, Salem, MA


November 22, 2013

Our view: A monumental day, 50 years later


It’s long overlooked that in late 1963, Kennedy felt he faced an uphill battle for a second term. Part of his rationale for traveling to Texas in November 1963 was to shore up support in a state that some of his analysts feared was vulnerable. He had won the 1960 election by the closest of margins; Kennedy was girding for another tough fight.

The assassination was the end of the hope and youthful optimism that JFK had so brilliantly fashioned. It was a moment that changed the world.

There is perhaps no other singular event, save perhaps the Sept. 11 attacks, that has been so emotionally captured by television images and photographs — Walter Cronkite fighting back emotion as he officially announced JFK’s death, Jackie Kennedy standing in her bloodstained dress with Lyndon Johnson as he is sworn in, John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting as his father’s casket passes by. The Zapruder film forever captures the gruesome and terrible moment when JFK’s life ends.

In the days immediately after the assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy created a further projection that will forever be tied to JFK. She likened his time in office to a then-popular Broadway play, Camelot. The imagery of that play — hope, youth, and optimism in a brief but blessed time — has become the powerful and almost mythical expression of his days in office.

Of course, our morbid fascination with his death is a powerful motivator for our ongoing interest. For the past few weeks, television has been jammed with show after show reliving the assassination, exploring in minute detail every frame of the Zapruder film and every scrap of evidence. Even as they examine the same evidence, no two programs come to the same conclusion. It is that lingering doubt that makes the assassination itself such an unending fascination.

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