The president’s funeral: Nov. 25, 1963

The nation is still in shock as it buries its youngest president. The end of four of the most tragic days in American history.

The Oswald assassination: Nov. 24, 1963

Fifty years ago today, I saw this live on television:

I think about it today and realize this was the first time I saw what today would be immediately identified as a terrorist being led to jail by police. And it was the first time I witnessed a murder.
Years pass, and you read things that say that when the Dallas police charged Lee Harvey Oswald with the murder of the president, they said it was because of a communist plot to overthrow the government. That was noted on a PBS “Frontline” report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy:

NARRATOR: Less than one hour after the President was pronounced dead, police had arrested a suspect. Lee Harvey Oswald was a 24-year-old former Marine who had once defected to the Soviet Union. Only weeks earlier he had visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies.

JAMES P. HOSTY, FBI: The original complaint that the police department filed on Lee Oswald, around midnight on the 22nd of November, said that Lee Oswald did, “in furtherance of an international communist conspiracy, assassinate President John F. Kennedy.”

NARRATOR: That night, as Air Force One brought John Kennedy’s body home to Washington, the new president was afraid that Oswald’s apparent communist connections could spark an international crisis. President Johnson ordered the district attorney to drop any reference to a communist conspiracy.

Pres. LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: This is a sad time for all people.

Mr. HOSTY: Johnson was fearful that if this had gotten out, it would inflame public opinion and could possibly lead to World War III. This is exactly how World War I began, with an assassination.

This fear of World War III does make sense. The Cuban Missile Crisis was just a year earlier. In October 1962, people were convinced there was going to be a nuclear war. America’s right wing, led by members of the the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted to invade Cuba.

The other thing that strikes me about the day is how totally incompetent the Dallas police were. Here’s a longer TV feed of the Oswald shooting.

No one checks ID. No one keeps people away from the transfer of the most hated man in America. And when he’s shot, the police just let reporters walk into the crime scene. It looks like anyone could walk in. Strike that. Jack Ruby, a strip club owner with mob connections and a gun did walk in and killed Oswald.

There was a “Prairie Home Companion” on recently broadcast from Dallas. One of the jokes was something along the lines of: “Here in Dallas, gun control is when you hold a gun real steady before you fire.”

In Dallas in 2013, that got a huge laugh. But all I could think when I heard the line was that in Dallas in 1963, a president was murdered. And in Dallas in 1963, the murderer of a president was murdered on national television.

Dallas was out of control.

Pictures from an assassination

When President John F. Kennedy was killed 50 years ago today, it didn’t happen on live TV. If something like that happened today, there would be thousands of videos taken on smart phones and uploaded on YouTube within minutes.

But people did film the assassination. Home movies. Polaroids. Snaps from Kodak Brownies. It was an overwhelmingly documented event in American history. But the video above from the New York Times by noted documentarian Errol Morris reveals that the video evidence was pretty much ignored by law enforcement on Nov. 22 and the days, the weeks, the months, the years thereafter.

The day John Kennedy died

It was 50 years ago today. This is how America found out about it from CBS:

And here’s what we saw on NBC:

Meanwhile, here are two hours on ABC.

I’ve seen the Cronkite clip before. NBC and ABC are new to me. I was in school at the time. Third grade. Someone talked to our teacher, then she said, “The president has been shot.” The girl in front of me asked: “Is he dead?”

No answer. We were sent home. It was a Friday. Just like it is today. I was eight years old, and I still remember that day and the days that followed.

JFK on the warpath over a bed

Back in 1963, the Air Force bought a $5,000 bed to be available if a pregnant Jackie Kennedy went to labor.

President John F. Kennedy was not amused:

That’s the first time I’ve heard a recording of JFK swearing. Sounds like he was pretty good at it.

Time Machine: The McKinley assassination

I can still remember the day of the assassination of President John Kennedy. It’s one of those life moments that you can never forget … where you were … what you were doing … how everybody reacted.

(In Brooklyn … sitting in a third grade classroom … hearing a girl in the class ask “Is he dead” when the teacher delivered the news. Class dismissed. That was 49 years ago.)

William McKinley (1843-1901)

William McKinley (1843-1901) (Photo credit: Political Graveyard)

But I have to put this in context. The previous presidential assassination was 54 years before I was born. William McKinley in Buffalo on Sept. 14, 1901. That’s 111 years ago. Maybe it was a memorable moment for the generations before me, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s ancient history.

Just as the Kennedy assassination is ancient history to the generations that followed me.

The film of the Kennedy assassination is on the Web. I’m not going to imbed it here. But this appears to be an Edison film of a McKinley speech at the Pan-American Exhibition about a week before his assassination and released on Sept. 11, 1901.

McKinley was dead about two weeks after this was filmed.

McKinley had been elected for a second term in 1900. He enjoyed meeting the public, and was reluctant to accept the security available to his office. The Secretary to the President, George B. Cortelyou, feared an assassination attempt would take place during a visit to the Temple of Music, and twice took it off the schedule. McKinley restored it each time.

[Leon] Czolgosz had lost his job during the economic Panic of 1893 and turned to anarchism, a political philosophy whose adherents had killed foreign leaders. Regarding McKinley as a symbol of oppression, Czolgosz felt it was his duty as an anarchist to kill him. Unable to get near McKinley during the earlier part of the presidential visit, Czolgosz shot McKinley twice as the President reached to shake his hand in the reception line at the temple. One bullet grazed McKinley; the other entered his abdomen and was never found.

McKinley initially appeared to be recovering, but took a turn for the worse on September 13 as his wounds became gangrenous, and died early the next morning.

Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest president in American history. Until John Kennedy claimed that distinction in 1961.

Exactly 100 years after the McKinley speech filmed above was released, a huge national traumatic event occurred in lower Manhattan. And the generations that follow me know where they were … what they were doing … and how everybody reacted. As do I. We will always remember Sept. 11, 2001.

I guess the GOP didn’t care about interns 50 years ago

A former White House intern says she had sex with the president … a half century ago (from Rock Center with Brian Williams).

Mimi Alford is speaking publicly for the first time about the secret she’s held for half a century. Alford claims that she had an 18-month-long affair with President John F. Kennedy when she was a White House intern. …

In 1962, a 19-year-old Alford spent her summer in Washington, D.C., interning in the White House press office.  She had just finished her freshman year at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.  Four days into her internship, Alford claims that JFK aide, David Powers, invited her to go swimming in the White House pool. Alford was surprised when the 45-year-old president joined her and two others in the pool. …

Later that day, she says she received another call to visit the private floors of the White House.  The naïve teenager didn’t question the president’s intentions when he asked to take her on a tour of the White House. …

Alford says that she lost her virginity to the president in the first lady’s bedroom.

Which tells you:

1) Some people don’t brag about certain things to their “friends” … Monica.

2) The GOP didn’t always want to destroy the presidency … Newt.

3) Prosecutors weren’t obsessed with the shape of the president’s genitalia … Ken Starr.

4) Threats to the country were more important than whether the commander-in-chief was “getting some” … American media.

5) You weren’t the only horn dog in the White House … Bill.

Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson dies at 88

Cover of "Charly"

Cover of Charly

Cliff Robertson was John Kennedy in “P.T. 109” (he was reportedly Kennedy’s personal choice for the role) when he was young, and Peter Parker’s (Spiderman‘s) Uncle Ben when he got older.

But he won an Oscar as best actor for his 1968 role as “Charly,” a mentally challenged adult who, through a medical experiment, became a genius… for a while. John Lithgow‘s character in today’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is, in essence, an abbreviated version “Charly.”

Robertson died today at 88 in Southampton, N.Y.

For now, you can see “Charly” on YouTube. Here’s the first part: