November 22, 2003

November 22, 1963

40 years ago today I was a 13-year old 8th grader at Edgar Allen Poe Intermediate in Alexandria, Va. It was an ordinary school day until about 2:20 in the afternoon, when we were changing classrooms, and suddenly a rumor was flying that the President had been shot. That was confirmed about 10 minutes later, and we were sent home early. I got home to find my mother in shock (Dad was in Antarctica), and we spent the remainder of the weekend, as did so many other Americans, glued to the TV screen. We were in disbelief, of course; "this doesn't happen in America," we thought. Of course, it had happened before, as we all quickly learned. That weekend I learned more about McKinley, Garfield, Harrison and other Presidential deaths in office than I'd ever learned before. I was fortunate enough to wangle a ride to Arlington Cemetery on that Monday, the 25th, where I stood about 500-1000 yards from the gravesite, along with many many other people. Neither Mom nor I have any memory of who I got a ride with, why she felt it was OK for me to go, or any other details. I just remember standing there among all those people, trying to make sense of it.

Since then this country has had similar national tragedies, of course, from the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. through the Challenger explosion to September 11. In every instance it seemed to me that time just stopped for several days as we all sat in front of television screens trying to absorb what we were seeing. To me, the different thing about the JFK assassination is that it was a double shock; first the President's murder, followed two days later by the murder of the suspected killer (on national television, no less). I think the Oswald murder was the catalyst for all the subsequent conspiracy theories; to my knowledge nobody has ever seriously espoused similar theories about the RFK or MLK murders. The killing of the principal suspect by a nobody is a plot line we've all read in murder mysteries; Ruby had no known motive for shooting Oswald, so he must have been a pawn for a larger interest. I've never bought any of the theories; despite the fact that he had been living in Russia for a while, and he had suspicious contacts with Cuba, I think those were incidental. I think Oswald acted alone.

Who else has memories of that weekend?

Posted by Linkmeister at November 22, 2003 12:01 AM

The teacher stopped the movie we were watching on the clacking 16 mm projector when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. She started to cry and told us to go home. That Sunday morning was very strange, watching Oswald getting shot.

Posted by: Billy at November 22, 2003 03:35 AM

I remember our next door neighbor came over and told us what I thought was a bad joke, and then figuring it must be the president of some university. It was hard to believe.

Posted by: Cassie-B at November 22, 2003 06:17 AM

I wasn't born yet. :D

Posted by: Jen at November 22, 2003 08:10 AM

I was in 8th grade Catholic School and a little girl came in the room and said the President was shot in the head.
Some of us laughed, and the girl behind me, Margaret Brown, went into the bathroom and threw up. I remember that she didn't even ask for permission to use the girls' room. She just up and left...
We all were sent home, and students were picked up my their Moms and Dads...
No one picked me up, and I walked home from school alone with a light tan bookbag that was so heavy it bent my spine to the right.
A few days later,I was over Sharon Topp's house watching TV and saw Oswald shot...I didn't know what to do and neither did anyone else...
I have no idea what happened to these little girls, what they are doing now, and even if they remember me..
But I remember them every year when it comes to November 22

Posted by: toxiclabrat at November 22, 2003 09:34 AM

Eight grade her too... I remember the announcement coming over the speaker system and the teacher phoning in to ask what the principal meant since we couldn't hear his announcement all that clearly.

...and the TV channels going off programming for the first time and just covering the story for days.

Posted by: dan at November 22, 2003 10:16 PM

Wow, Linky. You were *there*.

Posted by: shelley at November 23, 2003 07:44 AM

Much before my time but....a Great Man.

Posted by: Nigel at November 23, 2003 10:57 AM

As you point out in your comment to my musings on the anniversary, we had rather similar experiences of the assassination. Right down to the pilgrimage to Arlington while JFK's grave's dirt was freshly turned.

Posted by: N in Seattle at November 23, 2003 03:01 PM

8th grade - also parochial school, Toxic Lab Rat - principal came in to tell us - rosary beads immediately begun - radio tuned in, which was weird because that NEVER happened - nuns sent us home. Horrible weekend - shocked nation - tears and angst as 13 year old girls are prone to anyway added its own flavor. Sad day remembered

Posted by: barbara at November 23, 2003 04:17 PM

I just wanted to mention that I'm dead jealous you went to a school named after Poe.

Meanwhile, like Jen, I wasn't born yet. Heh.

...Wait - Antarctica? What was your dad doing in Antarctica?!

Posted by: batty at November 23, 2003 06:02 PM

I was in 6th grade at The Intermediate School in Falmouth, MA and remember it vividly (the school's been renamed for JFK now). We got sent home before his status was clear. I remember a kid on the school bus home saying he hoped Kennedy would die. We were outraged, but he pointed out he'd be a vegetable if he lived, so his intent wasn't bad.

As to serious debate on other assassination theory, yes, I think MLK qualifies as his own family believed James Earl Ray was not a solo act.

Posted by: Cowboy Kahlil at November 23, 2003 06:18 PM

i think that some ppl r making the gayest comments but i do think its cool that your school name was after edgar. and the other school was re-named for JFK.

Posted by: edward/c at January 7, 2004 03:09 AM