Tuesday, November 19, 2013
november 22, 1963

We are coming up on the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  50 years! Hard to believe it has been that long----but, it has. Anyone who was alive at that time, remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing. Back when my blog was very new---maybe 7 weeks old, I wrote a post about my own personal memories of that day and that weekend. What follows below is that post, with some additional thoughts at the end......

The Day All The Music Died

The opening sounds you here at the very beginning of "SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY", after the house lights have dimmed to a blackout are from the traditional Folk Song "He's Gone Away"....sung Acapella--without accompaniment--in the dark.

On Saturday, November 23, at the Matinee performance of 'Spoon River' at The Belasco Theatre on West 44th, (there had been no Friday night performance on November 22....no show played that night on Broadway....every theatre was dark, that night....) we waited in the wings, as we always did, Bob Elston, Betty Garrett and Hal Lynch on Stage Right, and Joyce Van Patten, Charles Aidman and me on Stage Left. It was my voice that came over the loud speakers, there in the dark...and you could audibly here the gasp of grief escape from all three of us, as  the song began----waiting there in the dark, before our entrance on to the still darkened stage of the still darkened theatre, to take our places on the stage before the lights would come up. Everything we heard that day; all the poems from 'Spoon River', so filled with Americana...all of the music...the songs....took on a new meaning because of the great tragedy that had befallen our beloved country, just the day before.

The day before, that Friday, I had been at a Gynecologists office, suffering with some sort of ovary pain....I left there and got in cab, and it was the cab driver who told me that John F. Kennedy, our President, had been shot in Dallas just a little while ago...I couldn't fathom this. At first I thought he was kidding; that he had for some strange reason, made this up....and I said "Is that a joke? Cause if it is..it's not funny!" He protested in such a manner that I immediately understood that , no, this was not a joke. The gravity of the situation was not really known in those few moments; we stopped at a red light...a fellow cabbie rolled his window down and shouted to my driver, that Kennedy was dead. My driver said, 'What?'...The other cabbie repeated the news, and pulled away because the light had changed to green. The tears came; and came, and came....I couldn't believe that this was happening....

I got out of the cab at the Hotel, and immediately went up to the 15th floor, where Betty's rooms were. I rang her bell...she came to the door, as stricken as I was...in tears...trying to get ready to go to an interview that had been scheduled before this unbelievable thing happened. She had to leave and I went up to the 16th floor, to my rooms and turned on the television, hoping to be told this had not happened; hoping to be told that a terrible mistake had been made...Kennedy was not dead....like the time when they announced on television that, then President Eisenhower had died after a very severe heart attack, and he hadn't died, at all! They had made an awful awful mistake. That's what I was hoping for.

I was hoping that I would wake up from this ghastly horrible dream, and find out that yes, it was just a horrible ghastly dream...nobody had been shot and killed in Dallas.

I was called by the Company Manager to be told that there would be no performance that night. And they weren't sure about Saturday yet.....that Friday evening, all of us at a loss as to what to do, huddled together sharing a hushed dinner at a very quiet subdued Sardi's Restaurant. We needed to be with each other; we needed to try to digest this incredibly awful thing that had plunged all of us, along with most of the country and the world, into unimaginable grief and hopelessness.

So, when, indeed we were told we would be playing the matinee on Saturday, everything that all of us knew about this play-with-music, like the back of our hands, was heard through a completely different sensibility. (I couldn't even imagine going to a play, let alone performing in one that Saturday afternoon..... But there we were, and there was my voice....)

'He's gone away.....
For To Stay, A Little while....
But He's Comin' Back, If He Goes Ten Thousand Miles......
But Who Will Buy My Shoes...
And Who Will Glove My Hand.....
And Who Will Kiss My Ruby Lips, When He Is Gone.......
Look Away....Look Away.....Over Yonder....'

I didn't think I could get through this performance. None of us did.

My voice continues, humming underneath this next voice we hear......it's  Chuck's voice, (Charles Aidman, who adapted this beautiful beautiful piece for the stage and who had Directed it, too....) and we are still in the dark moving onto the stage from the wings, to take our seats on the stage....the words he speaks:

"Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom And Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,
One was killed in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife --
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill....."

This whole evening is people speaking from the grave...speaking truths that they no longer are afraid to speak....all speaking after they are dead and buried. It sounds morbid, but it isn't! It is an incredibly funny and inspiring two hours that yes, had it's sad and touching moments, but morbid, no!

But, Saturday, November 23rd, 1963 at 2pm in the afternoon, it was very morbid.....and heartbreakingly sad, to say the least.

There is more to say....but, the day has already gotten waaaaay ahead of me....so I'll stop, for now, and just say, if you remember this day and this time, let me know......

I didn't get through the whole performance that Saturday afternoon....I had to leave the stage and the theatre after the first act and my understudy finished the show that afternoon. She played the show that night, too, and the Matinee on Sunday, as well....I stayed in my bed, nursing my sickly ovary as well as my sickened heart---glued to the television set...watching as Lee Harvey Oswald was shot to death before our eyes.
Watching the Funeral procession...watching as Jackie Kennedy brought all of us through this terrible tragedy with her great dignity and calm---God knows, that wasn't what she felt, but it is what she showed the world---holding her very young children's hands as they walked---little John John saluting his father's coffin as it passed......watching this woman, in all of her grief,  helping to hold all of us together somehow, too.......
Four days of horror and sorrow and unbelievable disbelief....
Four days of unrelenting sadness....
Four days of tears that felt as if they would never stop.
Nothing was ever the same after that terrible Friday.....
This country was never the same, and none of us were ever the same either.
It took a very long time to get over the enormity of what had befallen our country and befallen all of us, as well.....
The truth is.....I'm not sure we ever did.
And there were more killings to come......
(I wrote about it on my blog the following year; a post which you can read right here......)
Remembering this day, 50 years later, brings many thoughts and feelings.
How would the world have been different had Kennedy not been killed?
Your thoughts?
Your feelings?

had this to say:

Hey Gal, you do have a way with words....and the photo of father and son, hand in hand plus that face beneath the black veil...says it all. We have suffered far too many "do you remember where you were whens." Mine began with FDR's death, then Pearl Harbor and then......Sherwood

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 12:20:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

You capture the horror of those days so well Naomi. We were all shaken to our very souls.
The thing that pushed me over the edge on top of the impossible to believe murder of Kennedy was the killing of Oswald in full view of all of America. It seemed to me the last straw in a world gone mad. I screamed at the TV, "My God, we are a nation of animals." I truly felt we were lost.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 5:03:00 PM PST 

Blogger Pat
had this to say:

I think the whole world shared your grief.
After the horrors of the war, the cold war and a the gloom and doom he seemed like a modern day saviour and anything seemed possible. Hope seemed to die that day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 4:22:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I am so moved by your post. I have nothing else to add.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 5:19:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I'll never forget that day either - I was in the 4th grade and one of the audio/visual boys ran down the hallway of my school, knocking on classroom doors to announce the news, "President Kennedy has been shot!" My teacher rushed to the classroom TV and turned it on. Needless to say, we were all shocked and confused and then the news that he was dead came.

When Jack Ruby killed Oswald, I was trying to make sense of that and why he would shoot someone who surely would have been punished for such a heinous act. I remember my mom choosing her words carefully and saying that Ruby must have been very upset about the President's death and acted without thinking it through. I can still remember my childhood horror of these events.

It's so interesting to read your experience that day - in another world from mine. One another note - I had completely forgotten about that song "He's Gone Away" - we sang that in high school chorus. A beautiful song - I'll bet you sang it beautifully.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:08:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

Probably the only night in its history that Sardi's was quiet and subdued. A beautiful recollection. I was too young to comprehend the gravity of what happened. Perhaps that's a good thing.

Incidentally, I'm going to the Belasco tonight to see Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night. It's a much happier occasion, thank God.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:26:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I've been thinking about that a lot, too. I can't imagine having to perfor during that. (Have I ever told you that Spoon River is one of my favorites?) I'm not sure how it would have been different -- we may have been as deeply involved in Vietnam as were became later. Or not. Kennedy seemed to know when to compromise and when to take charge. But I do know that one day, week, forever would be with a little less mourning -- at least for the president.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 11:07:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

To be honest, I don't know that much about Kennedy or his beliefs etc. I've obviously heard a great deal about him since his tragic death, but not being very politically minded, I don't really know what he stood for. The only thing I really know about him is his death. How sad that is too.

Beautifully written post.

Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 11:31:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I think we lost more than a man and president. I think we lost our direction. I don't think the corruption of today would have been able to take such a hold if Kennedy and his legacy had continued.

I was only 13 and don't remember much about my first feelings. I believe I was in school and we got out early and the feeling was weird because we liked getting out of school early but not for the reason we did. I do remember all the iconic images that I saw on TV.
Could have been my first hands on involvement in government, other then pledging allegiance to Eisenhower on Howdy Doody as a preschooler.

I really enjoyed your hearing your story of this time.

Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 4:39:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

What a great and moving post, Naomi!
I remember well that day and I will never forget either. I was on my work at the University of São Paulo and me and my works colleagues were in shock after hearing about that tragedy...

Friday, November 22, 2013 at 4:49:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

the look on Jackie's face in that incredible funeral photo gives me chills

I was in school. The teachers were all running to the principal's office and I remember being afraid. They never announced it, I heard it through the open door of a candy store as I walked home. Bless Walter Cronkite for being a comforting presence that day and all the days that followed.


Friday, November 22, 2013 at 7:14:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I was a young teenager at boarding school in 1963. That Friday evening (in UK) I was on a train heading to my parents home for the weekend, and then a bus from the station to my village. On the bus someone said "Kennedy's been shot" but I thought it must be someone local, certainly not the U.S. President. This was way before the days of cell phones or internet so it wasn't until I got home and heard the mournful music on the TV that I found out the shocking truth.

Friday, November 22, 2013 at 1:01:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I can't even imagine. I will always remember what I was doing when I found out about 9/11 - I've heard several people make that comparison who were also alive when President Kennedy was shot.

What a violent time.

Friday, November 22, 2013 at 10:04:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

Me again dear Naomi,
Yesterday I hear again your lovely gift, the CD of 'Spoon River'. You have a wonderful, a
crystalline voice! It is always a pleasure to hear your voice so expressive!
Hope you have a nice weekend.

Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 7:10:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

He had many faults..but to this day he remains one of my "heros"! He was Rich but not lucky with health..in the book I recently read it said it right: He had a life that no sensible person would want.

We will never know "what if".. but I will always believe that somehow life would be better than it is had he lived. maybe it's wishfull thinking..if it is.. it's a great wish.

Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 9:21:00 AM PST 

Anonymous Anonymous
had this to say:


Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 4:44:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

A moving and very personal post . With it you bring a sense of the time and of the way that the event cut into everyones' lives.

We've had various recent analysis again and it still seems to be one of those things with many unanswered questions.

Sunday, November 24, 2013 at 5:02:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

I may have been a small child, but that day really did change everything.
My trust in so much vanished, never to return.

Monday, November 25, 2013 at 9:55:00 AM PST 

had this to say:

You wrote about that terrible day so well Naomi. It is true everyone remembers where they were when they heard. I was at work in San Francisco and spent the week-end watching TV. I had seen JFK in Paris a couple of years before, going down the Champs Elysees with de Gaulle and then when I toured Washington I saw him in a parade – I jumped up and down and he saw me and waved – I still have the slide. I just could not believe that this man was gone, in a way he was like the type of hero who never dies, but he did and I think it changed America. Fifty years ago – how quickly they went.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 1:37:00 PM PST 

had this to say:

I don't think Kennedy's legacy or memory would be the same today if he hadn't been killed on that fateful day.

But history is as it is and for Jackie to go on as she did after what she had endured before and after JFK's death... well, she's one strong woman.

Such a gutting death.

JFK's death was long before my time. I guess the biggest and most shocking death in my life time so far is that of Princess Diana.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 3:22:00 PM PST 

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