One week from today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In "Family History -- Memorializing Your Personal Experience of Big Events" here on The Prism, I wrote about the genealogical value of recording one's memories and experiences of big events that will surely be historical milestones our ancestors will read and learn about. The assassination of President Kennedy was one such moment for me.
I was 11 years old in November 1963. My family was living in Concord, NH and I was in the 6th grade at Kimball Elementary School (which, sadly, was torn down in 2011 to make room for a new school facility).
|Kimball Elementary School, Concord, NH (April 2010)|
Kimball was built in 1905 - 1907 and was originally the Concord High School. Later it was known as Rundlett Jr. High School (1927) and from 1957 on it served elementary level students. The school was a wonderfully sturdy building of stone and brick with classrooms on each of the first two floors arranged around a central, open rectangular hallway. The hallway was lined with wide oak chair rail and had large wrought-iron coat hooks where fall and winter coats were hung with boots and rubbers placed on the floor beneath them. The classrooms had thick plaster walls and 13-foot ceilings. In 1962 - 1964 students still used raise-top oak desks with attached seats and ink wells.
By the time I attended Kimball, each room was equipped with a brown loudspeaker box that was mounted up in one of the front corners of each classroom. It was to these corners that the attention of every student and teacher in the building was drawn in the early afternoon of November 22, 1963.
It was after lunch on a Friday, but I cannot recall if I had gone home for lunch that day. The school had a lunch room in the basement, but many kids walked home and back for lunch if they lived relatively close to the school. I went home for lunch more often than not.
The day as I recall it was fairly mild for late November in New Hampshire. We had no snow on the ground and it was probably in the high 40s or low 50s temperature-wise. Afternoon classes were underway, but I cannot recall whose classroom I was in when the loudspeaker crackled to life in what was a very unusual use of the speaker system during classes. The Principal's voice came in with an afternoon announcement. [At Kimball there were three classes of 6th graders in 1963 - 64 (Mr. Kopp's, Mrs. Johnson's and Mrs. White's). We rotated among them as the teachers taught us different subjects.]
The Principal's voice was subdued and serious. As I recall it, the Principal was Miss Dearborn, but it might have been Mr. Sawyer (?) who replaced her just before the school year began or during the fall 1963 term. What I do recall is the somber announcement that the news was reporting that President Kennedy had been shot in Texas. The extent of his injuries was unknown. Not long afterward, another announcement was made that the President was dead and school was being let out early so we could all go home.
When my sister and I got home from Kimball and the older of my two younger brothers got home from Dewey School (where he was in 2nd grade), our mother was home with our toddler brother who was then only 2 years old. The black and white TV was on and every channel was taken over by the news covering the unfolding aftermath of the assassination. By about the time school would normally have gotten out, Lyndon Johnson had been sworn in as our new President.
For the next several days, leading up to Thanksgiving six days later, it seemed that the only thing on TV and radio was reporting of the assassination and the return of the President to Washington to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. He was taken to the Capitol on a horse-drawn caisson and I can vividly recall watching an almost silent TV as the camera tracked the progress up the street from the White House to the Capitol. Except for occasional hushed commentary by the newscasters on all channels, all you could hear was drumming and the sound of the horses' shoed hooves hitting the street pavement. On Monday, the only thing on TV was the funeral procession to the burial in Arlington Cemetery. No one was watching anything else on TV for days right up to Thanksgiving and I recall I finally had to ask my parents when the cartoons and other programs would be back on TV. At Thanksgiving that year the conversation after initial greeting of family always went back to the assassination and did so throughout the day.
Things did not return to normal until a week or two into December when, inevitably, the gravitational pull of the approaching Christmas holiday caused the kids especially -- and therefore the parents -- to move on; but even so, the holidays were not the same that year and in my mind the assassination has ever since been associated with Thanksgiving.
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The most dramatic and horrifying images that almost everyone associates with the assassination 50 years ago (whether or not they lived through the events), are not some of the many static photographs that emerged in the aftermath. It is the images of the color video of the actual shooting as captured by Abraham Zapruder, a 58-year-old, Russian-born garment manufacturer. He co-founded a women's clothing company called Jennifer Juniors, Inc. that produced brands known as Chalet and Jennifer Juniors. His offices were directly across the street from the Texas School Book Depository from which the shots that killed the president were fired. Mr. Zapruder filmed with an 8mm, hand-held Bell & Howell camera. He captured in 486 frames lasting 26.6 seconds the moving images of the motorcade passing through Dealey Plaza. Those 26.6 seconds captured the actual assassination and became perhaps the most famous "home-made" movie in history. The story of how the film was purchased by LIFE magazine and how it came to be seen by countless millions is told in text and video here on TIME magazine's LightBox feature for November 13, 2013. It is well worth reading and viewing.
|Abraham Zapruder (1905 - 1970)|
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Photograph of the Kennedys and the Connellys in the presidential limousine in Dallas minutes before the assassination is in the public domain by Walt Cisco of the Dallas Morning News. The photo is now in the public domain in the U.S. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JFK_limousine.png
Photograph of Kimball Elementary School by the author (April 2010). For information on the history of Kimball and historical photos of the building inside and out, see http://www.concordnh.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1150
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Copyright 2013, John D. Tew
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