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Saturday, November 22, 2008

45 Years Ago Today

I was in the first grade. The public address system came on at approximately two o'clock; we were told that school was dismissed since President Kennedy had been shot.
I walked home (can you imagine a six year old girl walking eight or so blocks to her home, all alone, from school? This was indeed a long time ago.) Some teenagers I met en route were crying. They told me that I should put my head down and cry too, so I did. I did not know what was going on.
As I reached the front steps of the house my mother yanked me in by the arm and slammed the door behind me as if the outside world was no longer a safe place for me. She was probably right.
The television stayed on for the next four days, and we stayed in front of it for most of that time. I don't remember sleeping or eating though I suppose we must have done both.
We did go out once. We had to get our best clothing on for Saturday for a special service at the synagogue where the rabbi led us in the prayer for the dead (Kaddish) for the soul of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. My spring coat was too small. I can still feel the scratchy crinoline and too-tight gloves. I scuffed my feet in the dead leaves as we walked home and back to the television.

YouTube has riveting, uncut footage of several hours of CBS News' coverage of the assassination. It starts with a soap opera, and several commercials actually air after the first announcement of shots is made. Then it switches entirely to the CBS newsroom alternating with shots of the Market Hall in Dallas, where a black waiter is seen crying and wiping his eyes with a table napkin. Few other people in that crowd appear to be affected as strongly. It is amazing to watch Walter Cronkite's reaction to the news as it develops--he is a consummate newsman, but there is a catch in his voice well before the official announcement comes (Dan Rather breaks the news of Kennedy's death ten minutes before official confirmation arrives). Cronkite repeatedly takes his glasses off and puts them on again and there are beads of sweat on his forehead.

We are a good deal more cynical and distrustful of politicians now than we were then, but the Kennedy assassination was mourned in heartfelt fashion by men and women of all races and creeds, all over the world. The miracle of the Internet brings the horror of that day back in black and white--and also in uncensored film of the horrific assassination. It is riveting and sickening stuff.


Brett W. McCoy said...

I was not yet born when it happened (I was probably being conceived, though, around that time), but I still mourn the loss.

Nancy said...

Well, they've found out a lot of stuff about Kennedy now, about how he was actually extremely ill, and had a lot of shady stuff in his background (thought Richard Nixon was far worse). He wasn't Superman or even one of the great Presidents. The real loss was the positive force, the idea that there was this positive New Frontier that would make the world a better place. It was the literal opening shot of a particularly brutal decade. There was some progress on the social front (Civil Rights), but we used to watch news broadcasts that showed civil rights marchers being sprayed with water from fire hoses, and hear about body counts in Vietnam over our breakfasts each morning.

i remember we saw Oswald shot on live television and my father's face was a perfect mask of horror as he leaped out of the chair and shouted for my mother to come in (she was actually washing a dish at the time)
Seeing that footage again after all these years was disturbing. It's far easier now to see things if you know where to look online.

Floyd Norman said...

I remember exactly where I was when we received the news. We were in Eric Larson's office in D-Wing.

Eric was offended because he thought the whole thing was a joke. It took us a while to convince the Directing Animator this indeed was real.

Nancy said...

Hi Floyd,
I doubt if most people wanted to believe that the news was real.