Fifty years ago today, November 22, I was in Scout Room in the basement of St. Celestine's Catholic School in Elmwood Park, IL, a close-in Chicago suburb. It was, like today, a Friday. Friday afternoon. I was sitting on the right side of the classroom, halfway down the row of wooden desks against the windows that looked out into the window well. The sun was streaming in through the grating above when the news came over the P.A. that President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, had been shot in Dallas. There was no further news on his condition. We prayed the rosary, then school let out early. The world had stopped.
It was not the first death I had experienced as a child. Three years earlier, my uncle had died in the Park Slope mid-air collision over New York City. Still, the news was dramatic and alarming, yet incomprehensible.
Last night while driving back to my hotel, NPR's "All Things Considered" aired a feature about the reaction at a Boston Symphony concert when the news arrived. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf delivered the news and, as the shocked audience's gasps echoed in the hall, announced that the orchestra would play the funeral march from Beethoven's Third Symphony. A second wave of gasps, as the finality of the news sank in.
I had never heard this tape before.
Later, during a scheduled intermission, the musicians debated backstage whether it was appropriate to go on. Ultimately, Henry B. Cabot, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's president of trustees, decided the music should continue.
Cabot addressed the audience, "The ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra came to me during intermission, and some of them felt that we should not continue the concert. I told them that I thought we should continue. And I told them that the day my father died," Cabot said, his voice cracking, "I came to a symphony concert for consolation. And I believe you will receive it yourselves."
Fifty years later, I teared up behind the wheel.