Silence over the sidewalks
The quiet hum of hovering helicopters was the only thing that could be heard for miles as the blue hearse carrying Joe Paterno crept slowly through the Penn State campus and downtown State College. Faces saddened and eyes filled with tears as many onlookers took photographs for memories, held signs for support, or placed flowers on the back of the hearse. As the procession progressed, silence grew over the sidewalks flooded with people who were only there for one reason. To guide Joe home.
There has been a tribute to the 85-year-old football coach almost every day since the day he took his last breath last Sunday morning. Wednesday’s tribute was a funeral procession through Happy Valley. Students, parents, professors, children, the elderly in wheelchairs, infants in strollers and even dogs all lined the route to pay their respects. Many walked two minutes from their dormitory rooms to the sidewalk. Some, like Lisa McQueeney, traveled from a distance.
She left Binghamton, N.Y. at 4 o’clock Wednesday morning. As an alumnus from the class of 1995, McQueeney felt the need to be here in support of Paterno. “This is a huge honor, a huge tribute,” she said. “I think it says a lot.” McQueeney heard about the procession and the memorial service on Thursday afternoon by word of mouth and through social media. Students who attend Penn State, who know McQueeney, told her about the Facebook event page, “Guide Joe Paterno Home”, created by students Eric Bress and Allie Menna this week.
Bress and Menna came up with the idea for people to line the streets of the procession to make “a human chain of students, teachers, players etc.” They decided to take advantage of students’ steady use of the social media site, Facebook, to get the word out. There were about 7,000 “attending” guests on the event page. However, the true amount of attending people was clearly more than that. “I was speechless,” Menna, a freshman psychology major, said. “I could not believe how many people actually turned up.”
Paterno supporters began lining up at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on campus around 1:45 p.m. The procession was to begin immediately after the funeral, around 3 p.m. People waited patiently. Many were confused about what exactly would happen and how people would react. No one knew if there would be cheering, clapping, crying, or silence. Finally, around 4 p.m. the funeral ended and Paterno’s casket was loaded into the hearse. Although it was an hour later than expected, the crowds on the sidewalks waited quietly and patiently.
Police vehicles led the hearse and family members packed into buses toward the east along Curtin Road and past Beaver Stadium, to the south along Porter Road, and to the west along College Avenue to Atherton Street. Joe’s wife, Sue Paterno, quietly wept as she sat in her husband’s traditional seat behind the driver on the blue Penn State bus. The crowd fell silent. The only actions were powerful, sympathetic, supportive looks exchanged between the bystanders and the passengers in the vehicles: looks that let the family know we all felt as though we had lost a family member.
As the line of cars approached Atherton Street, the crowd stood in silence. “That would be the last time we would be in the presence of Joe,” said Menna. “This has affected everyone in the Penn State community. You could tell by the silence as they drove past.”
Many continued to sob. The crowd watched in disbelief as the final police vehicles, having turned on to Atherton Street slowly disappeared.