Fifty years ago, Alfred Wilson, an avid newspaper reader and promoter of the written word, was jarred by news that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Then an educator in an Illinois elementary school, knew he wanted to create a time capsule that would capture that horrific moment across the country.
He asked his sixth-grade students to send requests to newspapers nationwide asking for front pages of their Nov. 22, 1963, and Nov. 23, 1963, issues chronicling JFK’s assassination.
The response was overwhelming.
The final tally: 51 newspapers.
For decades, Wilson has kept the treasure trove of history as a personal memento. He kept them in a Samsonite suitcase “tucked away in a closet.”
But on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, he decided to share his memorabilia with the world.
The 51 laminated pages were put up Friday at his daughter’s restaurant, Elote Mexican Kitchen. They will remain there until 10 p.m. Sunday.
Elote’s owner and Wilson’s daughter, Cynthia Loeb, heralded their importance, saying, “These 50-year-old historic front pages observe this infamous day in our nation’s history.”
Wilson’s love of newspapers is more than just pouring through the pages daily. He has made it a longtime mission.
His influence can be felt through his association with Newspaper in Education — which strives to incorporate newspapers as a basic text and an instructional tool at schools. Today, he remains a Newspaper in Education consultant.
A glance at the 51 newspapers shows a variety of ways staff treated the news, although nearly all devoted their entire front page to the assassination.
The now-defunct “Dallas Times Herald” banner headline reads: PRESIDENT DEAD.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which ceased publication in 2010, trumpets: “Police say, case cinched in Kennedy assassination.”
Among those who perused the papers were Brian and Judy Weiman, ages 52 and 50 respectively. Neither was born when President Kennedy was killed, but find the historic artifacts interesting because of the apparent impact on future generations.
“It seems like the U.S. survived that,” Brian Weiman said. “It happened. What are we going to do? We have to move on at this point.”
Wilson said his collection is not unique. He expects many others have stashed similar, yellowed papers in their basements and attics.
What sets his apart is the scope of his collection.
It doesn’t matter that the papers — most which originally cost a nickle or a dime — aren’t worth much.
To him, “they’re priceless.”
“I would never sell them,” said Wilson, 76. “I’m going to leave them to my grandchildren. We’ll instill the history in them.”
The exhibit is free, but they are asking for donations of appreciation for the display to benefit the Prader-Willi Foundation to help children afflicted with the Prader-Willi syndrome — a genetic disorder that causes a chronic feeling of hunger, among other issues. One of Wilson’s granddaughters is afflicted.