Sunday, November 21, 2010

President Kennedy's Funeral: My Family's Brush With History

'Time it was, and what a time it was, it was 
A time of innocence, a time of confidences 
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph 
Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you.'

from 'Bookends' by Simon and Garfunkle

The caisson carrying President Kennedy.
What I am about to write will reveal my true age to those of you who care to do the math, but this is not the historical moment of which I speak. Tomorrow is the 47th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. To those of you reading who weren't born yet, (and yes, I do hate you!) this event was the Pearl Harbor or the 9-11 of the baby boomer generation. Like those other occurrences, anyone who was alive during that sad time in our history will forever remember where they were and how they heard of the murder of the President of the United States in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

Charles deGaulle  (see yellow arrow) processing down
Connecticut Avenue.
I was in the 8th grade in Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Lindenhurst. Long Island where my family lived. The principal made an announcement on the public address system and asked everyone say a prayer. When we left school for the day, our bus driver had on the radio and told us what happened. Now my parents were serious Kennedyphiles, as was I, and I knew before I arrived home that we were in for a serious and sad weekend. And I was right. We were glued to our television that day, Saturday and Sunday and read every newspaper we could. Afterwards we cut out the photos and stories for a scrapbook. 

On Sunday evening, my father surprised my sister and I with the announcement that he would take us to Washington by train the following day (November 25th) for the funeral. My father was a yardmaster for the Pennsylvania Railroad and as such we were entitled to free rail transportation. It was hard not to be excited about such a serious event but I was barely able to sleep that night. 

The next morning, long before most people were awake, we boarded the Long Island Railroad for the trip to Penn Station where we would take the 'Washingtonian' to Union Station in our nation's capital. It was very cold and we bundled up as best we could for we would spend most of the day outdoors. 

Actually, I remember just a little from that day. I can't remember if we ate anywhere or if we took a cab or walked (I'm guessing we walked and ate very little) but I do remember standing in a car lot across from St. Matthew's Cathedral where the service was being held. The church was red brick and even though we were close, we didn't see very much. After the Mass, we moved to the sidewalk on Connecticut Avenue where the funeral procession was to pass. It was quiet and my father pointed out people and things as he took some photos. 

Limousine carrying Kennedy children. 
A limousine passed and we saw a young Kennedy child with a white bow in her hair. A group of distinguished men passed by and my father pointed out a very tall gentleman who was Charles deGaulle, the President of France.Then the body of President passed by in an open horse drawn caisson. 

I found my fathers photos this week as I started to scan twenty-five years worth of family memories and I'd like to share them this day on my blog. The men standing streetside in the photos look every bit like the characters in the popular TV show 'Mad Men' as do the stores that can be seen from across the street where we stood.' As the above song says: 'It was a time.'

St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington D.C.
I'll be forever grateful for my parents for giving me the opportunity to be at such an important event. They were great at doing things like that and my brothers, sisters and I benefited greatly from their 'ahead-of-their-time creative parenting.'  Did I ever mention the time my parents took us to a convent to see General Montcalm's skull?

I'll save that for another time..............

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