Friday, November 22, 2013

On a Friday Afternoon 50 Years Ago

It was about 3pm and I was sitting in my geometry class at Nepean High School in Ottawa, Canada. This was my final year of high school. I liked this course and I liked my teacher (Mr. Pollack).

The loudspeaker crackled and I heard the Principle's voice. Mr. Callan said that President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas.

Kennedy was not my President but it was still a great shock. It seemed like Camelot had been destroyed.1 I spent the next three days in front of the television set. Nobody knew what was going to happen to America.

You know how everyone says they know exactly where they were and what they were doing when major events happen? That's certainly true for me on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It's one of only two days in my life that I remember so vividly.2 If it was traumatic for a young Canadian boy, I can't imagine what it must have felt like for Americans.

How many of you remember Nov. 22, 1963?

It looks very naive now but back in 1963 we really believed that Camelot and King Arthur could be real. Here's Richard Burton in the Broadway production. It seems like everybody had the album.

1. The musical, Camelot had been playing on Broadway since 1960 and everyone was familiar with the music from the LP (record album). The Kennedy family and the Kennedy administration were intimately associated with the idea of Camelot.

2. The other was Sept. 11, 2001.


  1. There is another anniversary but only 25 Years and counting: Lenski's Long-Term Evolution Experiment:

    Looks like evolution in bacteria got confused or

  2. I was in 4th grade, living in St. Louis, MO, USA. We were all called into the auditorium to watch a single small TV. I, too, will never forget where I was when President Kennedy was shot.

    ~~ Paul

  3. I remember a great deal about that day and the sad days that followed, but I was quite young then. Bobby's death hit me harder emotionally.

  4. I was in my first year at Nepean High School, dressing in the locker room after gym class, when the announcement came over the school PA system. Definitely a day that I remember.

  5. I think I would have been in Grade 1, in Toronto. The PA came on, but it just seemed to be relaying a radio report, too faint to hear. The teacher was puzzled and annoyed. I think eventually someone came on and said what what was up. A few days later I watched the funeral coverage. I was too young for it to be a personal thing to me; it was something the grownups were making a fuss about, so I gathered it must be important.

  6. I was in a junior high class, on the outside of the left hall in the building, in a small Michigan town. The PA system came on, by accident it seemed because all we heard was nearly incomprehensible news from a radio. Then the principal announced that President Kennedy had been shot. The radio came back on, better oriented to the microphone this time and we listened in shocked silence for the rest of class. I cried. A couple of the boys teased me about it and I was embarrassed.

    My siblings and I played near the TV nearly the entire weekend. On all three channels (all we got; ABC, NBC, CBS) the programming was mostly news, alternating with (can you believe it!) classical music. We watched the funeral, too, so it if was on a weekday we didn’t go back to school.

  7. To inject a note of levity (as every wake should): a good line I just read - "my wife asked where I was when Kennedy was shot. She blames me for everything".

  8. Our fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, stepped out into the hall to talk to someone for a minute. Then she stepped back into the classroom and with tears in her eyes told us the news.

  9. I remember President Kennedy as the last U.S. President whom all the people I knew liked (both Republicans and Democrats). I'm sure he had his haters but they weren't visible to me. These days the haters seem to be the most prominent voices. My armchair hypothesis is that World War II was still fresh in people's memories, when we all worked together.

    I remember my friends Rob and Mike and I spending the afternoon removing and stacking about twenty rows of chairs in the school auditorium because the Senior Play opening was postponed until the following weekend.

  10. An interesting bit of tape at the link below, of conductor Erich Leinsdorf announcing news of Kennedy's death to an audience of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, moments after it had occurred. He then goes on to perform the funeral march from the Eroica symphony: