Editor’s Note: This is a blog hop. The women of Midlife Boulevard are sharing their thoughts about and memories of the assassination of President Kennedy on this 50th anniversary of that sad day.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today, I was almost 2 years old, and so remember nothing about it. My 24 year old mother was pregnant with my brother. She sat in our little apartment in Flushing, New York, waiting for her mother to call her so they could talk about what happened – there was rarely a day when they didn’t speak, and she was surprised that her mother didn’t call right away. Call after call came in, but not from her mother.
Finally, bewildered by this, she dialed her mother’s number – HUnter 7-8299. When my mother asked her mother why she hadn’t called, this was her response:
“You’re pregnant, and I didn’t want you to hear such upsetting news.”
President Kennedy’s election to office represented so much to the American people. His beautiful family and his handsome face certainly had an impact on his popularity. Never before had our country had such intimate access to our president, as archaic as that access seems now. With the increasing popularity of television, the young (Jackie was 31 when he took office) and arguably the most beautiful family ever to occupy the White House became the symbol of our entire nation – energetic, dynamic and ambitious. The Kennedys were our country embodied – albeit far wealthier and better looking than most of us.
I share the anecdote about my mother and her mother because it seems so utterly implausible now. Imagine someone not knowing, within minutes of it happening, that a world leader had been assassinated. Think of the difference between now and then. We didn’t see countless images of our president on a whim. There was no flipping through dozens of news channels, thousands of websites, allowing the public to become as familiar with him as we are with our own families. Think of the mystique the president had back then – when we didn’t have millions of bits of information at our disposal, pundits and trolls and bloggers all telling us exactly what’s right – and wrong – with our leaders.
The Kennedy assassination was one of the saddest days in our country’s history – but it was a pivotal day, too. As the country watched television, glued to their sets from the first shot fired at Daly Plaza to the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, the smallest seed of social media and our insatiable need for information was planted.
Try to picture what it would be like for President Kennedy if he was president today. Imagine the scrutiny, the rumors, the secret medical documents that someone would leak to the press. Consider how Jackie’s wardrobe would be picked apart by Joan Rivers and the fashion police crew, or in Us Magazine’s “Who Wore it Best” column. The thing that made the Kennedy’s Camelot so intoxicating to so many was their aura of sophistication and the image of them as special, a little bit above and better than all of us. That doesn’t exist anymore, in politics or anywhere else. With so much information and so much time on our television sets and computer screens, nearly everyone – from kings to Kardashians – seems vaguely familiar and ordinary these days.
While my mother waited to hear from her mother, people gathered on porches, in apartment building hallways, on street corners, in coffee shops. While today we would be virtually consoling each other, in 1963 one had to take to the streets to find others to reach out to for reassurance that the world had not gone mad. In 1963 groups gathered to watch the heartbreaking funeral of the country’s beloved president, sharing coffee and cake, bourbon and cigarettes. Today we quite possibly would be on our treadmills and stairclimbers at the gym, earplugs in, all looking up, but perhaps not at each other. Yes, we’d be sitting with our families, but we’d most likely be looking at mutitple screens – waiting for more information from innumerable sources, texting, tweeting, status-updating.
There was only Walter Cronkite those sad days, uniting the country in mourning, guiding us through the events as they unfolded. He was our Google, Facebook and Twitter all in one.
It was recently revealed that the suit that Mrs. Kennedy was wearing on the day the president was assassinated is in storage. Caroline Kennedy has ordered that it not be displayed until the year 2103, 140 years after her father’s death, as it is believed to be too disturbing to be seen by those who can remember that awful day. By 2013, everyone who would be able to recall where they were when they heard the news will be gone, and the suit will serve as a reminder to those who view it from a historical perspective of the horror that day brought to our country, the terrible loss of innocence and hope his death represented to so many. It is a tangible and three-dimensional reminder of what happened – not an image on a screen or a page in a book.
On the day of the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy wore the suit, bloodstains visible to all. “Let them see what they’ve done,” she said.
Virtual connections matter – but it is by seeing things in person, in real life, by touching a hand or sharing a sandwich that we can comfort those we love. I hope we always seek out the human connection during times of great sorrow and pain – no matter how many websites or television stations there are from which to gather news. If something terrible happens, I will wait for my mother’s call, knowing it will bring me comfort that no amount of Facebook likes could replicate.
Rest in Peace, President Kennedy.