JFK's assassination on November 22, 1963 – and why we wept

The day Jack Kennedy was assassinated changed everyone. Photo: Kennedy funeral/ AP

NEW YORK, November 18, 2013 — The news refused to sink in. Perhaps Walter Cronkite got it wrong. For many of us it came as a rumor. We heard that President John F. Kennedy had been “seriously wounded” and because we refused believe, we were advised to find the nearest TV. The bistros along Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village had no TVs. That was their protest against conformity.

Besides, we were going to become a nation of poets. So “news” was something that happened to other people.

There were about eight of us. We’d been laughing. We were the doormen and the waiters and we had just finished up our breakfasts at a bagel café on MacDougal. It was November, so most of us were out of work, but we had gathered up just to get ourselves ready for the summer of 1964. For sure it would be as glorious as the summer of 1963, Kennedy forever in the White House with promises to keep.

We had all gone home, but with resistance went back to college. We wanted no part of the Establishment.

We would not repeat the mistakes of our fathers. Anyone over 30 was not to be trusted. We would be perfect.

Now we were back with our guitars.

SEE RELATED: ENGELHARD: Saluting JFK through Vaughn Meader — yes, Vaughn Meader

There was no TV there, either, at the bagel place, and we were in no hurry because presidents do not die.

Someone ran in and said, “It’s true.”

The laughter stopped. One of the girls started crying, and so did one of the guys. We were weeping for our president and we were weeping for ourselves.

We went out and found Bleecker Street deserted — Bleecker Street, where every night was Saturday night, gateway to the counter revolution, home to The Bitter End, breeding ground for legends like Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor had been here to catch the rising stars who whispered no more, but spoke openly about rebellion.

Now this! Were we alone in the world? This was a serious question.

We saw a figure tottering up the road, drunkenly cursing and smashing beer bottles as he staggered.

“Is that Vaughn Meader?”

Maybe it was. Vaughn Meader was the most famous comedian in America, Kennedy’s beloved impersonator.

“He’s finished,” someone said.

“Aren’t we all?”

One of the girls knew someone who had a place on Thompson, and here there was a TV, and here all of it was confirmed, and we were terrified.

Who is next? Was our government safe? Were we safe? Will the Soviets take this as an opportunity to finally bury us with missiles?

Are there more assassins out there — and can anyone be trusted, ever again?

Who killed our president? Was it one man, two, an army, a nation, the world? Soon we saw Lee Harvey Oswald, and it meant nothing to us. The killer — if that was him — was of no importance. We had lost the man and the dream. Only that counted. We were going to change the world through civil rights and by teaching mankind to hate war and love peace. That was the dream.

We were going to sing about justice.

We were not ever going to become lawyers or corporate tycoons. Not for us the conventions and entrapments of the Establishment. Or so we thought.

But even then, as the procession moved along Pennsylvania Avenue carrying the flag-draped coffin of our president, to the sound of those drums, we knew that nothing would ever be the same. There were hugs. There were kisses. We promised to stay in touch. We pledged to reunite and to remember how we were when we were at our best.

Then we dispersed, and turned 30, never to be young again.


New from Jack Engelhard, recapturing JFK and the 1960s as no other historical novel, “The Days of the Bitter End” here.

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Jack Engelhard

Jack Engelhard enjoys international fame as a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, which was turned into film starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His memoir Escape From Mount Moriah has been acclaimed for excellence and a movie version was an official selection at CANNES. Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer. Engelhard’s journalism covers all topics, with special focus on  the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe. He can be contacted at www.jackengelhard.com


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