History as Memory

Sit back and think …. what is the first historical event that you remember?

For me, the answer is easy:

November 22, 1963 … some 48 years ago.

I recall this event rather distinctly because that day I was in a play at Seaford Avenue School, as the second “N” in Thanksgiving for Miss Bayliss’s first grade class.  My grandmother (mother’s side) had come down from Great Neck to see my inaugural appearance on stage.  We did not hear about the shooting or the president’s death at school; the first I heard of it was when I arrived home after the usual noisy bus ride to see my mother in tears.

It was a tough week in the Simpson household, for that very week my grandfather (father’s side) had passed away.  I was not present at any of the funeral events that followed; however, I distinctly recall sitting before our large black and white television for the next four days as I watched the Kennedy funeral and the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.  For weeks to come one could not escape the impact of the assisination, from magazine covers with their color pictures through the early stages of the discussion of the assassination itself.

In the summer of 1966 we would visit Washington and make our way to Arlington, where we saw the Kennedy burial sight from the front porch of Arlington House.  It was far different then, for the current site was still in the planning stages.  The following year I recall becoming engrossed in one of the first adult history books I had a chance to peruse: William Manchester’s The Death of a President.  It’s still a tremendous read, and I think it’s stood the test of time rather well, although at the time several of the Kennedys were none too happy with some of what Manchester had to say, especially about tensions between the Kennedys and Lyndon Johnson (after all, Bobby Kennedy was contemplating his political future).  It’s a point of some pride with me that when Manchester’s daughter Laurie joined our faculty as a professor of Russian history that she mentioned to me that her father knew who I was.

What’s your first memory of a historical event?