22 November 1963
Once again, as when I first tried to write here, in 2009, what I actually remember.
I came into the lobby of the Architecture and Allied Arts building, to teach a lecture course. The lobby was full, and there were numerous transistor radios on. I was promptly informed that the President had been shot. The first radio announcements were being repeated over and over.
I raised my voice enough to tell my own students that I believed that the President would want us to learn rather than gossip, so please come into the lecture room (we were right at its door). Most of them did come and fell quiet. I did lecture and gave them to understand that they might share their notes with students (about 25 or so) who had left before the majority had come in. It was my fourth quarter teaching (PhD June 1962, and I was 29 years old).
About an hour later, all afternoon courses were cancelled. From my apartment window, which overlooked the Millrace and faced a couple of "Greek" houses, I watched the students canoeing. I thought, they are very young. And why not? Later I thought, well, the students who lived in private rentals probably were not playing in the same way.
I did not have a TV or indeed a radio of my own. The footage that we all have seen since then I only saw in Life or at the movies in March of Time or the like.
I do not remember in what sense I was shocked, but I was very sad and kept mulling it over. No one ever rebuked or praised my teaching when I did. I still do not know why, for sure, I did so or whether it was right or wrong.
I keep hearing people today, now middle-aged, saying that they had been age 5, for example, and so remembered it. That is how I remembered Pearl Harbor, when I was age 7. Though an attempt had been made on Truman (it was in the newspaper), no assassination had been made since McKinley, and that was eight years before my father was born. Despite holding an advanced degree, I really had no idea of politics.
A few commentators have touched on a happy era ending at that moment. Yes, but we all knew about atomic threats and problematic trials, HUAC(!), and Cuba. Yes, the Lindbergh baby. Yes, we were aware that Green Berets in Viet Nam did seem rather problematic.
I already, writing above about 1945, wrote about the death of the only president I knew of (and I didn't even know who his vice president was), and about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: even more than being appalled by the deaths of so many Japanese I realized that no one would ever be safe again: that is how the 11-year-old felt. Jolted into awareness. Those who were age 5 when President Kennedy was assassinated had known several presidents and the Korean War. When I was teaching History of Photography I found that many of my students could not tell WW I from WW II. For their cohort, November 1963 was their jolt.
The way that, without my own radio or TV, I came to remember the images of the Kennedy assassination and funeral in the oft-repeated photographs (indeed, up through Viet Nam I still got most of my news from Time, Life, et al.), for the post-war cohort President Kennedy was like the death of FDR.
As for our remembering being happy until being jolted: yes. We were not paying much attention. It was great not to have Bikini tests any more; it was, above all, not to have WW II. It was super-great to have a first family who dressed tastefully, as well as anyone in Europe.
But now we put away and didn't listen to "The First Family" LP (or even "My Son the Folk Singer"); we had never enjoyed them to mock! I remember feeling that the Kennedys must have enjoyed them, too (and I'm sure Abe Sherman's family and friends enjoyed the Jewish jokes in the "Folk Singer"). But I never enjoyed laughing out loud again in the same way.
There. That's what I remember. Pretty shallow, but not vicious?