A well-respected historian once said that there have been three major events in US history of which people ask each other “Where were you when you heard about it?” These events are the attack on Pearl Harbor, the World Trade Center attacks, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. November 22, 1963, was a momentous day across America and around the world: the President was murdered, sparking rumors of home-grown terrorism and accusation of Soviet involvement. In the space of two hours, the presidency passed hands from Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson.
That sunny autumn day, Kennedy and his wife and the governor of Texas and his wife rode were en route with a vehicle procession to the Dallas Trade Mart. The route had been carefully planned to allow citizens to get the best view possible from buildings and was broadcast to the nation several days previously. The President’s estimated time of arrival was 12:15pm. As the motorcade made its way leisurely through Dallas, the size of the crowds that turned out to see Kennedy slowed down the procession. The limousine entered Dealy Plaza, only a few minutes away from the Trade Mart, at 12:30pm. Most witnesses recounted hearing three shots, the first shot being mistaken as a vehicle’s exhaust backfiring.
At 1:33pm, President Kennedy’s death was officially announced. At 2:38, Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President, as Lady Jacqueline looked on. The reaction to the assassination was shock and horror across the nation. Schools let their students out early, crowds gathered around the televisions inside department stores. Tears were shed, hostility toward Texas sprang up, while others feared the eruption of a war.
There were not many photographers or reporters present in Dealey Plaza as they were all stationed at the Trade Mart, awaiting Kennedy’s arrival. The event was recorded by amateur photographer Abraham Zapruder—26 seconds of silent 8mm film, the only video footage in existence of the Kennedy assassination. In later years, the film would be valued at $16 million, which was paid by the US government to Zapruder’s heirs. The film is stored in the National Archives.
On November 25, representatives from 90 countries were in attendance at the state funeral. President Kennedy’s body was interred in Arlington Cemetery, in Virginia. One of the most famous photos to come to national attention in the days following the assassination was one taken of three-year old John Kennedy, Jr., saluting his father’s casket as it passed him. Of all the photographs taken during that period of time, the above photo made its way into the hearts of the American people. It not only showed a child’s love and respect for his father, but also that there was still hope of a better tomorrow. Nearly 50 years later, the photo still carries power of historical significance and emotional weight.