Anniversary of Kennedy assassination brings crowds back to Dealey Plaza for quiet remembrance

  • Article by: JAMIE STENGLE , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 22, 2013 - 8:00 PM

DALLAS — It was the same time, 12:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22. It was the same place, downtown Dallas.

But 50 years later, the thousands of people who filled Dealey Plaza weren't there to cheer but to remember in quiet sadness the young, handsome president with whom Dallas will always be "linked in tragedy."

The solemn ceremony presided over by Mayor Mike Rawlings was the first time the city had organized an official Kennedy anniversary event, issuing 5,000 free tickets and erecting a stage with video screens.

Somber remembrances extended from Dallas to the shores of Cape Cod, with moments of silence, speeches by historians and, above all, simple reverence for a time and a leader long gone.

"We watched the nightmarish reality in our front yard," Rawlings told the crowd, which assembled just steps from the Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the sixth floor at Kennedy's open-top limousine. "Our president had been taken from us, taken from his family, taken from the world."

Two generations later, the assassination still stirs quiet sadness in the baby boomers who remember it as the beginning of a darker, more cynical time.

"A new era dawned and another waned a half-century ago, when hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas," Rawlings told the crowd that gathered under gray skies and in near-freezing temperatures. The mayor said the slaying prompted Dallas to "turn civic heartbreak into hard work" and helped the city mature into a more tolerant, welcoming metropolis.

The slain president "and our city will forever be linked in tragedy, yes," Rawlings said. "But out of tragedy, an opportunity was granted to us: how to face the future when it's the darkest and uncertain."

Historian David McCullough said Kennedy "spoke to us in that now-distant time past, with a vitality and sense of purpose such as we had never heard before."

Kennedy "was young to be president, but it didn't seem so if you were younger still," McCullough added. "He was ambitious to make it a better world, and so were we."

Past anniversaries in Dealey Plaza have been marked mostly by loose gatherings of the curious and conspiracy-minded, featuring everything from makeshift memorials and marching drummers to freewheeling discussions about others who might have been in on the killing.

On Friday, the mayor unveiled a plaque with remarks the president was supposed to deliver later that day in Dallas. Rawlings' comments were followed by a mournful tolling of bells and a moment of silence at the precise time that Kennedy was shot.

In Dallas, the dreary weather was far different from the bright sunshine that filled the day of the assassination. But that did not stop crowds from lining up hours before the ceremonies began.

Drew Carney and his girlfriend, Chelsea Medwechuk traveled from Toronto to attend the ceremony. Like many of those in attendance, they wore plastic ponchos to ward off the rain.

At 25 and 24, respectively, they were born a quarter-century after Kennedy died. Carney, a high school history teacher, said he became intrigued with Kennedy and his ideals as a teenager.

"It filled you with such hope," he said.

Elsewhere, flags were lowered to half-staff and wreaths were laid at Kennedy's presidential library and at a waterfront memorial near the family's Cape Cod compound.

Shortly after sunrise, Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respects at Kennedy's recently refurbished grave at Arlington National Cemetery, where a British cavalry officer stood guard, bagpipes played and a flame burned steadily as it has since Kennedy was buried.

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