannis, the loss of a favorite son echoed through the years. Flags hung at half-staff outside homes and businesses. A Mass was said at St. Francis Xavier’s.

Carlos Diaz, 53, of Hyannis, visited the memorial on his way to his office. In his house hangs a photograph of his grandmother meeting Kennedy, baby Carlos in her arms. To Diaz, the anniversary of the assassination is personal, just as it seemed to be for much of quiet, rain-slick Hyannis.

Patricia Wen and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@
globe.com
. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.
com
. Follow Schworm on Twitter @globepete.
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