Things were different back then: A gallon of gas cost 29 cents. It was the first year an actress was paid a million dollars for one movie (Elizabeth Taylor, for “Cleopatra”) and the first year a boxer made a million bucks for one fight (Sonny Liston, when he knocked out Floyd Patterson). “The Beverly Hillbillies” was the top TV show, Little Stevie Wonder and the Chiffons both had songs at the top of the charts and the Soviets put the first woman into orbit. The Dodgers won the World Series — the Los Angeles Dodgers, that is, but they were only five years out of Brooklyn then.
And New York’s main airport was called Idlewild.
Just about everything shut down at night in those days, including stores and television, but most people could only get three or four channels anyway. Refrigerators didn’t self-defrost and ovens didn’t self-clean. Movies had to be seen in downtown theaters — which at least were air-conditioned, unlike everything else — and car windows had to be cranked up and down. It’s hard to imagine today that things were ever so primitive.
It was a time when “The President held a high place of honor, unlike today,” as one reader recently shared on the pages of the Dallas Morning News, a reader who was a third-grader on the day in question. “Nothing was ever the same and the 60s were downhill from there,” wrote another Morning News reader, who was in the fourth grade on that Friday afternoon in November.
And “downhill from there” may sound like an overstatement, but the assassination of John F. Kennedy did seem to usher in an era of uncertainty and violence, flames and fear and bloody murder: Malcolm X (of the Nation of Islam) was assassinated in 1965, George Lincoln Rockwell (of the American Nazi Party) was gunned down in 1967, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. And there were race riots and civil rights demonstrations and protests against the war in Vietnam, and the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, and the U.S. expanded the Vietnam war into Cambodia, and the National Guard killed unarmed protesters at Kent State.
Into this mad mix you can also toss the bizarre murders the Manson “family” committed in Los Angeles in 1969, during a summer the writer Joan Didion recalled as “a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.”
It’s not that any of these things were caused by the JFK assassination; it’s just that suddenly it was one thing after another; things fell apart, mere anarchy was loosed upon the world.
Years later, it would seem as if that day had been the turning point, the moment when everything started going wrong.
Soon there would be Watergate, starring Richard M. Nixon — the same guy who bombed Cambodia. Nixon had come close to defeating JFK in 1960, which would have made him the president of the United States on that day, Nov. 22, 1963.