Paxton couple saw president in Fort Worth hours before assassination
PAXTON — Irene Hustedt sits at a table in the kitchen of her cozy duplex, with a portrait of herself and her late husband, Harold, hanging on the wall behind her. Her eyes turn to the many newspaper clippings she kept as remembrances of Harold's life — among them, a report in her hometown newspaper of the "eye-opening" experience she and her husband told of when they saw President John F. Kennedy on the day he was assassinated.
"Since that time, our world has really changed," the 89-year-old Paxton woman said of the event that stunned the nation on Nov. 22, 1963. "Everything was just ... you trusted people, you know."
Hustedt pulls out the Nov. 23, 1963, edition of The Dallas Morning News that she bought for 5 cents almost 50 years ago.
"KENNEDY SLAIN ON DALLAS STREET" reads the bold headline on the top of the front page.
Irene remembers the day vividly. She and Harold Hustedt watched Kennedy's motorcade pass by them in Fort Worth, Texas, before Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, took an airplane to Dallas.
"We could have touched them; they were just right there," Hustedt said. "They went real slow because (the motorcade) was passing a Catholic school. ... We were right up close — off the street, of course."
The day earlier — Nov. 21, 1963 — Irene and Harold also saw Kennedy arrive at the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth, watching in awe as a fleet of police cars pulled up, and a man with a submachine gun exited a vehicle, followed by five patrolmen with drawn pistols. The officers walked into the hotel, followed shortly by Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. The president and first lady stopped to mingle briefly with the large crowd, which was being held back by restraining ropes at the outer edges of the lobby.
"Both President and Mrs. Kennedy looked well and happy," Irene Hustedt was quoted as saying in a Paxton Record story in 1963.
Irene and Harold were in Texas for a different reason, though. Harold, who was the sheriff of Ford County at the time, was picking up a prisoner with his wife, who was one of his deputies/correctional officers. While in Texas, they stayed with some friends who had moved from Paxton to Fort Worth — the Del Robertson family — and together they decided they might as well experience the rare event of a presidential visit.
"It was just kind of a coincidence that we were (in Fort Worth) at this time," Hustedt said.
First, the Hustedts went with the Robertsons to see the president's plane arrive on Nov. 21. They then went directly to the hotel where the Kennedys were headed, hoping to catch a closer glimpse.
"We got a good spot," Hustedt recalls. "We were right behind the cutoff (ropes) where people could get to."
The Hustedts also were on hand the next morning in downtown Fort Worth to watch the Kennedy motorcade on its way to the airport for the trip to Dallas.
"It had been raining earlier in the morning, and because it looked like it could start again we were wearing raincoats," Irene Hustedt said in the 50-year-old Paxton Record story. But sunshine persisted, she said, and as a result, the bubble-top on the presidential limousine was down as the Kennedys passed by — as it was later that day in Dallas.
Hustedt recalls that the Robertsons knew of a "good spot" by a Catholic school where the motorcade would be moving slowly. So they got a very good view.
"It was just really an awesome experience," Hustedt recalls. "It's hard to explain really. I'm just reliving it so much."
Irene and Harold Hustedt later returned to the Robertsons' home, where someone called and said Kennedy had been shot.
"I couldn't believe it. I just really couldn't," Hustedt recalls.
The Hustedts left the Fort Worth area the next day on a jet to Chicago, accompanied by their prisoner, a man who was wanted on a forgery charge.
"When we went to Love Airfield (on Nov. 23), you could hear a pin drop," Hustedt recalls. "It was just eerie. ... I think the nation was in complete shock, you know, because that's the first assassination that we've had for a long time.
"We were in shock all the way coming back. You couldn't keep your eyes off the television after the plane ride, too."