Last Monday, John F. Kennedy would have turned 100. Of course, he was killed 53 years ago, on November 22, 1963.
But his memory lives on. And the plaque donated by Staples High School’s Class of 1964 was the subject of last week’s photo challenge.
Lynn U. Miller’s image showed part of his most famous quote. Fifteen years after its unveiling — in the 1979 renovation that turned 9 separate buildings into one school — the plaque was removed and lost.
About 15 years later, arts advocate Mollie Donovan found it, dusty and abandoned, in a storage space beneath the school. She had it cleaned up, and it was placed once again on the front of the school.
When the new, 3-story Staples building was built in 2003-05, not much of the old school remained. But there is one wall in a courtyard — where the front of the old building was — and that’s where the plaque is now. The courtyard is lightly used, and the only time most people see the plaque is when they take photos after graduation. But it looks great.
Sandra G. Jones, Michael Calise, Adam Stolpen, Bobbie Herman and Fred Cantor all knew their Kennedy/Staples stuff. Click here for the photo, and all comments.
Bob Weingarten took this week’s photo challenge. Like the Kennedy plaque, it’s also outdoors.
But that’s all I’m gonna say. Click “Comments” if you think you know where it is.
If you were alive on November 22, 1963 — and over, say, 5 years old — you understand how dramatically, and traumatically, America shifted that day.
If you weren’t, there is no way you can comprehend it.
The murder of President Kennedy was a horrific, galvanizing moment in time. It happened 50 years ago today, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in 5th grade. Since September my friends and I had walked to and from school. We gathered on High Point Road, cut through the Staples High School athletic fields and parking lot, sauntered down North Avenue, walked across open farmland, and arrived at Burr Farms Elementary. We were like the “Stand By Me” boys: talking about kid stuff, reveling in our independence, figuring out each other and the world in a world that would soon mightily change.
Minutes before school ended that beautiful Friday, the teacher from next door burst into our room. “Kennedy got killed!” she yelled. A girl broke into spontaneous applause. Her father was a leading Republican in town.
Our teacher slapped her face.
Usually, our teacher wished us a happy weekend. That day the bell rang, and we just left. No one knew how to interpret her reaction. We’d never seen a teacher hit a student before.
Then again, we’d never heard of our president being murdered.
As my friends and I gathered for our ritual walk home, we suddenly had Something Big to talk about. For the first time in our lives, we discussed news. We had no details, but already we sensed that the world we knew would never be the same.
That vague feeling was confirmed the moment we walked down the exit road, into the Staples parking lot. School had been out for an hour, but clots of students huddled around cars, listening to radios. Girls sobbed — boys, too. Their arms were wrapped around each other, literally clinging together for support. I’d never seen one teenager cry. Now there were dozens.
Walter Cronkite on CBS, announcing the death of President Kennedy.
At home, I turned on the television. Black-and-white images mirrored the scene at Staples a few minutes earlier. Newscasters struggled to contain their emotions; men and women interviewed in the street could not.
The president was dead. Now it was true. I saw it on TV.
My best friend, Glenn, slept over that night. The television was on constantly. The longer I watched, the more devastated I became.
John F. Kennedy was the first president I knew. My father had taken me to a campaign rally in Bridgeport 3 years earlier. I could not articulate it then, but I admired his energy, was inspired by his youthfulness, and vowed to grow up and (like him) make a difference.
Now he was dead.
Bill Mauldin captured the grief of a nation.
Saturday was rainy and blustery. I watched more TV. Like most Americans, I was obsessed by this unfolding tragedy. Like them too I had no idea that the impact of that weekend would remain, seared in my brain and heart, 5 decades later.
Sunday was the first day I cried. The raw emotions of all the adults around — in the streets of Westport, and on the television screen — finally overwhelmed me. I cried for the dead president, my fallen hero; for his widow and children; for everyone else who looked so sad and vulnerable.
Then — right after noon — Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Once again I sat transfixed by the TV. I was stunned, and scared.
Monday was a brilliant fall day. President Kennedy was laid to rest under a crisp, cloudless sky. The unforgettably moving ceremony was watched by virtually everyone in the world with access to a television.
To my everlasting regret, I did not see it live. Glenn said we could not sit inside on a day off from school. Rather than risk being called a nerd (or whatever word we used in 1963), I chose playing touch football at Staples over watching history. I was in 5th grade. What did I know?
The coffin, at Arlington National Cemetery.
The next day we went back to school. The Staples parking lot looked exactly as it had before that fateful Friday. Our teacher never said a word about slapping the girl who cheered President Kennedy’s assassination.
Thanksgiving arrived on schedule 2 days later. At our dinner — like every other table in America — the adults tried to steer the conversation away from the awful events that had consumed us for nearly a week.
In the days and months to come — as the country slowly, painfully, pulled itself out of its collective, overwhelming grief — I devoured everything about President Kennedy I could find. I saved Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post. I ordered the Warren Commission report. Like so many others I still have it all, somewhere.
In the years that followed my admiration for the young, slain president grew, then ebbed. But it never died. He remained my political hero: the first president I ever knew, cared about, was mesmerized by, and mourned.
When President Kennedy was killed, journalist Mary McGrory said, “We’ll never laugh again.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan — who worked for JFK — replied, “Mary, we will laugh again. But we will never be young again.”
Fifty years ago this morning, I was a young 5th grader without a care in the world.
Walking home that afternoon, I could never not care again.
(CBS.com will stream the original news broadcasts minute-by-minute in real time, just as they were originally delivered, beginning at 1:40 p.m. this afternoon. For more information, click here.)
As the 50th anniversary of November 22, 1963 draws near, America will be awash in memories of the assassination of President Kennedy.
The date will be poignant for many. It’s already being recalled by Anthony Dohanos.
Stevan Dohanos at work.
He hasn’t lived in Westport for 40 years — he’s been far away, on Hawaii’s Big Island — but his father, Stevan Dohanos, spent several decades as one of our town’s most famous illustrators.
He was well known for his Saturday Evening Postcovers. But he had a side gig: stamp designing.Working with 7 presidents — starting with FDR — and 9 postmasters general, Dohanos created 46 US stamps.
In the 1960s he was named chairman of the National Stamp Advisory Committee. He had a big office in Washington, Anthony recalls, with a chauffeured limo decorated with the US Post Office logo.
A few months before JFK was killed, Anthony accompanied his father to the State Department. The president spoke. “I was 13 years old,” Anthony says. “I don’t remember much, but he seemed larger than life.”
Four years after Dallas, Dohanos designed a stamp honoring the late president. In the weeks ahead, it will surface often as a favored illustration.
Dohanos lived far longer than Kennedy. In 1984, the Postal Service’s Hall of Stamps was dedicated in his name. Dohanos died in 1994, age 87, of pneumonia.
In 1960, Martha Aasen was living in California. The Democratic National Convention was held in Los Angeles.
Martha came from a family of avid Democrats. Her father was a convention delegate from their native Mississippi. Her brother wangled a job as a driver for Stuart Symington, one of several men still jostling for the nomination.
Martha and her husband Larry got a room with the Mississippi delegation, in a rundown Spanish-style hotel on the outskirts of L.A. They had just checked in when another candidate appeared. It was John F. Kennedy, on his way to meet the Wyoming delegation at the same “crummy hotel.”
Martha walked up to the Massachusetts senator. He took her hand, and looked straight at her. Half a century later, she remembers his “unbelievable charisma.”
Kennedy’s visit paid off. On the night of the roll call, Wyoming’s 15 votes gave him the nomination over his closest rival, Texas senator Lyndon B. Johnson.
Though longtime Westporters Martha and Larry Aasen have been active in Democratic politics — and attending conventions — ever since, 1960 was not their first. Four years earlier, one of Larry’s North Dakota Republican friends got them into the Republican convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. They watched as President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon were renominated.
Fannie Lou Hamer faces the Democratic credentials committee.
In 1964 the Aasens were in Atlantic City. Martha’s mother was a Mississippi delegate. That year, the biracial Freedom Democratic Party challenged the seating of the state’s all-white delegation. Fannie Lou Hamer gave a rousing speech. The governor urged his white delegation to walk out. Most did. Martha’s mother was one of the 3 or 4 who did not.
Forty years later, in 2004, Martha was a delegate at the Boston convention. Connecticut was seated next to Mississippi. Thousands of delegates — of all races — paid tribute to the work of Fannie Lou Hamer, and other brave people who fought for civil rights.
Martha and Larry Aasen.
The Boston convention also featured an electrifying keynote speech by Illinois legislator Barack Obama. “Everyone there knew we were hearing someone special,” Martha recalls.
Martha was in Denver 4 years ago, when Obama was nominated for president.
She’d been back in Los Angeles in 2000, too. That was one of the few times Connecticut had good seats. They were seated right in front, next to Tennessee. The reason, of course: Al Gore’s running made was Joe Lieberman.
Martha missed the 1968 Chicago convention — perhaps the most famous of all — as well as the others before 2000. She was working for the United Nations, and could not be actively involved in domestic politics.
Now 82, she looks forward to the upcoming Charlotte convention. The event has changed since the JFK days — more security, less spontaneity, and the nominee is known in advance — but they’re still exciting.
“It’s more of a pep rally,” Martha says. “You hear speeches, and realize why you believe so strongly in what you do. You go home energized, eager to support your candidate.”
And who knows? Some day, once again, a candidate may come calling on Connecticut. Just as John F. Kennedy did with Wyoming back when he needed a few more votes, wherever they were.
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