Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kennedy Inauguration - 50 Years Today

John Kennedy Inaugural , 50 Years Today
by Karyl Miller

50 years ago today John Kennedy was sworn in as our knight in shining armor. I was in high school, but I would have voted for him if I could have. For those of you not fortunate to have been there suffice to say, Kennedy was the white Obama. We Democrats just loved him. He was young, he was smart. He was a gorgeous man with a gorgeous family. He shared our values. We just loved him.

 50 years have gone by and I STILL can’t watch Kennedy videos without getting as lump in my throat. I remember watching Kennedy’s Inaugural speech – we were so thrilled. So much hope, so alive. And then, the opposite. I realize now I will never get over the loss of Kennedy. Every Kennedy image reminds me of what might have been and brings me back to that horrific day when we were hearing the impossible. “The president’s been shot.” I was thinking Not OUR president. They must mean some president from some backwards country where they’re always overthrowing each other. Not here. We don’t shoot presidents in America.

 I was a just-out-of-high-school showroom girl at a wholesale hat company in the legendary garment center in New York. The switchboard girl said “The president’s been shot.” I thought that maybe they meant our boss, Mr. Abramson, the president of the hat company - whom I hated, but not that much. Someone hated Mr. Abramson even more than I did? At least that’s what I told myself when they sent me to the bank to make the deposits.

 The garment center was jammed, as it always was back when we still manufactured clothing right there in NYC USA. This was the hub. The joint was jumping. Trucks were honking and double parking and backing in and out of driveways. People are always yelling at each other and flipping each other off. Sidewalks were teaming with Puerto Ricans navigating racks and racks of clothing between the salesmen, the masses,  the 6-foot models all painted up and scurrying to their next job.

1407 Broadway was the Mecca of it all. There was always a line up of chauffeured black Cadillac limousines circling the building waiting for their owners – the top designers who worked there. As I got closer I realized every chauffeur had his door open and a crowd gathered around, trying to hear the radio. If you accidentally made eye contact with a stranger, you exchanged worried looks. Everyone was wishing Please don’t let it be true. The people closest to the radios passed the info back to us. I heard what sounded like “presidente” in fifty different languages. Then I heard the word “morte,” which I guessed meant the news was very bad indeed.

My heart sank. I had to stop fooling myself about Mr. Abramson. I had to accept the fact that our beloved president John Kennedy was shot and killed. And just when things couldn’t get any worse, they got worse with more and more dying in Vietnam. Then they killed Martin and Bobby – Bam! Bam! Back to back in 60 days.  We boomers and beyond had the optimism beat out of us. That’s what happens when they take away your heroes. It's not just Kennedy I mourn today.



  1. I like your description of the garment district. So bustling! I can just hear the car horns honking.
    I was in third grade. Heard the announcement over the elementary school PA. They let us go home to watch the news with our mothers on the black and white set.

  2. Hi Karyl,
    I had just gotten home from school, I was a senior at Grossmont High School, and I turned on the TV, like always and heard the news. I too was in denial, not real, this cannot be real, it's some sort of sick joke. I called my mother, who worked downtown San Diego and told her that the president had been shot and she told me that that was not funny and hung up on me. We were both in denial. I remember watching the television, willing it to be a minor scrape, hoping like crazy that it was not a fatal shot. And then I remember crying openly in my living room. The world became a grown up place in an instant, the moment that it was confirmed that our beloved president was gone. It was right up there with learning there was no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and tooth fairy all rolled up in one. So yes, I too remember, a day I will never tire of trying to forget. It was a hard age. We did some fast growing up that day.
    Big hugs,

  3. Karyl,
    Lovely remembrance of JFK.

  4. Karyl,
    I got chills reading this. It was like I was on the street with you, listening to the reports emanating from limo radios.

    I was considerably older than you; working as an announcer on WFLR, AM-FM, a small upstate New York radio station.

    After reading the story on the AP machine I just stared at it for--how long, I can't remember-- but then walking back to the news broadcast room. At the signal I opened my mike and mechanically read the short report: "President Kennedy has been shot."

    Mercifully, broadcasting originated from another room at that point; I remember distinctly, sitting alone in front of the dead mike as what I'd just read sunk in and tears were falling. The station manager--my boss-- walked into the room. Looked at me for just a second or two, said only, "Yeah" turned around and walked out.

    The end of an era.

    Thanks, Karyl.

  5. It was very touching. You're surely not alone, I'm sure. Love.

  6. Karyl

    This was great!!!


  7. Now you've got me crying.
    You're an excellent writer, Karyl.
    Why not do a could illustrate it yourself.

  8. Hi Karyl
    What a fantastic essay. It needs to be published.

    The day John Kennedy was killed I was in my jr high Spanish class. The class down the hall was a special needs class (not sure what they called it then)and they had a tv on. The news spread. Our teachers were crying, we were
    crying, the busses were there within an hour and we all went home to days of television coverage, unforgettable images, disbelief and grief. We didn't go
    back to school for a week.

    That day defines the baby boomers experience like nothing else because everything that followed was in response to the loss of our new hope. By the time I was in college Ronald Reagan was dropping mace on the citizens of Berkeley and we were outraged at what was happening politically and to our
    world. I was dating a sailor (yep, my David) who, on weekends, wore a
    headband I made for him. "The greatest generation" was afraid of our participation in a new process that we kind of made up as we went along. I'll admit some of what was happening was a bit over the top, but I'm personally proud of that era and I wish the next generation had taken up the torch. It took up a lot of energy and I guess that kind of momentum is just impossible to maintain. But I do wonder what happened to that energy and why this same generation no longer fights as hard as the other side. When did we
    decide to roll over?

    Thanks for sharing your experience. So much came flooding back for me.

  9. K- Your memorial salute to John F. Kennedy was a remarkable piece of writing, you ought to do more of that kind of work.

  10. Thank you for sending this to me Karyl, all the words ring true. Hugs