NPF: ORAL HISTORY

JFK died fifty years ago today, as the surge of related content on TV and in the news has probably reminded you. Very few moments in American history have captured our imaginations so completely over the years.

Last weekend I spent some time with my dad, age 62, and he went through his story of where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news. There are people in the world who don't like hearing older people tell stories like this. I am not one of them. Informal oral history is more interesting than anything I can read in a book or see on TV in yet another interview from the archives with Walter Cronkite. I know some of you are over fifty. Feel free to share your own stories in the comments. The media keep telling us that everyone remembers where they were when it happened, and how could the media have such a pervasive trope if it wasn't true?

Not having lived through it, I have nothing to remember. Part of the reason I think it fascinates people, though, is the 8mm eeriness of the Zapruder film. It's less like a document of a historical event than a clip from an early John Carpenter horror movie. It doesn't matter how many times it gets replayed – and certainly most Americans have seen it dozens if not hundreds of times already – it's never any less arresting. Every time the limo rolls into view in semi-slow motion I'm like, "Oh shit, man…you should duck…"

And he never does.

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58 Responses to “NPF: ORAL HISTORY”

  1. Dbp Says:

    There's a book with Lego re-enactments of every presidential assassination and assassination attempt. It's quite interesting and creepy. Also there is a Lego Teddy Roosevelt which is the greatest of all things.

  2. Dr. Mac Says:

    I was a freshman at Brown University on that Friday afternoon. We were sitting in my dorm room listening to the radio. I guess somebody told us that Kennedy had been shot. As we listened, I remember the reporter saying that a motorcycle cop and many bystanders ran to the "grassy Knoll" right after it happened. That's been cemented in my mind ever since. Later that winter, Mark Lane spoke at the university. I've been a con-theo since that evening. Big picture, big picture. If doubt lingers forever, then doubt.

  3. Elle Says:

    When I was at high school our Geography teacher told us the story of President Kennedy's death. He had himself been at high school when it happened, and the headmaster had gathered the school together, voice cracking in a way that my teacher was shocked by, and then sent all of the boys home. My teacher rode his bike home with tears streaming down his face.

    He described this sense that President Kennedy was a symbol of a hope for a better world, and that even though this was all happening on the other side of the Atlantic, it felt like the death of youth, and optimism, and a chance for things to change.

    And then he shook it off and we went on with our mapwork.

  4. Upeople Says:

    I was a high school freshman at lunch when the first rumors started. The Kennedy haters laughed and made jokes until the news was confirmed. That is what is burned in my brain.

  5. Xynzee Says:

    My mum told us how she was taking my sister to the doctors when she heard the news.

    @Dr Mac: "con-theo"?

  6. Ed W. Says:

    Somehow, I suspect the oral histories of our generation (I'm in my 30s) are going to be much less dignified than those of generations past. As an example, below I present my "oral" history of my experience on 9/11 (our parallel to the JFK assassination), where I was, without a doubt, the most oblivious person in the general vicinity of the Pentagon on that particular day.
    The morning of 9/11, I was coming home from a booty call. My regular FWB, "M", had invited me over to spend the night at her place, but she had to be at work in the morning, so she dropped me off at a Metro station so I could go home. "M" was, as they say, a lady on the streets and a freak between the sheets, so, fun! Anyway, I was on the Metro, heading home, when all of the sudden, they stopped the trains at Pentagon City Mall, and made everyone get off and evacuate the station. On the way out, I put on my headphones and started playing music on my Discman. Some of you may be like, WTF, a Discman,really?!, but trust me, what I was carrying was state of the art at the time. I had recently returned from a year in Japan, and had the newest and best disc-based technology straight out of the Tokyo electronics district (Akihabara). Little did I know that the iPod was about to destroy an entire line of products, and reshape the electronics industry, but that was right around the corner.
    But I digress. So at this point, I was standing outside the Pentagon City station with thousands of rush hour commuters, headphones on, and I could see a plume of smoke coming from the Pentagon. "Oh, that explains it, there's a fire at the Pentagon. That makes sense," I thought. Technically, this was correct, but it somewhat missed the big picture, to put it mildly.
    For the next 2 hours, I was basically a cow in a herd of cattle. Someone from the Metro would tell us to go stand over here, so we’d go stand over here. Then the police would say “NO! Move over there!”, so we’d shuffle over there. Every once in a while, I would overhear a snippet of conversation from another member of the herd, but at the time, I dismissed it all as crazy talk. Because the things I was hearing were things that didn't make any sense, like "they evacuated the Capitol because of a bomb threat" and "the second World Trade Center tower fell down". Without any kind of context to judge these snippets, it all sounded completely insane, so I cranked up the volume to drown out the escapees from asylums that are surrounding me.
    Finally, someone else told me to get on a bus, so like an obedient cow, I moo’ed and got on the bus, which went a…single block in 90 minutes. After deciding that further patience was futile, I decided to exit the bus and walk to my friend "W's" house. "W" lived a couple of miles away on Washington Boulevard, which is one of the closest main non-highway roads to the Pentagon. It was a nice, clear day—perfect September weather, actually—so I figured I could walk over, hang out until the Metro was running again, then head home.
    As I was heading to her place, I was the only person walking that way. I was the only person on the overpass to get to Washington Blvd, and the only person on the road all the way to her house. There were no cars to be seen anywhere, except police cars blocking the highways (395 and 110). It was like a post-apocalyptic movie where the protagonist has the entire road system to himself (e.g. I Am Legend or the Walking Dead). Looking back, I'm a little surprised that nobody tried to stop me, but I guess things were so chaotic that a single person walking down the road didn't merit notice.
    I got to W's place and nobody was home, so I called her cellphone (this was still early in the cellphone age, so we hadn’t discovered texting yet), left a message on her voicemail, and lay down on a chaise in her back yard. It was around 12:30 by this point, and I was pretty sleep deprived from the previous night, so I decided to take a nap. Note that at this point, it had been 3+ hours since the largest terrorist attack in American history, I had walked literally right by one of the crash sites, and I still had no clue that anything had happened beyond a fire at the Pentagon.
    Around 2:00, W called me back. She was walking home, because they closed all the bridges out of DC, and she couldn’t drive back home from her job. She told me to go down the street to Whitey’s (a now-closed semi-dive bar, which is now Tallulah, an expensive yuppie wine bar, so, progress! Yeah!) and wait for her there. I walked over to Whitey’s, grabbed a table, look up at the first TV I had seen that day, and almost immediately saw a replay of the WTC towers falling. My jaw hit the floor, and I said out loud “What the fuck is happening”. People looked at me like I was a complete fucking moron, which, let’s be honest, I deserved.
    And that is my story of complete cluelessness in the face of tragedy.

  7. WeUsedToSing Says:

    The high school was swollen w/ us boomers. We had classes in the auditorium, about 100 at a time that were half television lecture & half on-site teacher. TV dude was pompous; it was a class I usually read through. No one, it turned out was paying attention that day. I just happened to hear him say that he was going to interrupt regular programming to bring us an announcement, right in the middle of my rolling my eyes, he said something astonishing, that the president had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. I turned & yelled to the teacher sitting a few rows behind me, "He said the president's been shot." He responded by bolting out of his chair & running, presumably to the office.

    I was a pink diaper baby; my family was greatly saddened & disturbed. We watched Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated by Jack Ruby on live television, or at least that's how I remember it. I'd never seen my father like that before or after that day. Whether it was from the trauma of having liberated a concentration camp in WWII or perhaps his fears were well-grounded (we did live in S. Florida), but what frightened my father was that b/c the assassin, Jack Ruby, was a Jew & we were, too, "they," presumably hoodlums & riff-raff, would lead a pogrom against us. We closed the drapes & turned on as few lights as possible.

  8. Daphne Says:

    8th grade. Early afternoon. Arrived in sewing class and heard the spurts of sound from the PA system, which was unusual during the day. First it was he was shot. Before I could absorb that he was dead. Surreal. Incomprehensible. Still is.

  9. Nora Carrington Says:

    The assassination of Kennedy is not my first memory, but it's my first political memory. I would turn 8 in a very few days.

    You don't have to be very much younger than I am — only a year, maybe two — to have no memory at all, or nearly none.

    My family — mom, dad, my younger sisters — were living in Frankfurt Germany; my dad was an NCO in the Army, having served mostly in Asia during WWII and having transferred from the infantry to counter-intelligence after the war. He was sent on rush orders after the Berlin Wall began to be built (Wall started in 8/1961; he left for Germany 10/1961 and we followed 1/1962).

    My parents were/are lifelong Democrats, had voted for Kennedy. Kennedy was born in 1917; my parents were both born in 1925; MLK, Jr. was born in 1929. Kennedy was for my parents, born at the very tail end of The Greatest Generation, a bit like Clinton was for the boomers. A bit older, but their guy, most certainly not their parents' guy. He was handsome and Harvard and money but not old money and he'd served, which mattered maybe most of all, although nearly everyone their age had, so maybe the rest mattered more.

    I remember my mother crying, which was an astonishment. I don't have all the visual memories from television that most people my age have, because we didn't have a television; there were no English-language broadcasts available. We had Armed Services Radio and probably could get Radio Free Europe.

    We came back to the States sometime the next spring or summer, time enough for me to start fourth grade in 1964 in any event. I don't remember kids talking about it much on any of the anniversaries until later.

    Between when I started school and graduated from high school, JFK had been assassinated, MLK had been assassinated, RFK had been assassinated. Medgar Evers had been assassinated. Malcolm X had been assassinated. All of the violence of the Civil Rights Movement — as well as the successes of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act — had happened. The March on Washington had happened and the Poor People's Campaign had happened. The anti-Vietnam protests had grown and grown until the Mobes happened. SDS happened and the Weathermen happened. Kent State and the invasion of Cambodia happened my junior year; Agnew resigned my freshman year of college and the CIA toppled Allende in Chile the same month. Nixon resigned a month before I began my sophomore year in college.

    I understand why people want to draw parallels between the assassination of JFK and 9/11. Both were ruptures/disruptions. There was before, and then there was after. That's the same.

    But for people my age and older, it. didn't. stop. Every year or two, every month or six, there was another political assassination; for five endless years it did not stop. No one knew who would be next, or why, or when it would ever, ever stop.

    After 9/11 our working class kids headed off to war and the rest of us went shopping and it was as if it never happened. Except for the spying and the NSA and all that, of course. But nothing else got blown up.

    The Vietnam war was not nearly as egalitarian in its carnage as WWII had been, when every man with a pulse enlisted or was drafted but it was a hell of a lot more egalitarian in who it swept up than our follies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Middle Eastern wars have lasted longer, but killed only a fraction of the dead from Vietnam, not that we could spare a single one of any of them. There was nothing, absolutely nothing comparable to the anti-Vietnam war movement even though polls suggest a similar number of people are now, conveniently, against our invasion of Iraq as were against the Vietnam war at its least popular.

    The correct analogy for the JFK assassination isn't 9/11, it's the election of Ronald Reagan. Jimmy Carter was the obvious next step in the evolution of flower-power politics; a committed Christian who believed in the Gospels but who'd conveniently also had military experience so it was hard [then] to paint him as a fag. We weren't ready. The country wanted testosterone and macho men to lead us not into the Beloved Community but into the Gospel of Prosperity, where stealing from the poor rather than giving to the poor counted not just as good policy but the moral good. 9/11 was nothing when stacked up against that rupture/disruption, because as with the assassinations, it. didn't. stop.

  10. middle seaman Says:

    Far away on another continent a high school kid, I was standing in the living room next to the huge radio that interrupted the music to report the shotting and death of president Kennedy.

    This event and a handful of others are starkly clear in my mind as if they happened yesterday.

  11. Fred Ashby Says:

    I am 77. I was sitting in the NCO club in Manhiam(sic) Germany. After the announcement we were ordered to report back to our duty stations to go on Full Alert. We were on full alert for 30 days.

  12. c u n d gulag Says:

    Today marks the 50th anniversary of that horribly sad and tragic event.

    I was 5 years old.

    I remember the moment that I heard the news, to this day.

    Ironically, my toy gun had broken the day before, and, after that morning’s Kindergarten class, my Grandmother (father’s side) took me to the Macy’s on Queens Boulevard, to get a new one.

    We were on the escalator going home after getting me a new toy gun, when the announcement was made.
    People were in some sort of tragic trance when they heard. When they reached the bottom of the escalator, they just stood there, causing the folks behind them to either push slowly, or to walk “backwards” on the ever receding steps.

    My Mom rushed home from work, called my father at his job, and took me, my father’s mother, and my 4 year-old sister to her parent’s house in Brooklyn, via the subway.

    I remember all of that.
    What I don’t remember is what happened for the next few days after that. I DO remember EVERY adult in my world being traumatized – Liberals AND Conservatives! And we had plenty of both of those in my family.
    I remember that that weekend, my favorite cartoon shows were cancelled for the news, and the President’s funeral, and I was not a happy-camper!

    But I do remember the funeral coverage.

    I will never forget seeing that rider-less horse on my TV screen, with it’s empty boots pointing backwards, and the President’s son, who was my age, saluting his father’s casket as it passed by him.

    Sweet Jesus, I’m weeping as I write this.
    This country kills its best.
    And almost always, with a gun.

  13. Major Kong Says:

    I don't remember any of it.

    I was 1 year old at the time, which is one reason I don't consider myself part of the boomer generation.

    Yes, I know, 1964 marked the end of the baby boom. I've heard it many times.

    Still, from a cultural standpoint I missed all the defining moments of that generation.

    The Beatles appear on Ed Sullivan – I was 2
    The Summer of Love – 5 years old
    Woodstock – 7

    I don't remember JFK. I barely remember LBJ. The first President I really remember was Nixon. The first one I voted for was Reagan (sorry, my bad).

  14. Buckyblue Says:

    I, like Major Kong, was only a little under two at the assassination. Though I seem to have a recollection of a tall man at the funeral. Not sure if it's real or implanted from years of Kennedy porn, but I always remember having it. It's kind of like the Comfortably Numb lyric, "when I was a child I had a fleeting glimpse…." I don't remember any wailing or gnashing of teeth from my parents or older siblings. Even when I was old enough to remember things, the assassinations that several have listed weren't openly discussed. My dad was an evangelical minster and we were a Christian family and politics was a dirty business, and it was jesus, not the president, who would save the world. Sure wish those evangelicals would go back to that attitude.

  15. Deggjr Says:

    Nora Carrington, that is very good.

  16. Sarah Says:

    After 9/11 our working class kids headed off to war and the rest of us went shopping and it was as if it never happened. Except for the spying and the NSA and all that, of course. But nothing else got blown up.

    I think that the Spaniards (Madrid train bombings, March 11, 2004) and the Londoners (London train bombings, July 7, 2005), would beg to differ with that assessment.

  17. Totoro Says:

    Was 8, living in DC suburb. Irish Catholic family, Kennedy was the first Catholic President. Nearly every family I knew had photos of JFK and John XXIII on their wall, even before the event. School was let out early, so went home. Worried because my mother was so upset. Nonstop TV coverage, my usual afternoon viewing pre-empted. My Dad, older brother and I were down near the Capitol for the funeral procession (I learned the word "cortege"). Distinct memory of the reversed boots in the riderless horse behind the caisson. Cold, clear November day. Abiding hatred for Dallas for years after.
    I have to agree with Nora, it seemed like any day another famous politician (George Wallace!) could be assassinated. Lived through the DC riots with the airborne patrolling the streets and long convoys of jeeps and trucks coming into town, block after block of NE DC burned out. Not a great time to be a white teen wandering around town. I have a draft number (179) but in '73 nobody was drafted.

  18. AliceBlue Says:

    I was 10 years old and we were living in Texas at the time, Amarillo AFB. I guess we were let out of school early; I remember standing in front of the TV in my Brownie uniform, because our meeting was scheduled that day. I remember Jack Ruby killing Oswald; don't remember if it was live or a tape. The TV was on all the time; that was the only noise in the house.

  19. Drangus Says:

    @Xynzee

    I'm pretty sure "con-theo" means conspiracy theorist.

    I wasn't alive for the Kennedy Assassination, nor do I want to ask any of my libertarian coworkers about their stories.

    Is there a polite way to do a "tl:dr" in normal conversation?

  20. Grocked Says:

    I was 17 in 11th grade metal shop when the school pa system came on announcing the horror in Dallas. They then piped in ABC news throughout the school, probably so teachers could keep up with it. The thing that I'll never forget was the nearly dead silence of 2,000 students walking between classes. That was a first.

    Kennedy was the first president born in the 20th century. The Kennedy family were fun, accessible and a lot of them were roughly the same age as our parents. Everybody, not just entertainers, thought they did a great Kennedy accent, even kids. Modernity was gone.

  21. Rich Says:

    Anniversaries, esp. those associated with boomers have been made trivial by news organizations and their need to fill time, as well as the cheap mindlessness of assembling clips.

    Until 9/11, there was probably no milestone that so profoundly affected so many people. JFK had ushered an era that was clearly different. the Cold War had heated up and then begun to thaw. The Civil Rights movement had seen flares and now was marching to victory. Kennedy was the first 20th century president and the first WWII vet–he was part of "the greatest generation" as well as Boomer memory. His election was a battering ram against the polite prejudice against Catholic people that united snake handlers and high church Episcopalians and supposedly tolerant Quakers. The assassination broke the optimism that had been building and despite LBJ's successful efforts in truly legislating the legacy of this time, the mood had changed. there was was less trust and more cynicism. the sense of something lost presaged what was experienced with the deaths of RFK and MLK. this is not some pop culture anniversary like John Lennon's death or something rather sentimental like the Challenger explosion, this was history changing in front of people's eyes and in their minds and hearts. A man who embodied movement into a hopeful future was murdered and that hope and optimism began to be destroyed. That we eventually elected the cynical Nixon, the well meaning but incompetent Carter, and the utterly bereft and destructive Bush II is a testament to what was lost. Conservatives saw Reagan as their Kennedy but even a cheerleader like Peggy Noonan had to admit that, close-up, Reagan was no JFK.

  22. Well, mostly Says:

    7th grade social studies class, back row, of course, Curtis Junior High, Wichita. The intercom broke in and announced the shooting. Teacher cried. Students? Pretty much all too young to understand much. Intense silence. A few minutes later a second announcement that the President had died and LBJ was now the President.
    Hours and hours of grave scenes on TV, of course the funeral and the crazy shit coming out of Dallas. Even in a very Republican family, city, state, this was shocking, especially to my other. We had a native son, Eisenhower, as president before JFK. I could never understand what he was saying on TV. Kennedy could talk and you could hear him. He didn't talk like anyone I knew: really someone special.
    I remember thinking things might blow to hell and all those years of bomb drills might just pay off. We grew up under constant fighter and bomber training flights out of McConnell Air Force Base. A friend's father worked in a nuclear missle silo. I figured he might have a chance to be busy. Even as a child I knew just how much Cold War politics drove everything, and that certainly drove the thought that that "they" had done this. Though many didn't like JFK, they also didn't like the idea of the Russians doing anything like this.
    The Koch family lived just up Rock Road a couple miles.
    Read the Warren report for a high school book report a few years later. I'm not the conspiracy type but I remember reporting to my fellow students that the report was a whitewash, even a stupid high school boy could see through it, they weren't asking the right questions. My teacher marked the report down, probably thought I was a young crank, as crazy as all the others in that conservative community.
    The First Lady and all the family, all those brothers! seemed as together as anything I had ever seen. Truly a different breed.

  23. Tosh Says:

    Record oral histories.

  24. Anubis Bard Says:

    It happened a couple of years before I was born. Just a few days before my parents got married, in fact. My mother's older brother, who lived and worked in Houston's oil industry, never made it to the wedding. They had closed down travel out of Texas. It's strange that my parents got married in the shadow of that event, and in a few days we will celebrate their 50th Anniversary, still and again in the shadow of that event.

  25. Anonymouse Says:

    Not yet born when the assassination happened; wouldn't be born for a number of years. I don't remember VietNam, either; my family was military and everyone around me was in the military so likely it didn't register. I do vaguely remember the impeachment of Richard Nixon, but mostly because the television was on talking about impeachment on a night when dessert was peach ice cream: I remember stirring my ice cream and wondering what ice cream had to do with a serious adult matter. Forevermore, impeachement and peach ice cream are linked in my brain.

  26. Sally's Dad Says:

    8th grade typing class when the teacher, in tears, gave us the news. Like @Gulag, I don't have any recollection of what followed. I do remember some of the funeral but I suspect the memories are more from the replays over the years.
    And, I don't believe the Warren Report…

  27. Scott Says:

    I'm in my mid-40s, so too young to have been alive. I only watched the Zapruder film for the first time about five years ago. I hadn't seen Oliver Stone's JFK and somehow had never had the opportunity to see the footage, just the few seconds they always used to show in every documentary about the 60s, and which always stopped before The Big Moment.

    But then a motion-corrected version was put online and mentioned on seemingly every blog. I clicked on it, kinda excited to see such an important part of American history.

    As you said, as the car came closer, the feeling of dread grew. And when he was actually shot, I gasped. I hadn't realized it was going to be so clear and so horrible—so violent, so bloody. I'd read about what happened, but seeing it is so different, viscerally. I walked out of my office and out of the building and had to walk around for about 15 minutes before I could go back. I felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day.

    Now whenever I think about that day, I feel sick to my stomach and I wasn't even born for five years. And when I was born…it was in Dallas.

  28. Nick-B Says:

    *Watches video*

    A President? In an open-air limo? Didn't he hear about that one president that got shot in the… Oh, right….

  29. mothra Says:

    I had just turned three, so my memories are limited, but I do remember the day it happened because my mother stopped everything and turned on the TV. Not a normal thing for her to do. Now, she and my father were Republicans and definitely no fan of the Kennedys. My mother called them "Black Irish hoodlums," and she also thought VERY little of Kennedy's catting around. But that didn't mean that she wasn't upset by him being assassinated. I also remember the funeral very well–again, because my mother had the TV on in the middle of the day. I remember the procession and John John–because he was my age. Now, I SWEAR I remember seeing Ruby kill Oswald on TV, but that might just be an acquired memory.

    Anyone here been to Lee Harvey's bar in Dallas, by the way?

  30. Zak44 Says:

    It's impossible for those who have no memory of what came before JFK was killed to understand how much of a shock it was. One of the reasons, I believe, that this was such a traumatic event was the realization that it COULD happen here. Sure, there had been assassinations before, but they were in the historical past. (The attempt on Truman was a failure, and could be blamed on people who weren't American quite like the rest of us.)

    I was 16 when Kennedy ran for president, and was fully caught up in the excitement of the campaign. I remember standing close enough to practically touch Kennedy's stopped convertible as he stood to speak to the crowd rallied in downtown Philadelphia. I was also right behind Nixon's open car as a friend and I ran behind it with anti-Nixon signs ("Nix on Dick" said mine). The Secret Service guys, I'm sure, kept an eye on us, but did nothing to stop us. And when President Eisenhower came to town to stump for Nixon, he rode in an open car just a few feet away from the crowds lining Chestnut Street.

    In every case, the idea that any of these men—even a sitting president—could be in danger was unthinkable. In other countries, maybe, but not here.

    There were groups, like the John Birch Society, that excoriated liberals like Kennedy, but mostly in words, not violent deeds. Kennedy himself many have said, when he got to Dallas, "We're in nut country now," but he must have felt secure enough to ride in the open limo.

    It was that sense of security, of inviolability, that was shattered that day, now fifty years ago.

    We would never feel the same way again.

  31. ellie Says:

    Well, I wasn't alive 50 years ago. But here's another persepctive….

    I remember the 25th anniversary, and now we have the 50th. You know what suprises me so much every time we revisit the JFK assasination? How shocked and universally upset everyone seemed to be about the death of a politician, and how non-crazy the opposition party members acted. It's like a window into a very different world. Not that it was wrong to be shocked and upset, but I can't see it being the same way today, not at all.

    As a product of a more-cynical time, I can't help thinking things like, "Why were those people all so suprised that someone shot a president? Assassinations have happened throughout history." and "Where are all the 'fringe' right-wingers loudly celebrating and saying he had is coming, and the 'mainstream' right-wingers implying the same in a more subtle manner? It was a Democrat who got shot, after all, why are the Republicans so polite, at least in public?" and "Why are so many people crying over a political figure they didn't know personally?"

    I can't imagine anything like that happening today. By which I don't mean an assassination, but rather the response. I would expect sensationalism, opportunistic political commentary, some politically-sympathetic people being upset by the death of one of their own, but plenty of others celebrating. Maybe I'm underestimating my fellow Americans…or maybe 1963 was a world I really can't understand because the times I lived in are so very different.

  32. ellie Says:

    Huh. The commment that posted right before mine while I was writing mine sort of got at/answered what I was trying to say. Damn timing!

  33. ladiesbane Says:

    My mom and her friends were in high school, and they talked about it in front of me, usually on the anniversary, in upset tones. To this day, my mother speaks very bitterly about subjecting the Kennedy family to a day of the Zapruder film on repeat. Mom was not star-struck by the family, but showing their son (brother, husband, cousin) have his brains blown out, over and over again, is cruel. Whatever he was to the rest of us, we are watching a man be murdered and his wife traumatized. If he meant that much, celebrate his life. Don't use a man's violent death to work out your national loss-of-innocence cathartic ya-yas.

    Which I hear. But the film fascinates me.

    In part because it's real. James Ellroy and Oliver Stone have done fictionalizations that I enjoy, but the dramatization of history troubles me. When people think of Jim Lovell, they see Tom Hanks. When they think of Henry V, they hear Shakespeare. Sometimes I think historical fiction should be limited to setting. For people, read history, read journalism, read eyewitness accounts.

    Which is part of why the Zapruder film captivates me. It shows me what happened. No explanations involving Communism and cutouts and stooges and snipers (and occasionally the Mafia). It just puts me there.

  34. jharp Says:

    I was 3 and have no memory of it.

    One of the creepier moments that I can remember is walking into a Cleveland Cavalier's basketball game exactly when the Gulf War was starting.

    Remember that we had not been in war for a long time.

    Very quiet and creepy. Men playing basketball in an eerily quiet arena.

  35. acer Says:

    Which key players are still alive?

    Because there's just no way…

    If you dig into the life and character of Jack Ruby, it's downright comical.

  36. Mac Daddy in Black Says:

    I was a freshman at Boston College. Walked out of my 2:00 Geology class, (my liberal arts science requirement) to what seemed like 50 people gathered around a car with all its doors and windows open and the tinny radio turned up to full volume. I seem to remember that it was a nice afternoon. No one was talking, there was only the radio. I walked the mile or so down to Cleveland Circle to the off-campus accomodations at Greenleaf Hall. I was not thinking about the president while I walked, I was thinking that I had a hot date for the football game against BU the next day and what was I going to do now that the game had been called off. I was 17 and that was paramount to me at the time. I don't remember anything about the date the next day, maybe it was called off as well.

  37. maurinsky Says:

    It happened before I was born (my first political memory is my father yelling at the TV whenever "Tricky Dick" showed up on the news).

    Irish-Catholic, so we had so many pictures of the Kennedys in our house that we referred to him as Uncle Jack. My mother was still single and living in NYC and devastated; my father was still in Ireland and a year away from coming to the United States. My mother was even worse when RFK, who she adored even more than JFK, was shot.

    We had a painting in our living room with a portrait of JFK in the upper left hand corner, and a depiction of John-John saluting the hearse in the lower right-hand corner.

  38. sluggo Says:

    I was born a month after, but the video and and the intense feelings that one old enough to be there, has expressed to me over the years has almost given me a memory of the event. The following picture was cut out of the newspaper and hung in my parents bedroom for years:

    http://www.orwelltoday.com/lincolncry.jpg

  39. Death Panel Truck Says:

    I will believe in one of the hundreds of conspiracy theories if and when one of them is definitively proven. Until then, I will believe the most sensible explanation: Oswald killed Kennedy, and he did it alone. One doesn't have to "believe the Warren Report" to believe he did it.

    As to a poster above whose mother hated Kennedy's "catting around" – no one knew at the time the details of Kennedy's dissolute private life. The press knew, and they kept their lips sealed.

  40. BobS Says:

    November 22 1963 was a week before my 9th birthday. While I don't remember whether my 4th grade class was let out early or not, I do remember exactly where my mom was parked when she picked up my younger brother and me- I think my recollections are somewhat more vivid than they otherwise would have been due to my being a little traumatized myself- not necessarily because of JFK's assassination (I was 8), but mostly because I'd never seen my mother crying before. And then afterwards because I could see the effect it had on all of the adults around me.
    The following Sunday morning I was at a bowling alley where my dad was in a league- he used to bring my brother and myself and we'd bowl afterwards. I was sitting at the bowling alley grill eating french fries while I watched Oswald murdered live in black & white.
    Shit, I just realized I'm going to be 59 next week.

  41. Syrbal/Labrys Says:

    In case it hasn't been mentioned….it is likely JFK could not duck if he wanted to do so. He was encased waist to just below armpits in a heavy inflexible immovable back brace. One of the Secret Service guys thinks that is why he died…if he had fallen over or ducked after the first shot he might have lived. But, the first bullet thru his spine at neck level wouldn't have done him any good.

    PBS Nova had an excellent show debunking several of the popular conspiracy bits, btw.

  42. Joe Max Says:

    I was a wee lad of 8 years, but it's one of my earliest memories. I was in my 3rd grade class, and since the school did not have a central PA system in the classrooms, a young girl, probably a 5th grader, knocked on the door and then came into the room. She was crying. The teacher saw her, stopped her lesson cold and asked what was wrong. The girl went to her and whispered something. I'll never forget the look of shock and horror on my teacher's face. The teacher (I believe her name was Mrs. Ness) turned to us and told us that there has been a shooting in Texas where the President was visiting, and the principal was sending us all home – gather your things and leave quietly. That's all she would tell us.

    When I got home (I only lived a few blocks away) my mom was crying and watching Walter Cronkite's newscast. She told me what had happened, and I cried too.

    I also remember watching the television with my parents when Oswald was shot. My dad practically jumped out of his seat.

  43. ninja3000 Says:

    I was 10 years old, in third grade (?) at the time, and I recalal that our teacher had received a private intercom call sometime before 2pm, but said nothing to us. Since school normally let out at 2:30 anyway, we were dismissed as usual and rode our bikes home. When I walked into our house, my mom was standing in front of the TV, crying. That's when I got the news.

    Years later, I got off my morning commuter train at Hoboken and stood at the river watching WTC 1 burn when all of a sudden, a plane slammed into WTC 2… That's when I pulled out my trusty camera and started firing away.

    Shocking days, both of them.

  44. Desargues Says:

    I know this is impious, but, for my money, Ed W wins the internet today. What a great story!

  45. mothra Says:

    As to a poster above whose mother hated Kennedy's "catting around" – no one knew at the time the details of Kennedy's dissolute private life. The press knew, and they kept their lips sealed.

    It may not have been reported openly in the press, but the reputation of the Kennedys was well known in the US and the rumors flew around. So now, not confirmed, but widely suspected (and since my mother hated the Kennedys, she just assumed the worst was true).

  46. Bernard Says:

    evil like Reagan lived and hope died with Kennedy, RFK and MLK. watching Ohio State, seeing the Guards kill young people, i knew we were in a sick perverted country.

    as i said, Reagan lived and that kinds of proved that there is no God, for what God would let evil like Reagan and the Republicans live to destroy the American Middle Class.

    I was riding in a car in the western part of New Orleans. and wondered what it all meant. only later would i gather that evil had triumphed in my lifetime.

  47. Eric Says:

    That John Hinckley Jr didn't have better aim is definitive proof that there is no god.

  48. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Bernard: Just to keep the record correct–and because I teach there–it wasn't Ohio State. It was Kent State.

  49. Major Kong Says:

    @jharp

    The start of the Gulf War was even creepier from where I was sitting….

  50. anotherbozo Says:

    Being older than even your father, Ed, I was in college at the time. I remember being on the way to class when I heard. The class was canceled. I was an art major, in painting, and I remember going to the studios. Hardly anyone was there. When classes met there wasn't much talk about it. But I remember about two weeks later all these memorial paintings showed up, mine included. Abstract, realistic, we had all recorded our reactions on canvas. It was quite moving. My own painting remained about the best thing I did in four years.

  51. Fernando_G Says:

    I was 7 years old and lived in Mexico at the time.

    Now, Mexico has had a tumultuous history with the US, and no US president ever has been liked…… with the exception of Kennedy. He was not only liked, he was loved.
    When he was shot, people were crying their eyes out.

  52. MS Says:

    The most important thing about the JFK assassination is to remember it is ancient history.

    Julius Caesar. Archduke Ferdinand. Abraham Lincoln. John Kennedy.

    The deaths of all of these people are equally far in the past for the vast majority of the population.

  53. mcm Says:

    Thank you for the chance to tell this. It's not remarkable, I'm afraid. I was 10, in fifth grade at an as-yet-unintegrated school in a small town in northwest Georgia. I had library duty with another girl that day, which meant we had to stay and straighten up things after our class had been to the library.

    We went back to class and our teacher was crying, along with some of the students. Someone told us the president had been shot. Somehow a TV appeared in our room, which we watched for a while. I remember feeling shocked. I think I remember one kid trying to make a joke, but I'm not sure. It was the South, of course, where Kennedy was hated, so it wouldn't have been a surprise.

    It seems like they let school out early. I'm not sure. I remember the feelings more than the specific details. I do remember my mother was sad when she picked me up that day. My parents had voted for Nixon, but they both seemed horrified by this.

    We watched TV all weekend. I remember how odd that seemed, in a way. We watched a lot of TV, but this was different. I sensed, I think, even as a child, that the whole country was watching with us.

    I have a memory of watching live Sunday when Oswald was shot. I wonder sometimes if I really did, because that image of Ruby pushing toward Oswald and the grimace on Oswald's face is so familiar, but in my memory, I'm alone in our den watching, and I yell to my parents in the other room that somebody shot Oswald.

    As imprecise as our memories are, it makes me wonder about how much our modern memories have been shaped by media images.

    My dad became an assassination buff, grabbing the Warren Report as soon as it came out and reading anything else he could get his hands on. I remembered talking about the evidence with him. I still find myself drawn into the TV shows and books about it. I don't believe there was another shooter and I doubt there was a conspiracy, but it's a puzzlement.

    I agree with Nora Carrington, it didn't stop after that. It felt like we got on some kind of crazy roller coaster. Death after death. But I was also growing up, anyway, and starting to realize that bad things really did happen.

    My parents always remembered where they were when they heard about Pearl Harbor —riding around in my Dad's car on a Sunday afternoon on a date. But they're gone now, along with many of their generation, and we don't think about Pearl Harbor Day much anymore.

  54. don Says:

    I was 8 years old and living in Wyoming (Yellowstone; my dad was a National Park ranger). School stopped, the teacher said the President had ben shot and we were to all go home. I had two brothers living at home at the time, but I don't even remember them being in the living room; maybe they went out to play. I sat on the living room floor working on my bleach bottle piggy bank, a school art class project, while my mom sat and watched the television set in dead silence. (The next time I remember either of my folks watching tv with such attention was the moon landing.) That day and in the days following, I don't remember them, or any adult, being specifically grieved that this specific President had been murdered – instead it felt like a betrayal of order, after which nothing was certain or safe or trusted. Or so I think now, but who knows? I know we got sent home, I know my mom watched the tv. The picture was grainy and bad, and I made my piggy bank. Everything else has been so endlessly analyzed and commemorated and rebroadcast that I don't know what else is actually my own experience.

    But here's something that Life magazine never polluted my memory with: A year or two earlier we were living in Yosemite when Kennedy came to visit; it was a huge event for all of us residents and that's really my first memory of the world at large. (We were wilderness children, and back then it was very easy to live out of range; I didn't know there were three tv networks until around 1966.) It seemed like the whole of Yosemite Valley assembled in Sunday clothes in a field, in a vast circle around the helicopter as it landed; Kennedy got out and went around the circle greeting people and saying whatever politicians say. There's a picture of me in my white shirt and tie looking up in rapt adoration at him, just before he shook my hand. Many many years later (speaking of the "catting around") my dad told me he'd been one of the park rangers assigned to the ad-hoc Presidential Corridor at the Ahwahnee Hotel that night, and very much to his shocked distaste, a woman was escorted to Kennedy's room, and was not escorted out again until morning. I think he was most offended that the Secret Service – fellow government employees – appeared to consider this a routine and acceptable job function.

  55. eau Says:

    Far too young, and Australian to boot, don't have much to offer. I do remember my dad, who is not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch, talking about it years later with a group of friends. Young me was shocked to hear agreement around the table that the 'old guard' had shown the 'new guard' what happens when you try to change 'things' too fast. I asked what was meant by that, and got some 'you'll understand when you're older'. Post-RFK, MLK, post-Clinton/Starr, watching Obama tread water in office, I think I understand a little better.

  56. Ursula Says:

    I feel the same as ellie about how we've changed in our potential response to political assasinations. I can't see the Bachmanns or Cruzes of the country to have enough honor in a situation like that if it happened now or with a future Democratic president.

    Then I think about how I would have reacted to an assasination of the previous pres., and know that the only negative emotion I could have had would have been absolute terror about President Cheney.

    I have a 9/11 story, was a sophomore in college and wathing TV before getting ready for class, blah blah blah, but the real death of hope for me in this century (until brief moments when Obama was elected and re-elected) was Wellstone's death 11 years ago. I felt like I was living in some horrible dream world for at least a week after.

  57. Anonymouse Says:

    What's scary is that the rwnj's are threatening Obama's life regularly. That poor man is in real danger of being assassinated.

  58. Scott Says:

    I was a senior in High School. Don't remember how we got the news, perhaps through the school's PA system, but I do remember that there was a bit of a panic. Rumors about this being the precursor to a Russian invasion, and similar craziness.

    My clearest memory is of one of the administrators walking up and down the halls, corralling small groups of students, and assuring them that the vice president would take over, the government would not collapse and that we shouldn't worry.

    Two days later I was driving somewhere, probably to church, alone in the car, when I heard Oswald's murder live on the radio. Nothing like this three days had happened in my lifetime (I was born after WWII, and Viet Nam hadn't really started yet) and I remember pulling over to the side of the road, shaken by the feeling that the world was flying apart.

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