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Assassination, Myth and Legacy

November 22, 1963, the date JFK was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. At 1:33pm, President John F. Kennedy was officially pronounced dead.

The presidential limousine was driven with the bubble top down as the sun was shining on this beautiful day in Dallas, Texas. On the way from Love Field Airport to the Dallas Trade Mart where Kennedy was to give a speech, the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza at around 12:30pm. As they crossed Dealey Plaza, Governor John Connally’s wife Nellie, sitting in the seat in front of Kennedy, remarked: “Mr. President, you can’t say that Dallas doesn’t love you.”

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Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination. Penn Jones Photographs. Baylor University Collection of Political Materials. Waco, Texas.

Then, supposedly three shots were fired out of a window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building they were just passing. One shot hit Kennedy in the back, followed quickly by a second bullet to the back of the President's head. Another shot probably missed, according to the Warren Report, though the analysis couldn’t tell whether it was the first, second or third bullet. The whole sequence was caught by Abraham Zapruder on his home-movie camera. It substantially aided the Warren commission in its attempt to recreate what had happened. The shooter was later identified to be Lee Harvey Oswald, a “pro-Castro Marxist.” Oswald was able to escape from the building and tried to leave the city. At 1:15pm Police Officer Tippit identified him, based on the descriptions that had been issued via radio. He confronted Oswald and paid for it with his life. At 1:45pm Oswald was finally arrested inside the Texas Theater. At 2:38pm, the same day, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in upon JFK’s missal, onboard the Air-Force One, as the 36th president of the United States.

The assassination has spawned many conspiracy theories. Had Oswald acted by himself or was he even guilty at all? Many questioned the so called “Magic Bullet Theory” or “Single Bullet Theory” according to which the same bullet that went through Kennedy’s back, also caused the injuries Governor Connally sustained. All of those questions were aggravated by the fact that one day before the assassination a leaflet was passed around in Dallas, that showed Kennedy as “Wanted for Treason”, and also by Oswald's murder only days after the event. He was about to be transferred to a Dallas Prison, when the nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald in his stomach inside the police department.

Kennedy’s death put the nation in a state of shock. In the view of New York Times journalist James Reston: “What was killed in Dallas was not only the president but the promise. The death of youth and the hope of youth, of the beauty and grace and the touch of magic.” The President's funeral, modeled after Abraham Lincoln’s, was seen by nearly the entire population of the United States. The caisson, that carried Kennedy’s casket was followed by a riderless horse, a black gelding, with a saddle, saber, and boots reversed in the stirrups. It represents the highest military honor and is an ancient symbol of a fallen warrior.

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President John F. Kennedy’s Funeral Procession to St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Abbie Rowe. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Shortly after her husband’s death Jackie Kennedy started to develop the Camelot Myth. She gave an exclusive interview to journalist Theodore H. White from LIFE Magazine, refering to Jack as a great hero like King Arthur. Before they went to sleep, he would often listen to the recording of the popular Broadway musical Camelot. The last track was his favorite. “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” Jackie Kennedy makes clear that there might be great Presidents again, but there will never be a Camelot again. She was the initiator to the eternal flame on top of Kennedy’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The candle is designed to reignite itself in case it is extinguished by rain wind or other accidents.

Kennedy nowadays is remembered globally through popular culture like Andy Warhol’s famous artwork.
The President also appeared in Superman comics. “Superman’s mission for President Kennedy” was used to promote the physical fitness initiative of the Kennedy administration to inspire Americans to eat healthy and exercise more. Issue #170 had initially been drawn in 1963, but because of the assassination the publication got postponed for eight months. The Authorization for the print was encouraged by President Johnson to honor and celebrate his predecessor.
In another issue President Kennedy helps Superman to keep his second identity Clark Kent secret. Afterwards he thanks him as he says: “I knew I wasn’t risking my secret identity with you! After all, if I can’t trust the president of the United States, who can I trust?” President Barack Obama was often compared to Kennedy as both embodied change and hope in the world.

Kennedy will always be well remembered in the minds of the world as a president who had represented a new era of American leadership with dash and vision, but who was taken away too early. Lyndon B. Johnson said of him:

“It is not for us to know how many great things he might have accomplished… but he lived long enough and well enough to rekindle our spirits, renew our faith and reaffirm our commitment as a people to the great purpose for which this nation was created.”

His charismatic style and attitude, smart and patient politics, that impacted the entire planet helped him navigate a torn and dangerous world through difficult times. 

 

Florian Kühn


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