(Frame from Zapruder Film shows Kennedy clutching his throat as the first shot strikes him.)
November 22, 1963 – where were you? I know exactly where I was when I heard the shocking news of the death of the young American President. I was in high school and just finishing classes that Friday afternoon when the announcement came over the public address system that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.
I for one can’t believe it is now 44 years later and still the man and the event fascinates. To my children it is just something they hear about in history books, but to me it is living history. The events of that tragic weekend created a new awareness in my fourteen year old mind. History, politics and world affairs were suddenly thrust into my everyday consiousness. Seeing world leaders from almost all the countries of the world marching in the solemn funeral procession made me realize how deeply we can be affected by world events.
We gathered around the television that entire weekend like moths to a lamp, hungering for news and trying to come to grips with the reality of the fact that Kennedy was dead. For me, as a young person, it was disbelief that this young and vital world leader had been cut down in his prime and replaced with a much older leader. All this in just six seconds of gunfire in Dallas.
In 1963 the Cold War was at its height and to have the leader of the so-called Free World assassinated was chilling. At the time no one had any inkling of what would happen next. His successor, President Lyndon Johnson, did an admirable job of reassuring the American people and the world that an orderly transfer of power had taken place. He made sure his taking of the oath of office was photographed and witnessed by the media and others. He did this almost immediately after Kennedy was pronounced dead. It was imperative that the world know that government in the United States was still functioning and able to respond to any threat.
(Dealey Plaza, the scene of the assassination. Where the people are standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the photo is the location of Kennedy’s limousine when he was fatally struck. The red building in the middle, top is the Texas School Book Depository location of the alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.)
To understand the fear and panic of the moment let’s put this tragic story in the perspective of todays high-tech news world. This event occurred before camcorders, the internet, and cable news like CNN. On that fateful day television cameras were not even covering the president’s motorcade through downtown Dallas. Besides the cameras of that era were so bulky and unwieldy that their mobility was severely limited. Remote broadcasts with the portable video cameras of today were non-existent. People in the crowd along the route certainly did not have video camcorders. Pictures that do exist of the event are primarily from photographic stills. Fortunately Abraham Zapruder had his 8 mm home movie camera running from a relatively good vantage point in Dealey Plaza. He managed to capture the moment for posterity. This is the famous “Zapruder Film” now held by the National Archives. It is the only film record that captured the entire event. This inability to see live news feeds only added to the uncertainty of what was transpiring. (Abraham Zapruder’s home movie camera, state of the art in 1963)
In our time this same event would be instaneously covered by the media. Many of the spectators lining the motorcade would be actively recording the scene with either a camcorder or a high quality digital camera. Images and reports from the scene would be transmitted live as they happened to the world via television and the internet. The unknown would clearly not be a factor. A significant amount of photographic evidence would exist that would show more clearly what happened that day. The assassination would certainly have been recorded as it happened from a myriad of angles and viewpoints throughout Dealey Plaza. Contrast the Kennedy Assassination with coverage of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks in 2001 and you can see the point I am making. Historical events in the 21st century come into our lives in more detail because of today’s technology. Always remember though that we still need to draw our own conclusions based on the evidence presented from various viewpoints. This is sometimes difficult when we are being bombarded with so much information so rapidly.
If only CNN et al had been there on that fateful Dallas day in 1963.