November 22nd in Dallas, 47 years on

Elections oracle Larry Sabato Tweeted this morning:

Eerie to be in Dallas on a November 22. Weather (early rain, clearing,sunny 70s) similar to 47 yrs ago. No formal commemoration.

So consider this your opportunity to share your memories of the day. And if you’re too young to have memories of day, well then who cares what you think? (Aw, now don’t go crying to your mommies about how mean the old man was to you…)

My favorite “Where were you?” story was the experience of Richard Nixon, which I read about once in a book about the 60s compiled by Rolling Stone. On this day 47 years ago, he was being driven through a residential neighborhood in an unfamiliar city, when suddenly a woman ran out of her house and looked around her desperately. She had just heard the news. Nixon, who had NOT heard the news, told his driver to stop. He got out of the car and walked toward the woman, asking whether he could be of any assistance.

The woman took one look at him, and then she really freaked out.

My own experience was atypical. I was out of the country, my Dad being stationed in Ecuador on U.S. Navy business.

We didn’t learn about it until later in the day. I was in the 5th grade at the Colegio Americano, which was way the other side of town. My bus ride home on Don Enrique (buses had names, and personalities) took about an hour. I was one of the last ones on the route. My best buddy Tony Wessler was dropped off six blocks before I was.

When I got home, I rang the doorbell at the security door at the foot of the stairs (we lived in the upstairs of a large duplex). My mom hit the buzzer, and as I started up the stairs I was startled to see Tony standing at the head of the stairs with Mom. What’s up? I asked. “The president’s been shot!” I kept walking up, and asked, “The president of what?” Mind you, I had already lived through one coup in Ecuador that year. So maybe there had been another, more violent, overthrow in a neighboring country.

“The president of the United States,” came the answer. So that was what had caused Tony to outrun the bus…

That hit hard. It was particularly strange to be in another country, as the dependent of a representative of the United States, and know that back home our president had just been killed, and we didn’t know why or by whom or what might happen next. (And mind you, since I was personally familiar with the potential instability of governments in a way that few Americans were, the feeling was intensified. “Seven Days in May” didn’t seem like such wild fiction to me.) It felt like being abandoned to fend for oneself. Wild thoughts went through my head. I thought of the .38-cal. revolver that my Dad kept on a shelf in my parents’ bedroom closet, which had been issued to him just in case. (I don’t think my Dad knew I knew it was there, but you can’t hide anything from kids.)

Then there was Kennedy himself, who personified the youthful strength, the can-do attitude, of my home country. If he could die, just like that… I had not been a big Kennedy supporter initially. For reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, I had been for Nixon in 1960, at the age of 7. But after that I had been fully co-opted into the whole P.T. 109/Camelot mystique, and was proud that JFK had various initiatives going on (to counter Castro, but I didn’t know that) to help Latin America, such as Alliance for Progress.

But not just expatriate Americans were shaken. I witnessed a generous mourning from Ecuadoreans, who identified with this Catholic president as they had no other. Our school yearbook for that year would have a dedicated page with the headline, “Kennedy Ha Muerto,” and a picture of the president and his bride and kids outside a church before or after Mass — Jackie wearing the obligatory veil on her head.

That was reassuring.

Anyway, that was my experience 47 years ago today.

30 thoughts on “November 22nd in Dallas, 47 years on

  1. Karen McLeod

    I was in the 12th grade in World Lit. class when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. Because there had been some “off the wall” announcement promoting a school play, I initially thought the announcement was a joke. The announcement was repeated, and we were told it was not a joke.

  2. Doug Ross

    Some good JFK quotes:

    “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”

    “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

    and the mother of all Tea Party quotes:

    “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

  3. Herb Brasher

    Nobody in our generation will forget that day. I was in the ninth grade, walking around middle school (or jr. high, as we called it then) as we always did at noon break. When someone came up and said the president had been shot, we thought he was crazy. I guess it had happened before, but not in recent memory, so nobody believed it possible. It certainly became a milestone in American conscioucness, along with the tendency to believe a lot of foolish conspiracy theories (about it, and just in general).

  4. Doug T

    I remember that day…that week end very well. We were in 5th grade art class learning how to draw with charcoal when the priest’s maid interuputed class to tell us. The nuns set up a radio, and we listened, hoping and of course praying for the best.

    I remember school being dismissed early. I know I ran home to watch the news. The Walter Cronkite announcement…it has been played so often, I can’t remember if I saw it live.

    A few weeks ago during a breakfast with a high scool classmate the conversation turned to religion and how Catholics were viewed in the South when we were growing up (my friend was Protestant.) He told me he ran home from school that day to find his parents, who left work early, crying.

    For a Catholic from a small Southern town who caught grief sometimes because of my religion, JFK’s death was a very sad event.

    The world stood still that week end while everyone watched their little black and white TVs. I do remember watching live as Oswald was shot. What an unreal weekend.

  5. Joanne

    I was in the fifth grade when the principal came over the PA system and announced that the President had been shot in Dallas.

    To this day I remember this one boy who cheered. I never liked him after that. Later, as a teacher, I realized he was only reflecting what he’d learned at home. But it wasn’t at all appropriate, 5th grade or not.

    By the time I got home, President Kennedy had died. I was so sad. It was one of the first times I remember really watching TV for a sustained period of time through the next few days. I remember being so moved by the sight of Jackie Kennedy, stunned and so beautiful, with a blood stain on her dress. That’s pretty powerful stuff for a 5th grader.

    I was so sad watching his children and the people sobbing in the streets.

    Later that week, I remember it was a Sunday and my brother had stayed home from church because he was sick when they were moving Lee Harvey Oswald from the jail, and he was shot by Jack Ruby.

    We were coming in from the garage when my brother (I can still remember he was in his pajamas) came running to us saying he’d seen a man shot on TV. He added, “For real.”

    We still have a copy of either Time or Look or Life at home with “The Torch is Passed” on the front.

    I’m glad you asked Brad. I’ve actually thought about this several times today. It still makes me sad.

  6. Steve Gordy

    How quickly what was new becomes old. I was talking about U.S. entry into WW2 with my students last week and I recounted what my mother told me about hearing the news of Pearl Harbor. Then I said, “I had much the same experience on November 22, 1963,” only to be greeted by blank looks. I had to explain the significance of that day.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    The Mayor of Milwaukee died shortly after Kennedy, and three-year-old me was distraught. My parents figured I was worried that my cartoons would be pre-empted again.

    I do recall being in a passport line in Europe when Reagan was shot, and people, seeing my US passport would tell me my president had been shot. At first I thought it was more of the sick anti-Americanism that pervaded England at that time. When I realized it was true, I got choked up and anxious. I can only imagine how it was when Kennedy was actually killed.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    I know plenty of people who were not born when the Challenger exploded. Many teenagers are really not old enough to remember 9/11/01….

  9. Burl Burlingame

    The Battle of Britain was 70 years ago. 70! And now Vietnam is ancient history.

    When Kennedy was killed, I was living at McGuire AFB, New Jersey. Some kid on a bicycle was peddling madly up and down the street screaming that the president had been shot. I thought my father would shut him up, but Dad didn’t get home until really late that night. The military was on standby.

  10. Nick Nielsen

    We were in school. The principal made the announcement just before we released for the day. They announced he had died while I was at my Cub Scout den meeting.

    The den mother’s teenage son had the television on in the other room. When CBS went live with Walter Cronkite’s announcement, we all went in to watch it.

  11. Pat

    My experience hearing about President Kennedy’s assassination is almost identical to Herb’s.
    Not long ago I heard a morning news show lady say “Everybody knows where they were when they heard Michael Jackson had died.” I thought, “really? I don’t.”
    I remember where I was with the Challenger and 9/11. I also remember where I was when Desert Storm began because my husband was there. But I have no clue where I was when I heard about Michael Jackson.

  12. Brad

    You were here, there and everywhere when you heard about Michael Jackson, because they went on and on and on and on and on about it. That’s all I remember about it — the way it was so amazingly overplayed. You’d have thought it was a significant event in history or something.

  13. Kathryn Fenner

    I think most of us old enough to remember where we were when we heard Kennedy died probably did not “get” Michael Jackson, but for those younger than us, he was quite a bit bigger than Elvis or the Beatles–I do remember well where I was when I heard that John Lennon had been shot…no idea about Elvis….

  14. Brad

    I’m willing to accept that to very, very young people, Michael Jackson may have served as a cheap, plastic, deeply inadequate substitute for Elvis and the Beatles. But “quite a bit bigger than?” No one, however young or ignorant, could have his or her sense of perspective THAT far out of whack…

  15. Kathryn Fenner

    Michael Jackson was a far better dancer than either Elvis or the Beatles, and in the video age, that counts for a lot…

    I “get” the Beatles, but Elvis–I guess you hadda be there….

  16. Brad

    Dancer? You’re rating the Beatles by their DANCING ability? When did you ever see them dance, or try to dance, or set themselves up as dancers?

    Hey, he might have been better at playing checkers, too, but what that has to do with the Beatles’ reputation, I don’t know…

    And Elvis — the only moves he made (we’re talking Young Elvis here, before he was ruined by the movies and Vegas) were those that came naturally. He didn’t even realize he was moving until people told him to cut it out because it was obscene…

  17. Shannon aka Scout

    They danced in a Hard Day’s Night. (Are you a Mod or a Rocker. I’m a Mocker.)

    I was riding in a car with my Dad when we heard about Elvis on the radio. I was eating dinner with my family when we heard about John Lennon on the news. In both cases, I had no idea who they were at the time but remember the moment because of the strong reaction of my parents. I had just gotten home from school when Reagan was shot. I was in Trig class in 11th grade when the challenger exploded. I was in the library workroom at school using the laminator on 9/11 – the librarian turned the tv on and I saw the second plane hit.

    I have no idea where I was when I heard about Michael Jackson. None whatsoever.

  18. bud

    Michael Jackson died the same day as Farah Fawcett. I thought the two were about equals in the entertainment world. Yet the coverage of Jackson was at least quadruple that of Fawcett.

  19. Doug Ross

    I’m no Michael Jackson fan but to try and discount his international appeal seems a tad bit “grumpy old man”. He sold more records than anyone, anywhere, anytime. His Thriller album has sold 110 million copies worldwide.

    The Beatles catalog is still selling strong and continues to pick up younger fans. Elvis’ appeal seems very generational – other than as a parody of the over-the-top Las Vegas era Fat Elvis.

    Personally, I think Bruce Springsteen has been better, longer than Elvis.

  20. Brad

    “Grumpy Old Man” is pretty much what I was shooting for…

    I don’t know why I never really got into Springsteen. (To me he’s sort of a run-of-the-mill rocker; good but not great.) Some of my oldest friends think he’s awesome. Sure, he hit his stride after I was grown and had kids, so that might explain some of my indifference, but so did Elvis Costello, and I really got into him big-time. In fact, Elvis C. was the last of my all-time faves (for a definition of “fave,” look up Beatlemania; it comes right after “fab”) in chronological terms. I haven’t seen anyone even come close since.

    And it might not be possible to be both an Elvis Costello fan and a Michael Jackson fan. I suspect we inhabit different universes of taste…

    Speaking of which, though, changing course a bit… Pat mentions Paul McCartney.

    Over the weekend I saw part of “A Hard Days Night” again (and the only dancing I remember from it was done ironically, mocking the rehearsing TV dancers), and one of my daughters asked, “Which was your favorite Beatle?”

    Well, once it would have been Lennon, and probably for a lot of the same reasons I prefer Elvis C. He was the cool one, the dark one, the ironic one. Paul was bubblegum, the “cute one,” all sorts of things that a young guy would consider uncool.

    But as I grew older, I got more and more turned off by John, seeing him more and more of a pseudo-poser. Hey, I’m sorry he had an unhappy life, but in the end, Paul was really more about what the Beatles were about. And the best thing about him? He didn’t sneer at his career as a Beatle the way Lennon did. He knew it was the best thing he ever did, and he appreciated his fans for appreciating it. That is an attitude far more worthy of admiration, and emulation.

    I wrote a column once on the subject…

  21. Kathryn Fenner

    I think Paul had a happy life for a very long time until Linda died. John seemed to be unhappy until Yoko came along, and even then, that didn’t look really “happy” from where I stood. I doubt John was capable of true happiness.

    I am hardly Team Michael Jackson, but as a visual artist in a visual age, he certainly is a worthy contender in the Elvis/Beatles debate.

    In terms of lasting appeal, among popular musical artists, I’m Team U2.

  22. Burl Burlingame

    Michael Jackson was just as huge, maybe huger, outside the U.S.

    Springsteen is freakin’ amazing. But I can see how his dense oeuvre can make him somewhat inaccessible.

    I was really only aware of Elvis during his bloated jumpsuit phase, and that was creepytime.

    I am also on Team U2. And Team Buddy Holly.

  23. Pat

    Bud, now that you mention it, I do remember Farah Fawcett passed the same day and her death was overshadowed by Jackson’s.
    Michael Jackson was a great entertainer, but a sad figure. Farah was courageous in allowing an inside look at her dying.
    I liked Paul partly, Kathryn, because of the relationship he had with his wife, Linda, but also he seemed to me the most talented of the four. He seemed to be better and more prolific in writing music as well as playing and singing. I confess though that I never followed any musician closely so it could well be that John did more in comparison, considering his life span. People tend to idolize those that die young. At my age, I look for those that finish well.

  24. SusanG

    Definitely crank up the U2…and the Elvis Costello. I saw U2 when they were here on their Zoo tour — it was amazing.

  25. Burl Burlingame

    There was a gag on SNL a couple of weeks ago that went something like, Apple has finally made up with the Beatles. Now your kids won’t be able to figure out why Dad wants them to drive him to the iTunes store.

  26. Steve Gordy

    I’m with Burl on Team Buddy Holly. He packed an amazing amount of work into a very short career. I also like Springsteen; he and I were born less than a week apart and I was living in NJ when he made it to the big leagues.

  27. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Pat– He “wrote” music inasmuch as many people referred to his symphony as the first “as told to” symphony–he couldn’t read or write music….which is not to denigrate his composing–I can read music quite well, but I cannot come close to conjuring his tunes….

    @ Burl—Wait, you mean the iTunes store is not in the back of the Apple Store. OMG! Maybe I should check The Google.,5850/

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