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JFK 50 years later: America remembers

Updated on November 6, 2013

“It’s amazing that Kennedy should have this extraordinary hold on the public’s imagination 50 years after.” – historian Robert Dallek

It all comes back to me like replaying an old movie. Until the other day, I hadn’t given much thought to November 22, 1963. Then, in an instant, a living-movie-memory pours out.

I see the sights. I hear the sounds. Anew.

• The announcement over the high school PA of the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

• The video of John and Jackie Kennedy arriving in Dallas, then waving from their limousine as they travel through the city.

• The hurried photo of Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One being sworn in 36th U.S. president as a distraught widow watches.

• Thousands of people queuing up, waiting for their brief moment to pay their last respects at the bier in the Capitol Rotunda.

• The boots in the stirrups of the frisky riderless horse traveling down Pennsylvania Avenue.

• The somber, guttleral sounds – the rumble of drums and the clack of horses hoofs as they pull the wooden caisson carrying a flag-draped coffin containing the body of America’s 35th president.

• Tiny John-John Kennedy wearing his Sunday best saluting a flag in his father’s funeral procession.

• The country mourning as one – glued to their TVs during the weekend ceremonies.

• The signature sound of a solo bugler playing "Taps."

• Watching with a lump in my throat as Jackie Kennedy stayed strong through it all.

• Shots echoing through the garage of the Dallas Police station as Jack Ruby kills JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

• The eternal flame burning at the Arlington Cemetery gravesite.

• The Texas School Book Depository building.

Life magazine and the Zapruder film.

• The endless conspiracy theories.

• The ache in our hearts.

• The stain on our national soul.

—♦— —♦— —♦—

Each of the three Kennedy brothers served in the Senate

Robert, Ted and John Kennedy
Robert, Ted and John Kennedy | Source

The half century anniversary of this American tragedy will soon captivate the nation. There will be books, movies, magazines, websites, documentaries, TV programs, commemorative exhibits and special events all focusing on John F. Kennedy’s life and assassination.

While there will be ceremonies and remembrances throughout the country, the main focus of the nation’s commemorative events will center in three cities – Boston Washington, D.C. and Dallas. These cities represent the sites where JFK was born, where he served as president and senator and where he was assassinated.

A Hyannis weekend with Caroline
A Hyannis weekend with Caroline | Source

► IN BOSTON, the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum plans a special ceremony on Nov. 22. They currently are exhibiting the U.S. flag that covered JFK's coffin, the saddle from the riderless horse and letters of condolence sent to Jackie Kennedy. The museum also has displays focusing on Kennedy’s presidential campaign and the Cuban missile crisis.

The home where John Kennedy was born is open to the public through Nov. 2. In 1914, Joe and Rose Kennedy moved to the modest home at 83 Beals Street. They lived there for six years and had four of the family’s nine children. In 1969, Rose Kennedy donated the house to the National Park Service and directed its restoration, returning the home to the way it was when JFK was a boy.

Nearby is the Kennedys’ Hyannis Port waterfront vacation home on Cape Cod. The JFK Hyannis Museum features an exhibit on his last visits to the Cape.

 John Kennedy's body is buried with other veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
John Kennedy's body is buried with other veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. | Source

► IN WASHINGTON, D.C., the Newseum is currently exhibiting the United Press International’s assassination bulletin, a collection of historic photographs and the 8 mm movie camera used by Abraham Zapruder, the only person to capture the entire assassination on film. Throughout November, the 250,000-square-foot museum will host special events, including a daylong series of JFK-themed discussions. On Nov. 22, 2013, the Newseum also will rebroadcast in real time three hours of CBS News coverage of Nov. 22, 1963, including the moment when Walter Cronkite reported that Kennedy was dead.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History features an exhibit entitled “Assassinations and Mourning.” On display is a Life ► magazine cover portraying the Kennedy funeral, a drum played at the funeral and a photo of the president's flag-draped casket lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery is undergoing repairs, but they will be completed by the end of October, in time for the Nov. 22 anniversary. About 3 million people annually visit the cemetery in Virginia and Kennedy’s is the most visited grave. Officials expect a large crowd for the anniversary.

The Texas School Book Depository is along the route of the JFK presidential motorcade.
The Texas School Book Depository is along the route of the JFK presidential motorcade. | Source

► IN DALLAS, there are numerous events being held throughout October and November leading up to the anniversary of the assassination.

The site where Oswald fired at the president from a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository is now the Sixth Floor Museum. Its visitor’s center has been remodeled to handle the anticipated crowds. The museum is hosting a series of talks by individuals connected to the events of Nov. 22.

Dallas was stigmatized by the assassination. Nicola Longford, museum director told The New York Times, the anniversary ”is an opportunity to remind the whole community what happened and how Dallas has moved on.”

On Nov. 22, church bells throughout the city will ring at 12:25 p.m., followed by a moment of silence at 12:30 p.m., the time of the assassination. The city of Dallas will hold an event in Dealey Plaza, the first event Dallas has held in Kennedy’s memory. Where Kennedy's motorcade passed as shots rang out, historian David McCullough will read JFK speeches. The program also includes a military flyover and prayers. Demand for the Dealey Plaza event was so huge a lottery was held to distribute 5,000 free tickets.

Campaign buttons at the Kennedy Library
Campaign buttons at the Kennedy Library | Source

Looking for websites with more info on this subject?

There are several websites that focus on the commemoration, most notably is the Dallas News site, which examines: "The people. The city. The impact." Here you can explore artifacts, videos and photos, locate a 50th anniversary event or discuss November 22, 1963.

Other sites of note:


Some observations on the "coincidences" list

◄ In 1964, a list describing a number of amazing coincidences between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy began to circulate throughout America. This was equally amazing because there wasn’t an Internet and people had to resort to physically passing printed copies of the list to one another.

Wikipedia terms the list “a piece of American folklore of unknown origin.” Today we call it an Urban Legend. The list (or parts of it) was debunked in the 1960s and 70s. Despite this the assassination “coincidence” list refuses to die. Ten years ago, people began to spread this Urban Legend on the Internet. It’s become a Facebook staple.

The most recent debunking was done by, which describes itself as “the online touchstone of rumor research.” I take exception with Snopes labeling the list “False.” If you read their extensive post on the matter you’ll see that Snopes concludes most of the items are true, but expresses reservations about the coincidences.

Over the years, parts of the list have been proven bogus, such as the presidential secretary reference. The original list said, “Lincoln’s secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to the theatre. Kennedy's secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.” It turns out that while Mrs. Lincoln worked for Kennedy, Lincoln never had a secretary named Kennedy. And there weren’t any warnings that historians could find.

◄ This is the latest, corrected version of the list that I could find. (Every item is true, except as noted.) –TDowling

Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.

Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Lincoln was elected President in 1860.

Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Both presidents were shot in the head on a Friday.

Lincoln was shot in a theater called Ford's Theatre.

Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln Continental made by Ford.

Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.

Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.

Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Booth ran from a theater and was trapped and killed in a warehouse.

Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

NOTE: Booth actually was killed in a tobacco barn. Booth's body was moved temporarily to a warehouse. Also, after the assassination, Ford Theatre closed and it was turned into a warehouse.

Booth and Oswald were shot and killed before they were put on trial.

© 2013 Thomas Dowling


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