Where Were You?

foucaultBy Mike Glyer: My fifth grade class was on a field trip to Griffith Park Observatory that day in 1963. We’d watched the Foucault Pendulum swing in answer to the earth’s rotation. Stared in awe at the Zeiss Projector’s recreation of our night sky on the observatory’s central dome. Eaten bag lunches and reboarded the school bus where the radio news was droning in the background. The driver said he had a very important announcement to make. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and taken to the hospital.

I think the kids who were immediately upset had the right response. But it was not yet known that the President had died, and my best friend and I had a more detached reaction. We’d lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis just a year earlier so we wondered how Cold War adversaries might try to exploit this tragic development. And had grandiose ideas about lowering the flag to half-mast when the bus arrived back at school. Yet I’d actually been quite a Kennedy fan as a boy — I’d even gotten relatives to take me to his Senate office on a summer trip to Washington D.C. in 1960 (he was away on campaign).

My parents’ generation remembered where they were when they heard the news about Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, or V-E Day and V-J Day in 1945. Of course I hadn’t been born yet. The JFK assassination was the first “where were you?” event in my generation. Doubtless for many of you that epochal moment is as remote as WW2 was for me. Perhaps the Challenger explosion or 9/11 was your first cultural snapshot moment. Or some other event altogether?

7 thoughts on “Where Were You?

  1. It was a shock in Canada as well. I was in Grade 3 at North Hill Elementary School in rural Red Deer, Alberta. We were eating lunch in the noon hour, seated on a bench running the length of the north wall of the gymnasium. A classmate came over and said the American president had been shot dead. It was the first time I ever noticed the world news.

    When I came home, my mother was in front of the television set trying to take photos of the screen with her camera. This was, of course, long before home recording devices. She had to use a slow shutter to avoid scan lines. The next day the RED DEER ADVOCATE had a full-page spread on the front page. After that, the story was quickly relegated and life went on as before.

  2. The day before, I had had eight molars removed — my only time to have total anesthesia — and was sleeping off the surgery. We were going to Hopkinsville that weekend. I came downstairs and heard on the television: “It has been an hour since a priest pronounced President Kennedy dead.:

    Lovely news to go see my grandparents over.

  3. My third-grade classroom had a bank of windows next to the school flagpole and the first thing we knew was that the flag was being lowered to half-staff. Then, our tough, hard-as-nails PE teacher came into the room with tears running down her face and frankly, that scared us third-graders even more than the actual news she imparted! We stayed home from school (or possibly it was canceled) to watch the funeral.

  4. I have always had an eye on the Big Picture of History. Like many who remember Kennedy’s shooting, was in a class room, grade five or six I guess, when the announcement came over the PA. Was I full of remorse? No… I don’t seem to recall that. I liked Kennedy. As presidents go, he seemed personable and dynamic, and the US Presidency had a sterling reputation for Goodness in those days. Still, he wasn’t *my* chief executive. I’m afraid what I really remember is the realization that if he went ahead and died, it would be a More Significant Event in History than a mere shooting and headache in the morning. I was right, too. And like millions of other families, mine flocked to the theatre within a short while to watch the movie about PT 109.

  5. The earliest thing I can remember seeing in a newspaper is the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Mainly because the newspaper printed a special extra section which was all pictures of the eruption.

    From the traditional list of “where were you?” moments, the earliest one I’ve got is Challenger.

  6. And people in a region hit by a natural calamity will mark that too. Quakes in LA. Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Sandy.

  7. I was in sixth grade. They closed the school and sent us home early, without telling us why, because, paraphrasing the principal, “the little children loved President Kennedy so much that they would have had tears in their eyes and wouldn’t have been watching traffic properly when crossing the street on the way home.” Maybe she was right; at the time, I thought she was projecting. She was Irish Catholic, and particularly enamored of Kennedy, while most of the student body was either black or Jewish. I was rather apolitical, and had supported Kennedy against Nixon in the 1960 election because my parents were voting for him, but was not particularly emotionally affected by the killing.

    50 years later, I spent most of the anniversary of the shooting in a hospital bed, leaving it occasionally for tests and bathroom breaks. (I’m back home now).

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