Patrick Devaney gives a first-hand account of attending the wake of John F. Kennedy in November, 1963
Most people of my age are familiar with the question, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” I have no difficulty in remembering; I was working in a field office on the ground floor of the new CBS Headquarters in Manhattan, at that time nearing completion. My firm, Fischbach and Moore, had the electrical contract for this skyscraper and I was one of their draftsmen. When the news came over the radio, I, like all my colleagues, was stunned.
Maybe what had happened at 12:30pm that November day in 1963 affected me more than the others because the Kennedy years had been a time of pride for us Irish: one of our own, a handsome, charismatic orator, had made it to the White House. Now he had been gunned down while sitting with his beautiful wife in an open limousine driving slowly through Dallas.
I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to act but I know that I left the office and walked the three or four blocks to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pray.
By that time, however, the president had probably breathed his last in Parkland Memorial Hospital, 5km from Dallas. As the certainty that he wouldn’t recover struck home, the whole nation seemed to be convulsed with horror and soon wild speculations about a Communist or Republican plot were rife.
That evening, on hearing that the body would be flown to the capital, I knew I had to travel to Washington D.C.
When I phoned my closest work mates, Bill Barnett, a twenty-something Jewish liberal, and Walter Shevlin, a sixty-plus Irish-American, they said they couldn’t make it. Maybe, the next day being a Saturday, Bill had to observe his Sabbath but Walter was a Civil War ‘buff’, who knew all about Lincoln’s assassination.
How could he pass up the opportunity to attend a major historic event? Of course, being close to retirement age, Walter may have had little stomach for long journeys.