Local photojournalist remembers JFK's death — his first brush with major news
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles remembering the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Longtime photojournalist Ed Cope was just a teenager at the time.
Ed Cope and Susan Bugosh were studying history on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, never dreaming that history was being made in Dallas, Texas.
Cope was a 17-year-old junior at Connellsville Joint High School, learning about American history that day. Bugosh was studying democracy at East Huntingdon High School.
Today, Cope and Bugosh are married, retired and living in Uniontown. But in 1963, they were just carefree Fay-West teenagers looking forward to another fun weekend.
Instead of malts and movies, mayhem and mourning ruled for four days when President John F. Kennedy was murdered at Dealey Plaza.
Susan Cope never forgets the date JFK died.
“It was my 17th birthday,” she said. “Because of that, I always remember, every November. I was in Mr. Robert Miller's problems of democracy class when the news was broadcast over the speaker system.”
Ed Cope added that he drove to school every day and “I usually had a contingent of friends who would ride downtown from the high school with me to Swan's Drugstore on Pittsburgh Street. We'd go there every day after classes to have cherry Coca Colas or milkshakes and snacks.”
No merriment this day
The day that JFK was assassinated, there was no merriment.
“We were all in shock and the girls we hung out with were crying. No one could believe it,” said Ed Cope, noting that Bea Swan, who worked the soda fountain, did all she could to comfort the upset teenagers.
“We had to rely on the major television networks to give us details of what happened,” Ed Cope said.
It was his first brush with major news — but it wouldn't be the last.
Four years after high school graduation, he picked up a news camera and he hasn't put it down since.
If Bob Broderick hadn't left The Daily Courier for another area newspaper in 1968, Ed Cope might have retired from Keystone Fireworks in Dunbar, where he had been working with his father, the late Donald Cope.
“Bob talked me into applying at The Courier,” Ed Cope remembered. “I said, ‘I don't know a thing about photography.' He said, ‘Don't worry, they'll teach you.' I'd never even touched a camera.”
Longtime Daily Courier photographer Kenny Bolden took Ed Cope under his wing.
“He was a terrific guy and a great teacher,” Ed Cope said.
Unfortunately, Bolden died of a heart attack about a year later and Ed Cope found himself holding the camera alone.
Charlie Rosendale was hired by The Daily Courier as Bolden's replacement. Cope and Rosendale would work together in photography in one way or another until Rosendale's untimely death several years ago. The duo was a familiar sight at newsworthy events and also operated their own photography business on the side for many years.
“I miss Charlie every day,” Ed Cope said.
In terms of spot news, President Kennedy's assassination made Associated Press' Top 10 photos of the 20th Century; an award Cope might have garnered had he been in Dallas that day.
He'll tell you that part of great photography is being at the right place at the right time.
Many of his photos have won honors, but one — taken at a 1994 Connellsville fire rescue — made it onto the Associated Press' 20th Century list. The color picture depicted police and firefighters carrying elderly Sally Harrer to safety. It racked up five awards, including a third place recognition from the National Press Photographers Association. It also was named one of the top 600 photos of the 20th Century by the Associated Press.
“(JFK's assassination) was a sad day for our country,” said Ed Cope, reflecting on Nov. 22, 1963. “So many people in this area looked up to him.”
FRIDAY: Historic accounts of President John F. Kennedy's election, assassination and funeral — all can be seen at Phil's Nite Club in Dawson.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.