Back in the Days…

Posted on May 3, 2023


Old timers today tend to extol the virtues of when they were young, and the world was right. We all do it, perhaps exaggerating the virtues of our world and the vices in today’s world.

I was reminded of this great old world as I started to convert my huge file of 35mm slides I have made over the years to digital images so I can play better in today’s digital world. As I opened the first box of slides, the thought crossed my mind, “hmm, maybe it wasn’t so better back then.”

Now, I don’t even think a youngster under the age of thirty knows what a slide is, not to speak of a slide projector. Everything is digital. But my slides aren’t, so I needed to convert them.

The first box I pulled out I thought must be mislabeled, “Kennedy’s Funeral in Washington.” That’s so long ago. But the memory slowly began to kick in.

I remember having a 35 mm camera made by Contax, but how would a box of slides made in 1963 have survived everywhere I’ve been or moved to in the past sixty years, including a catastrophic fire that destroyed our home in 2017 and, for good measure, a Category 3 or 4 tornado in April, 2011 that swept through Tuscaloosa in a track that passed by our neighborhood no more than 1000 yards distant?

And, yet somehow my slide collection—in my basement office that survived the fire—made it to my office today and occasionally, I would look at the shelves with these antique reminders of my past, some a bit smoky from the fire, but all apparently still intact. Maybe I needed to get off the fast track today and slow down and take a trip with my pictures. Sorry, those are images of course. Pictures is so old fashioned.

So, I bought a converter and it had so many parts that I just spread them out in my office, looked at them, and turned back to work. Some other time. Well, the “some other time” finally caught up with me. If not now, when? When I’m 90 or 100? C’mon Larry, open up the little instruction manual and do it. And so I did. And one of the first slides I successfully converted you can see below.

It is the funeral bier of President John F. Kennedy as it wound its way through Washington D.C. on its path to bury Jack our President. He had been assassinated by a communist jerk, an ex-Marine, named Lee Harvey Oswald. How Oswald shot the President in Dallas on Friday November 22 is a long story, which may involve a conspiracy. We still don’t know it all, even after more than six decades since the fateful Friday afternoon.

Oswald was caught quickly but then was assassinated the next afternoon in the Dallas jail by a man named Jack Ruby. I remember Friday afternoon when two or three of us headed out from the main quad to throw the football a bit. It was quiet on the quad.

“What’s going on?” we asked a guy.

‘The president’s been shot,” he answered.

Oh, sure, we thought. What a stupid answer, and we continued out to throw the ball. Upon returning, it was even quieter. We found our fraternity brothers all hunkered down in front of the television. The President had indeed been shot. And now he was dead, his brains blasted to smithereens.

We watched as Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President on the flight back to Washington, seeing the President’s lovely, but shocked and bloodied, wife Jackie watch the swearing in on the Air Force One returning them to Washington. It was all surreal. Can this be really happening?

By Saturday afternoon we thought we had seen it all on our television in the dorm where I lived, thinly disguised as a fraternity house at Duke. Then Ruby murdered Oswald, right there on television.

On Sunday three or four of us—frustrated by not being able to do anything—hoped in one of our cars and drove to Washington where we witnessed the funeral cortege from the corner of Pennsylvania and 10th Street, I think. That’s where I took the photograph above. We returned home to Durham that night.

A few years later while researching in or about Cuba I read where Fidel Castro had told his CIA listener—the guy who listened to CIA broadcasts to keep track of what the gringos were doing or saying—to turn his receiver on Friday afternoon and listen to what the gringos had to say. They reported the assassination and some think Fidel—no friend of Kennedy—had a hand in the assassination, knowing full well that Kennedy’s spooks were trying to kill him. Some conspiracy theorists think Fidel got the President first.

So, it could get pretty hairy back “in the old days.” We were all dancing a new dance, the Twist, in Chubby Checker’s place in the City. Nobody ever said “New York” if you lived within fifty miles of the City. The Twist was pretty neat in 1960, the year that JFK was elected in a narrow victory over Richard Nixon. The election swung on the state of Illinois, and Illinois swung on the vote of Chicago whose boss, Richard Daley, waited until he knew how many votes Kennedy needed to carry Chicago, and thus Illinois, and so the election. “Vote early and vote often” the Boss told his followers just in case you think boss and corrupt politics is a modern phenomenon.

Published in the Northport Gazette, Wed. May 3 2023