An evening conversation: Camelot

By The Mercury

It shouldn’t have been a surprise.

In Tuesday’s paper, we ran one fairly short story — asking folks who remembered the events of Nov. 22, 1963, to share their recollections.

With the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination coming up in just eight days, we’re gathering information for an in-depth look back. The entire package, including a reproduction of The Mercury’s front page from that day of tragedy, is scheduled to run this Sunday.

So we put a simple request on the bottom of page A1, crossing our fingers that a few people would respond.

You can guess what happened.

Honestly, so many readers shot back e-mails that it was almost eerie. Reading individual accounts of where everybody was and what each person was doing when the news of JFK’s death rocked the nation, well…

It felt like the event was happening all over again.

Remember, this was a half-century ago. And yet the stories of tears, of terror, of watching in shock as Walter Cronkite kept America informed through a long, nerve-wracking weekend would make you think it all happened last week.

As one reader put it: The Kennedy assassination was the Sept. 11 of its time — an event so staggering, so unexpected and so unbelievable that the moment you heard about it remains frozen in time.

We were an innocent nation then.

There weren’t mass shootings at high schools, shopping malls and movie theaters. We worried about the Russians, I suppose, but they were a zillion miles away – and nobody really believed that we’d all be vaporized in a nuclear war.

And most of all, the idea of actually killing national leaders or other famous people just never entered your mind.

Obviously, times changed after that sunny day in Dallas.

Bobby Kennedy was murdered in ’68, and so was Martin Luther King. Later on, it was John Lennon. Presidents Ford and Reagan both survived assassination attempts, and so did George Wallace.

And now: Murder sprees with multiple deaths barely get noticed. Maybe a week in the news.

But back in 1963, we were not a nation of random shooters.

We were, generally speaking, innocents seeking the American dream – hoping for better jobs, moves to nicer suburbs, citizens who seemed to know we lived in a great country and were content with it.

Even the most contentious issue of the time — enforcing civil rights — sparked less violence than you’d imagine. Yes, there were a few awful murders and a church bombing that left us aghast, but considering the huge, wrenching change that was underway, it’s remarkable that there wasn’t more violence.

Dr. King seemed to prove that mountains could be moved peacefully.

And then…


The president was shot and so was Texas Gov. John Connolly. Two days later, accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered on national television by Jack Ruby.

We watched, first in shock and then in horror.

And no one ever has been the same — which I suppose is why The Mercury has been swamped with e-mails in the past 24 hours.

Everyone who lived through the Kennedy assassination still seems rocked by it.

Like the country itself.

Steve Cameron is executive editor of The Mercury. Follow Steve on Twitter: @stevecameron100.

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