The caisson carrying President John F. Kennedy's casket arrives at the East Front of the Capitol on Nov. 24, 1963, in this photo taken from the catwalk around the Capitol Dome by Jim Westhall of North Conway. At the time, Westhall was a congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Louis Wyman, R-N.H. (JIM WESTHALL)
NH man witnessed JFK ceremonies perched high in the Capitol Dome
Westhall shared his exclusive photographs with the New Hampshire Union Leader this week.
One shows the Kennedy casket delivered on a horse-drawn caisson, with a riderless horse behind it. Trees are bare, the lawn has turned its November brown, and hundreds of mourners are grouped in an arc on one side of the plaza, others in a line on the other.
"It was just a quiet picture, a quiet scene. You didn't hear anything; it was stark silence," said Westhall, an author and retired tennis tournament promoter.
Westhall landed on his perch thanks to a fellow congressional aide, Pennsylvania native Gerry Schiappa, who at the time worked for a Pennsylvania congressman whose office was across the hall from Wyman's. Westhall said Schiappa, who became a lifelong friend, befriended everyone in the Capitol. So when the Kennedy procession arrived, Sciappa grabbed Westhall and five others and they made their way to the dome walkway.
Sciappa later worked for Wyman as well. Westhall said Sciappa's widow spends part of the year at a family summer home in Wolfeboro.