The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    On That Day We Lost JFK

    On that day I was up in my sewing room, away from the TV.  My four-year-old son was napping, and my 7-year-old daughter was in school. My husband was at work.   It was early afternoon.

    I heard the back door open and before I could start to the stairs, I could hear my neighbor, Gwen, shouting something, sobbing. I thought something must have happened to her mother, who had been ailing.  By the time I got to her she could barely speak.  "They shot the president!  They shot Kennedy!"

    I turned on the TV and we sat watching, hoping, both of us, that he would be okay. This kind of thing just didn't happen--not in our country, not to this president. We didn't know, of course, that the top of his head had been blown off. 

    But then Walter Cronkite, fighting back tears, announced that our president was dead.

    A while later, long before school was supposed to be out, my second-grader ran into the house.  She was terrified.  When the school staff heard the news they made the decision to send the kids home, but they also decided to leave it to the parents to tell the little kids what had happened.  My daughter remembers running the three blocks home with a bunch of scared, crying kids, and then running into the house, only to find her mom a hysterical mess. 

    Soon after our daughter came home, my husband arrived.  The news came over the PA system and within minutes everyone had shut down their projects and left for home.

    The next few days were lost to anything other than being glued to the TV.  Our horror had to take a back seat to trying to calm two little kids, to reminding them they were safe, assuring them that nothing would happen to them, but at the same time we could not turn away from the television set.  So when our children saw President Kennedy's two sad little children being led through the funeral procession, what they saw and understood, throughout all this, was that somebody's daddy had been killed.

    AP Photo

     In those early days the rumors flew:  The mafia, along with Jack Ruby, was behind it. (The theory was that he killed Oswald to silence him.)  Castro was behind it. Johnson hated Kennedy and he was behind it.  Oswald's wife, Marina, a Russian by birth, knew something she wasn't telling.  Nobody could comprehend that one lone gunman could have caused such chaos and grief.

    And 50 years later, there are many who still wonder.  (I'm not one of them, for what it's worth.)  But today, a half-century removed, this day is set aside not just to reckon with John Kennedy's death but to look back at his time as president.  His was a presidency like no other. 

    He was the first to give photographers such unencumbered entry into his day-to-day life.  He was the first to allow movie cameras into the Oval Office, and because he did, we were able to watch him handle and agonize over crises, to accept his mistakes, to see him interact so intimately with his aides, with his children, and with U.S and world leaders.  Television allowed us a kind of unprecedented intimacy we couldn't even imagine with the presidents before him.

    But on November 22, 1963, it was network television that riveted us, that forced us to witness the most painful event in contemporary presidential history.  And today, 50 years later, because television was there, we're riveted again by watching that raw horror and the sad aftermath as if it were only yesterday.


    I was six years old on that day. I lived in Dallas and remember clearly the collective horror people felt that the killing happened here.

    Walking on the sidewalk from school where I learned of the event, I could see in every face I peered into that there was a burden that would have to be shouldered from now on. A strange guilt by association.

    My limited knowledge of civics left me uncertain there could be any Presidents after this one was taken away.

    When I got home, my mother was crying. It is ironic to read about how extensively the event was televised because in our house the television was not allowed to be turned on for two weeks.

    It was my introduction to a limit of experience. One can only take in so much and then you are done.

    Thanks for sharing that, Moat.  It must have been very confusing for a six-year-old.  Everyone dealt with it in different ways.  A two-week hiatus from TV may have been the best thing for your family.  In our house we couldn't get enough of it.  Of course, we didn't have wall-to-wall 24 hour coverage with hours of empty talk just to fill time.

    My son, who was four at the time, told me the only thing he remembers is the funeral.  I think because of the pomp--it must have been exciting for a little guy.  All the rest was just so much uninteresting talk.

    I was a sophomore in high school and we had just dressed out for gym.  We had to wear this ugly blue one piece short suit with elastic around the legs like a bubble suit for a baby. One of the teachers came in the gym and whispered to the girls coach something.  She then went over to the other side of the gym curtain to talk to the boys coach.  Our coach told us to go back and get in our street cloths.  She gathered us up at the bleachers and told us and we sat there the rest of the period crying and talking about it.  Over the PA we were told to go to our home rooms.  We spent the rest of the time watching the TV that had been pulled out of the closet until the buses came.  The country was in a crises my parents even came home early from work. 

    We spent the next several days watching TV.  We didn't go back to school until after the funeral.  The Scottish Black Guard Bagpipes had been in town for a concert the day before the shooting.  My choir teacher had attended and told how spectacular it had been.  I also had a girl friend who parents had gone. The Black Guard left and marched in the funeral. I had not remembered this until someone brought it up on Kos.  That triggered that memory.  I knew this person was talking about my home town.  

    I remembered how the broadcasters were so dignified with the coverage over the days following the assignation.  The speculation was there as to why but we all knew it was speculation.  I remember the plane leaving Dallas and the speech that Johnson gave at the tarmac.  That speech was quickly written by Lady Bird's secretary who had been with them on the trip.  I can't imagine the media today doing the top journalistic job that was done then.  The wall to wall coverage of the funeral was just with broadcasters explaining who was who and what was happening.  There wasn't any opinions and talking heads jumping in front of the cameras.  The only time they cut away was for a quick few seconds for station identifications. We did see the nightly news casters on the street during the events but only to fill in what had happen for those just tuning in.  They didn't have instant replay in those days and that was the job of those who were covering to go back over what had happen.  

    The weather had been over cast and dreary that whole week end. I remember going with my mother to get the Thanksgiving turkey that weekend and that everyone working in the grocery store wearing black arm bands.  In those days the cashiers wore uniform dresses and the guys in white shirts with white boat shaped caps. The flags flew half mask and many buildings had black drapes over the doors or in windows. The TV's in Montgomery Ward were all turned on and people standing in front of them stopping and watching the news coverage.  I don't remember why we stopped there.  I remember the day after Thanksgiving I took a bus down town with my girl friends to window shop and see the department store decorations.  This was something we did every year growing up.  The town was still draped in black and the major department stores had devoted a window to JFK there was still black arm bands on in some stores or JFK buttons in a black ribbon rosettes.  I can not imagine the greedy retailers still draped in black today for the kick off of Christmas shopping.

    This with the Cuban missile crises the year before really had an effect on me.  I became very interested in politics and international affairs.  I was a fan of LBJ the rest of the time I was in high school.  He signed the civil rights bill during the time I was taking a Civics class that was required.   I stayed a loyal liberal all my life.  


    Thanks for sharing, Momoe.  (Guess you had to be there, huh?)  You're so right about the funeral coverage.  It was subdued and respectful without a thousand different people weighing in, or that irritating small talk just to fill air time.  There were actually several seconds of silence during the procession, so that we could just watch as if we were there.

    I don't remember that Thanksgiving for us at all, but I'm sure it wasn't the happy affair it usually was.

    P.S, looks like we loyal liberals are going to have to stick together.  I sense we're a dying breed.


    There is a very liberal 18 to 35 year old group that just may remain that way because of what they are experiencing. Depending on what poll you read it is between 60 and 70% of that age group.  According to the exit polls they are voting in higher numbers then what the media likes to report. We are definitely going to see a push to the left in the near future.

    The far left scares me almost as much as the far right, so I hope they don't move too far to the left.  I want to see more social liberals among the young, but so far they're all talk and no vote.

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