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“Arnie, Shut that Press Down” – November 2016 Edition of History & Heritage

Welcome to the November edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.

We are located at 421 Summer Street.  At the present time, the Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers.   This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. The carriage barn is a work in progress but the horse drawn vehicles and the ice cutting exhibit are ready for your visit. The installation of a permanent platform wagon scale has begun. On December 10th from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. we invite you to our Holiday Open House & Barn. Music of the harp, refreshments and coloring for the kids will be featured.  Check out our web site at and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer Street, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

“Arnie, Shut that Press Down”

On November 22nd, 1963, Arnie Munkittrick remembers those words well. They were uttered by Gordon Smith, Publisher of the Caledonian – Record who was getting the final page of the day’s paper ready when he received news that President Kennedy had been shot. Arnie was standing in the middle of the press room and relayed the message to the press man.

This story started to unveil at History & Heritage one day when Peter Emmons donated both papers of that sad day. Peter, then a student at the Academy had the job of running the machine that addressed copies of the paper for mailing. “I just grabbed one that was coming off the press, wasn’t sure why at the time.” Sometime later Arnie stopped at the Center to tell the story which led to my going to his house and getting it on tape.

Once the press stopped the whole front page had to be redone. Hot lead was used at the time with letters put in backwards to print. This process took about forty-five minutes for a page. The headline was changed and information added that had come off the wire and then the press was re-started. Again the word came to stop the press for the D in Kennedy was backwards! Unfortunately, we don’t have that paper! Arnie remembers the event had somewhat of a mushroom effect from stopping the press, to the Postmaster holding up the postal trucks so that the people would get their papers, to the first driver’s car to leave the plant being t-boned right on Federal Street. Arnie threw the keys of his car to the driver and off they went with Arnie taking care of the accident. In a state of disbelief and real team work the paper made it out an hour and a half later.

Arnie and Peter – same day paper – one never hit the streets when the news of Kennedy came.

Arnie was involved with the end of Kennedy’s Presidency but he was also involved with the very beginning of his candidacy. When he graduated from Boston University, Arnie got a job as a radio – newsman in Berlin, N.H. at the radio station WMOU. He interviewed John F. Kennedy in the middle of an ice hockey rink on his first campaign stop for the New Hampshire Primary. They had breakfast and lunch together and then did the interview between periods on the ice. The interview was for the crowd and the radio audience. Arnie remembers having 3 x 5 cards in his hand and looking down and seeing them shake, he then looked down at Kennedy and saw his pant legs were shaking. Prior to the live interview, he questioned Kennedy about being nervous and Kennedy confided that it would be easy to “walk out that door and say the hell with it.” Arnie remembers that when the interview opened – “it was magic. If you met him, you would vote for him.” And that was coming from a strong Republican!

Several years after the assassination, Arnie attended a newspaper convention in Dallas, Texas and walked the whole route of that event. He walked into the Book Depository and there was a sheriff at the elevator. After assuring the sheriff that he was not “one of those damn reporters,”  the officer took him to the sixth floor where Oswald had taken aim.

Arnie was the Circulation Manager for thirty years, and General Manager for another ten at the Caledonian-Record. He remembers the early years with many folks all working to deadlines! Arnie remembers Gordon Smith’s love was for the mechanical workings of the paper.

If you were old enough to remember that tragic day – you remembered where you were. St. Johnsbury Academy was my place to hear and disbelief brought down quietness over the school. Faces revealed what our voices could not. I remember walking home with classmate David Ross, first to my parents and then a visit down the hill to my grandparents. In later years I thought that I was seeking security with my parents and perhaps wisdom from my Grandma and Grandpa.

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