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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Lived (and Dated) History

I've been waiting patiently for the rotations to rotate; I should have posted this on January 20, 2011, the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration.  For some random reason about a month ago, I pulled Theodore H. White's Pulitzer Prize winning The Making of the President 1960 off the bookshelf and have been leafing through it.  The 1960 Presidential campaign is one of my earliest memories of the world beyond the immediate surroundings of a pre-schooler (I was six and would have Images been watching it all on the black and white Muntz television while sitting on the Naugahyde couch in our living room).  (I have been trying to translate this into how it would sound to me if told to me by my parents; the equivalent would have been my father describing to me a memory of that tumultuous election battle between FDR Images-1 and Alf Landon in 1936.)

Aside from historical datedness like the amazing Democratic coalition of northern liberals and southern racists, or the fact that it was the liberal wing causing headaches for Republican Party regulars, I was struck by tidbits of mundane datedness as I read the first chapter.  It is Election Day in 1960.  Kennedy has voted in the West End branch of the Boston Public Library, then been driven through the "grimy blight of Scollay Square"--now the Government Center T stop and the plaza in front of City Hall--to an airplane that takes him to Hyannisport, where:

- The Democratic National Committee was insolvent and only had $800 to set up a press center at the Hyannis National Guard Armory; most of the materials to outfit it came from local donations - the local lumber company and Ford dealer.  A local carpenter volunteered to build the partitions and platforms.

-  There are no women except for wives and girls who operate the mimeograph machines.  At 11:30 p.m., Jacqueline, in her ninth month of pregnancy "was sent up to bed."

- "Upstairs Lou Harris worked his slide rule...."

- At midnight, the candidate is wearing "white shirt, tan twill trousers, green necktie, white wool socks" [???!!!]

For a comparative backward-looking view, and one that imports the modern merging of media, entertainment, and politics, see this Vanity Fair retrospective on the Hollywood aspect of the Kennedy inauguruation published last month.  Again, I was struck by the mundanities:  on January 18, Kennedy had breakfast at the Carlyle in Manhattan, then boarded a commercial flight from LaGuardia to D.C.!

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on February 1, 2011 at 09:29 AM in Books, Lipshaw | Permalink


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