Tag: Assassination

The Kennedy Assassination: The Experience of an Irish Catholic Immigrant by Tara Doherty

My grandmother was cleaning her porch windows that Friday in November of 1963. A neighbor bounded out of his house with the news, running along the string of Philadelphia row homes until he arrived at my grandmother’s front windows.Media

“Margaret! He’s been shot. President Kennedy was shot,” he exclaimed. To her disbelief, she turned on her TV only to face a matching uncertainty. Over fifty years later, she recalls the deep gravity of the situation, the momentary ambiguity of the state of the nation’s President. She watched with hands shaking until shortly after President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

She didn’t vote for Kennedy, although her immediate memory suggested otherwise. “Of course I voted for him,” she answered. A moment lapsed until she remembered that she couldn’t have voted for the Irish Catholic Democrat from Boston as much as she might have to. 1963 marked her ninth year as an Irish American immigrant, and she had not yet gained citizenship. Still, she spoke of Kennedy with a certain tenderness; he wasn’t just America’s president. He was a president of her people: Irish Catholic immigrants.

Catholic“They got it terribly hard, and they were terribly good Catholics. I’m not saying the president and the wife, but the president’s mother Rose. She went to mass every morning,” she said. She remembered that his grandparents emigrated from County Limerick of Bruff in western Ireland; her family back in Donegal loved him as if he were their own leader. For her and other Irish Catholic immigrants, Kennedy represented the tie between Ireland and America and offered a hope of success in the land of opportunity.

My grandmother was 34 years old the day of the assassination. Her husband was at work, and she spent her days at home taking care of her two young children. Though she emigrated nine years prior, her home was decorated with memories of Ireland. Irish flags, pictures of relatives, a painting of the Irish countryside above her mantle – she placed Catholic paraphernalia on every open surface, every wall so as to keep God and her country close to her heart. Yet, somewhere amongst her collections of home, she kept pictures of President Kennedy, dozens of pictures of an American man that she couldn’t have even voted for. Of these pictures, she most recalls a picture of Kennedy that portrayed him with the divine.

“Oh yeah. It was taken with him. It was a holy picture. They put Jesus or God next to John in the picture. I had one of them, but I don’t know what happened to them,” she said. In her eyes, the Kennedy family was a nice family, a family struck by tragedy and forever martyrs to America. When asked about the assassination, she most engaged with Jackie’s experience.

Dress“The sad thing about it was his wife, Jackie, standing next to the vice president… and her skirt was covered with blood. She held the president’s head when he was in the car and she kept it on – she wanted the whole world to see what they went through, and she was right to do it. And to see her face – she was in another world; she was in shock. I’ll never forget. It was the worst weekend. Jackie was the same age as me, same month, same year,” she said. Like many Americans struck by the tragedy, she identified with the Kennedy family. She saw herself as Jackie, her young children as the Jackie’s children; the assassination didn’t only mean a loss of a nation’s leader, it was a personal loss of a family made personable to Americans.

My grandmother spoke of President Kennedy in her strong Irish brogue decades after his assassination with an almost palpable nostalgia. The young president was a symbol of hope and success in America for Irish Catholic immigrants, a figure that represented success for those seeking it in an unfamiliar country. The Kennedy legacy has lived on in the hearts of those of that time as an embodiment of family and tragedy in American history.

Camelot Wannabes by Olivia Baranowski

FireplaceThe story:

My grandparents were engaged November in 1963 and planned to be married the following summer in June of 1964.  My grandmother, Sarah, worked at the Curtis Publishing Company located in Old City and my grandfather, Robert, was a full time graduate student at Temple University.  They first saw the President when he was visiting Philadelphia during those early years in the 1960s.  They waited along Frankford Avenue with friends and cheered and waved American flags as he drove down the avenue in his motorcade.  He was campaigning for his election, the same as he was when he was assassinated.  My grandmother humorously compared the spectacle to the way Philadelphia was when the Pope recently visited back in September.

The day JFK was killed my grandmother was at work and my grandfather was at his parents’ home studying for an exam.  My grandmother and the rest of her coworkers stood around the small black-and-white television in the lobby of the building for what seemed like hours.  Everyone watched the news and no one spoke, she said, everyone was in shock.  My grandfather was listening to the radio while he was studying and the music was interrupted with the announcement, and he gathered his family around the radio to listen to what the radio hosts were reporting.  He recalled feeling confused because the radio hosts didn’t seem to have much information.  Later that evening, my grandmother went over to my grandfather’s house to help him study for his exam, but they couldn’t concentrate on the material.  It was hard for them to fathom what had happened that day.  They said everyone they knew and our family members were in shock.  Temple canceled their classes the next day.

Why They Loved Him:

My grandmother loved fashion.  She had all the big name magazines and was a frequent shopper at her local fabric store where she would buy fabric to make her own dresses and skirts.  She loved Jackie Kennedy.  My grandmother was someone that saw her as a fashion icon.  She loved seeing when new pictures of Jackie were released so she could remake what she was wearing or gain her own inspiration form the images.  My grandmother made a black skirt and black silk camisole when JFK was killed.

Because of the way the Kennedys were portrayed during his presidency, my grandparents thought of them as the perfect family.  They were engaged; they wanted a family to be exactly like the Kennedys.  They were beautiful and healthy and seemed to have had it all.  My grandfather jokingly mentioned how even he was taken back by JFK’s handsome appearance and how much better he looked standing next to Nixon.  This is something that my grandparents look back on fondly; they have said that they didn’t pay attention to scandal news when it came out.

My grandparents wanted to create their own Camelot in their West Philadelphia row home.  It is interesting to hear their story and compare it to the way the Kennedys are viewed today.  They look back with such nostalgia, they think nothing is wrong with the family or listen to the rumors and conspiracy theories.  They take real politics out of the mix and look at the family for what they were, a family.  My grandparents’ memory of the Kennedys today is so pure that I think many people should forget any negative judgement of the family and remember the tragic event that caused a wife to lose her husband and children to lose their father.  In the end, that is what made my grandmother so emotionally upset about the assassination.  My grandparents appreciate the legacy left behind and still honored by the Kennedy family.

Note on Photo: The cross over the fireplace was replaced with this picture of the President during the Camelot era.  Pictured here: my grandmother’s younger sister (my Great Aunt Mary-Anne, dress made by my grandmother) on her way to her high school’s prom, overlooked by JFK.

My Father and the Death of JFK by Oliver Shortridge


qCaptureMy father, Thomas J. Shortridge, was born on March 14, 1947 in Anderson, Indiana. Before he turned twenty, many significant events of this country’s history occurred; America’s first man in space, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a major shock to the nation. Seventeen days after the assassination, Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy compared the presidency of her late husband to Camelot, a metaphor for the positivity his time in office seemed to generate.[1] My father was only sixteen at the time, a sophomore at Bedford High School in his hometown of Bedford, Indiana. On the afternoon of Friday November 22, 1963, my father was in his history class, when his school’s principal came over the loudspeaker to announce the death of President Kennedy.[2]

sAlmost immediately after announcing the death of the President, cheering could be heard from the more conservative students and faculty. This angered the principal, who returned to the loudspeaker, and admonished the entire school. My father doesn’t quite remember the exact wording the principal used, but they were along the lines of “How dare you! That man was President of the United States and you should be mourning his loss!”[3] Those cheering were quickly silenced by the realization of the seriousness of the situation.

Despite being too young to vote in 1963, at the time, my father identified as a Republican, much like the rest of his family. However, my father was not among those who cheered the death of President Kennedy, rather, he was simply in shock of what had transpired. Additionally, unlike other Republicans in his hometown, my father had a favorable view of Kennedy. In fact, during the 1960 election, my father played a prank on his older brother, in which he put a Kennedy bumper sticker on his brother’s car. His older brother has always been a fairly conservative person politically. Upon seeing the bumper sticker on the back of his car, in my father’s own words, “he was pissed,” and made my father not only remove the sticker, but the adhesive residue it left behind.[4]

As with the rest of the country, the assassination of John F. Kennedy left a lasting impact on my father. Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon B. Johnson, who would end up being one of my father’s least favorite presidents. Like the vast majority of his friends and family, my father supported civil rights and approved of President Johnson’s push of the Civil Rights Act. On the other hand, my Johnson’s same determination when it came to the Vietnam War soured my father’s views on him, as many of his friends fought in the war and did not return (my father was exempted due to a heart defect). My father also disliked Johnson’s Vice President, Hubert Humphry, causing him to begrudgingly vote for Richard Nixon in 1968, as he disliked Nixon slightly less prior to Watergate.[5]

tCaptureToday, my father is no longer a Republican, by the end of the 1960s, my father was left with bad taste in his mouth from conservativism in general, that he became a Democrat by the time he left Indiana to attend MIT. In hindsight, my father was never a conservative person, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy was his first step in realizing that.

[1] Brigance, Linda C. “For One Brief Shining Moment: Choosing to Remember Camelot.” Studies in Popular Culture 25, no. 3 (April 2003): 1-12. Accessed March 31, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23414940.

[2] Shortridge, Thomas J. “Interview of My Father.” Interview by author. March 31, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.