It was 50 years ago — 1963 — when three significant, yet seemingly unrelated, events lined up as an undeniably life-changing moment in my life: the gift of a first Kodak Instamatic color camera for my 13th birthday, my favorite cousin’s wedding in South Carolina and the assassination of JFK. Perhaps it was destiny that I became a young eyewitness — and a novice photographer — at the funeral of our country’s young and vibrant president.
It was a lovely Friday afternoon in late autumn. I was boarding the school bus with excitement, knowing that next week my family would be traveling to Charleston for Thanksgiving and cousin Marie’s wedding.
“The president has been shot!” echoed multiple voices. What? The president has been shot? That can’t be. Who would want to shoot our president?
He was the epitome of charisma, young and handsome with a beautiful wife and two adorable children. They were Camelot, our royal family. His picture hung in our home and in the Life magazines that we collected. I knew all the words to the novelty record by Little Jo-Ann, “My Daddy is President, what does your Daddy do?” Most importantly, he and his family, like my own, were from Massachusetts and Catholic!
But it was true; the president had been shot and was dead. I understood what DEAD meant but really comprehended neither what had happened nor what it meant. At my house, we all stared at the black-and-white TV; Dad came home, neighbors came by, the phone rang. Tears flowed, and the adults had no answers.
I am not certain if the images I recall now were truly from that moment or are just part of our collective memories that have been replaying for nearly 50 years: the presidential motorcade, the blank expression of a blood-stained first lady and the sounds of grief from an entire nation.