50 Years

Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy.  Fifty years!  If you’re in your 40s or younger, that event and that day are things you learned about in history class or from your parents.  You might know the details but you didn’t live it and your reference points are second-hand.

If you are a mid or upper Boomer, you know it and feel it.  Maybe you are old enough to remember the event that Friday and the continuing developments and mystery through the weekend.  Maybe you remember the assassin being assassinated on live TV that Sunday.  Or maybe you were just old enough to remember your parents’ reaction to what was going on even if you didn’t understand much about it.

Fifty years later the conspiracy theories continue.  Was it the lone gunman?  Was he just the fall guy in a bigger plot?  Why did the owner of a Dallas strip club decide to kill the alleged assassin before there was any real proof that he was guilty? Why was evidence destroyed? There have been many television documentaries airing this month and if you know me in person, it doesn’t surprise you that I’ve been watching them.

Moments before three shots rang out.

There are some crazy coincidences between the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations.  Odd things like both Lincoln’s and Kennedy’s Vice Presidents were named Johnson.  Both Presidents were shot in the back of the head in the presence of their wives.  Both shootings happened on a Friday.  Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre; Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln, manufactured by Ford.  Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy.

Lincoln was elected in 1860, Kennedy in 1960 and that leads to another string of eerie coincidences: between 1840 and 1960, every President elected in a year divisible by 20 died in office, either by assassination or natural causes.  Harrison (1840), Lincoln (1860), Garfield (1880), McKinley (1900), Harding (1920), Roosevelt (1940) and Kennedy (1960).  Reagan almost continued the ‘curse’; he was elected in 1980 and nearly died in an assassination attempt shortly after taking office.  Bush (2000) broke the curse.

A list of ‘great’ Presidents often includes Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan.  I don’t agree with the last one but he usually ends up on such a list.  Washington, Jefferson and Reagan served two full four-year terms.  Roosevelt was in his fourth when he died; two terms is the maximum allowed now.  Another Lincoln-Kennedy coincidence … Lincoln did all that he did in just over one term and Kennedy was in office less than one whole term.

National and international events often serve as benchmarks for a generation, occurrences that shape the lives of those who lived through them … a war, an assassination, a terrorist attack.  The date becomes a point of light shining on our memory, serving to remind us how we felt and what we might have learned.  In recent years that date might be September 11th, the day of terrorist attacks.  For seniors it is “December 7th, 1941, a date that will live in infamy.”  For mid-Boomers it’s November 22nd.