Ask anyone old enough to remember Nov. 22, 1963 and they can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy Jr., had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.
So much changed after that day – both for the nation and the world.
So what was life like in 1963? It was scary. The country was deeply immersed in the Cold War. People had built fallout shelters in the event of a nuclear attack. Children practiced “duck and cover” exercises at school and were issued military-style dog tags, ostensibly so their bodies could be identified , just in case.
A few other facts about America in 1963:
- The population was about 189 million (313.9 million in 2012)
- The median family income was $6,200
- Gas averaged 29 cents a gallon
- A new car averaged $3,233
- The average cost of a new home was $12,650.
- A loaf of bread was 22 cents
- A postage stamp cost a nickel
- The new Zoning Improvement Plan, or ZIP codes, had just been introduced
- AT&T had introduced the touch-tone phone, successor to the rotary dial
- The Instamatic camera and Lava Lamps went on sale
- Troll dolls, created in 1959 by a Danish woodcutter, became a full-fledged U.S. fad in fall 1963.
- Pull-tops on aluminum cans were introduced
- Coca-Cola introduced its first diet drink, TaB
- Oscar Mayer began airing the radio jingle, “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener”
- Showing at the movies: “Cleopatra,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” The Great Escape” and “To Kill a Mockingbird
- On television: “Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Flintstones,” “My Three Sons,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Perry Mason” and “The Jimmy Dean Show”
- The number one song: Deep Purple by Neno Tempo and April Stevens
- What is believed to be the first U.S. news story on the Beatles ran on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” the evening of Nov. 18, 1963. The morning of Nov. 22, the “CBS Morning News With Mike Wallace” ran a story on the group. The network planned to repeat the 5-minute segment on Walter Cronkite’s evening newscast. But a few hours later, Cronkite was on the air reporting the news that shots had been fired at Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas. All regular television-news programming was canceled for almost four days while the networks covered the assassination and funeral of the president. “The CBS Evening News” finally aired the Beatles segment Dec. 10.
The assassination changed the way we get our news. Until then, people trusted newspapers as their main news source, but after Nov. 22, television screens became a serious way, and the principle means, of getting news.
But those were physical conditions and events. That day in Dallas changed other things too. It left us feeling vulnerable to the heartache and turmoil that was yet to come. It felt the country was falling apart: The murders of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy; Vietnam; campus unrest; racial turmoil; Watergate; assassination attempts on other presidents; more wars; political upheaval; a divided country.
Time moves on and we adjust and adapt. Somehow we get through it all and life goes on. But we are left cynical, doubtful, not trusting. We can get past most of it.
But it seems we are not able to get past Nov. 22, 1963. Not half a century later. Maybe never.