Today is the 54th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, which took place in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The event was undeniably a seminal moment in American history, and everyone who lived through it can remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. Following is an exclusive excerpt fromThe Floating Boy, Book One in the Heretics in Occupied Eden series, in which the book’s titular character, Cloud Morgan, is stunned by the news.
On November 22, after a lunchtime sandwich at the Memorial Union, Cloud strolled across campus to Old Main to hang out in the military science lounge until the start of his favorite class, American frontier history. He settled into a comfortable chair and listened to KRUX broadcasting hit songs through a pre-war Philco radio console that stood against the north wall of the room. He grinned as the disc jockey announced that “Washington Square” by the Village Stompers was coming up next.
“A cool song. I’d like to see Greenwich Village,” he said to the assembled cadets.
Cloud would one day get his wish but would not hear the song that day or any of the next four days, because at that moment a news announcer broke in to report that President Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. There was no report on the extent of the president’s injuries. Everyone in the room immediately formed a half-circle around the radio, as if thus arranged they could command more information from its old speaker.
Apart from a scattered chorus of “Oh no!” and “Oh my God!” the students listened in silence. Ten minutes passed before Cloud remembered the dream in which he had heard gunshots and saw the president slump down in his car. His body went cold at the thought but he said nothing to anyone. Half an hour later the announcer, in his most solemn voice, reported that officials at Parkland Memorial Hospital had confirmed that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was dead.
When the time came for his class, Cloud dutifully walked to the room. A handful of students had summoned the strength of mind to gather there according to schedule, but no one spoke or looked at anyone else. Cloud sensed that looking into the eyes of another student would be like trespassing into a private region of sorrow. It was something only a voyeur would do. He stared at his desk instead.
After some interval of time -no one was keeping track- professor Otis Young arrived, his face broken with grief, and without saying a word wrote “CLASS CANCELLED” on the board and fled before anyone could ask for a word of wisdom.
Cloud shuffled out and headed for the parking lot, in possession of an early start to the weekend, which neither he nor anyone else he knew would enjoy. The traffic was light for a Friday afternoon, and drivers who in other circumstances would have competed aggressively for position at traffic lights drove with uncharacteristic patience, even politeness.
Cloud did not venture far from a radio or television set the next four days. The military rituals captured his attention far more than the speculations about the shooting. Shadows were clear in the bright sunlight of the cold day as the president’s body was delivered by caisson to the Capitol, where it would lie in state until the funeral service. Pallbearers in dress uniforms then returned the casket to the caisson as the cortege continued to St. Matthews, and thence to Arlington Cemetery. Six matched gray horses drew the caisson up Pennsylvania Avenue to the church and across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the cemetery.
Strains of the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” echoed in Cloud’s mind. At a conscious level, he did not believe that an eternal Father existed to save anybody, as the killing of the president demonstrated, but he was nevertheless moved by the hymn, and at some dark place inside him, its notes resonated with an unconfessed hope for transcendent authority.
Where were you when President Kennedy was shot? If you weren’t alive at the time, how do your family members describe the experience?
Leave a comment below!
Get Book One of the Heretics in Occupied Eden series, The Floating Boy, right here!
Read more exclusive excerpts:
Book One – The Floating Boy – Discovering Metaphysics
Book Two – The Strange Angels – Establishing Gender Studies
Book Three – The Dancing Church – Discovering a Connection
Book Four – The Mansion of Our Undressing – Literature and Protest
Book Five – Chaucer Dickinson and the Timberscape of Memory – The Beatles on Ed Sullivan
Book Seven – Emma Round & the Holy Rowlings – Harry Potter Trivia Night