Part Two: Letter from Mrs. John F. Kennedy, written by her secretary, Nancy Tuckerman, in response to receiving a photograph taken of the riderless horse in the late president's funeral, November 25, 1963.
This is a digital reproduction of the photograph I printed, mounted, and brought to Mrs. Kennedy's house in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, where the Secret Service passed it to the President's widow. The image was scanned from the original film negative, which has thin density from being underexposed in what were extreme lighting conditions. On that day at that time, the sun was at a side angle, and almost all of the subjects and surroundings were in dark tones.
My Memories of November 1963
by Joel Aronson
John F. Kennedy was President during my last of five years in the Air Force, when I was a Chinese linguist and intelligence specialist. Young and energetic, Kennedy was popular as our commander-in-chief, and gained enormous popularity for his fearless "brinksmanship" during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as he directly confronted Russian Premier Nikita Krushchev, by hot-line telephone.
After my Air Force career, I studied at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. During those Kennedy years, DC was a fun, happening place - action, high spirits, good food, music, good friends, some in high places. One girl friend was an after school companion for Secretary of State Dean Rusk's kids. Another friend worked for Senator Ted Kennedy. What interesting stories they had to tell.
Besides going to school, I had a part-time job at the Wax Museum to support living in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. A neighbor on my floor in that same apartment building, was Ted Sorenson, President John F. Kennedy's chief-of-staff, seemingly a friendly guy. One of the few times we shared the elevator, I asked him how the country was doing. He laughed and replied "It'll be better after I get to the office." Then he got into his chauffeured Mercury and rode off to the White House.
Late afternoon of Thursday, November 21, 1963, I saw President Kennedy's helicopter pass over central DC on its way to Andrews Air Force Base, where a waiting Air Force One would take him to Texas. Coming out of class later that night, a very bright, full moon was lighting up the city.
The next morning, Friday, November 22, was a rather warm day in Washington, DC. For a strange, unknown reason, I felt sluggish that morning, but thankfully I had a light schedule for the whole day. I stopped at the Wax Museum for an hour or so to hang out and pick up my pay. While there my roommate phoned me to ask how I was feeling, because he too felt under par and maybe it was something we had eaten. Around noon I left the museum. My car was parked outside, across the street from the garage where the Secret Service maintained its fleet of limousines. I saw that the big presidential bubbletop was being wiped down. I guessed JFK didn't take it on his trip to Dallas.
There was a Sears store on Wisconsin Avenue, where I went to buy some hardware. As I walked through the store, suddenly, all of the sets in the Sears TV department came on with newsman Walter Cronkite announcing an urgent news flash from Dallas, Texas. His words seemed oddly out of place, as I had never heard them spoken before in that strange linguistic combination: "The President has been shot." He repeated that several times while everyone in the Sears TV department froze in their steps. For about an hour all my senses numbed as the words came from Walter Cronkite's saddened face: "The President has been shot." "The President has been assassinated." "JFK is dead."
In a wet-eyed daze, I returned to the Wax Museum to see how my friends were doing there. While parking my car, I saw JFK's bubbletop limousine in the Secret Service garage with several agents standing around aimlessly with their heads lowered.
It became a very long weekend as the events and its participants played out this unending drama on television - Lee Harvey Oswald, President Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Caroline, John John, Jack Ruby, etc.
Monday, November 25, 1963, was the President's funeral. I went to see it along with all of Washington. It was a cold day and we had quick glimpses of the world's leaders rolling by quickly in their limousines. They were following the riderless horse that led and symbolized a military funeral procession. I took a few exposures with my Pentax camera as the sad parade passed by.
The next weekend, Thanksgiving, did not have its usual feeling of restful relaxation. Instead, many things seemed pointless, as life slowly returned to normal. My neighbor, Ted Sorenson, kept his window shades down from then on, and I never saw him again in the elevator.
Mrs. Kennedy and her children moved out of the White House into a house in Georgetown, which I passed by when I drove to and from my classes.
A few weeks later, I printed the riderless horse photograph. The lighting was dramatic, it was a tight composition and the prints looked good. I mounted one and brought it to Mrs. Kennedy's house. A Secret Service agent intercepted me at the door. I explained that I wanted to give the print to Mrs. Kennedy. He looked at it, said it was a nice photograph, thanked me as he took it from me.
After a few days, surprisingly I received a black-bordered note of thanks from Nancy Tuckerman, Mrs. Kennedy's secretary/assistant. It was dated January 20, 1964, the third anniversary of JFK's inauguration.
A few years later, I started my teaching career at Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York City. I included that letter to support my employment application. It certainly impressed FIT's personnel office and my colleagues.
I recently designed the mini-poster around that letter and photograph, to use in my photography portfolio as a personal memory of that time in November 1963, when the whole world cried.
Here are two articles I wrote that were published in my local newspaper, the Daily Record (Morris County, NJ). At left is a scan of the article published on November 22, 1988, 25 years after JFK's assassination. Below is the text of the article published on November 22, 2003, 40 years afterwards. Each represents sad but precious memories of a time when the whole world cried.
At lower left, is a date reminder poster I designed for the month of November.
right-click on the above image to view a slightly larger one in a new window