Time since 1963, Thanksgiving tomorrow...


November 21, 1990|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

FOR THE FOURTH time since 1963, Thanksgiving tomorrow falls on Nov. 22. This is always a somber congruence for Americans of a certain age -- those who can never forget the date of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

That was one of those rare historical events which almost everyone alive at the time remembers forever, and remembers where he or she was on hearing the news. It is still the only event ever to cause the television networks to suspend commercials and coverage of everything else but the assassination and its aftermath for a full two days.

The number of those who do remember and could provide the question on Jeopardy to the answer "November 22, 1963" is large, but declining, in real and relative numbers. About 50 million Americans have died since that date. About half of all Americans living today weren't yet in kindergarten or even born on that date.

In a couple of decades the number of Americans who can tell you when Jack Kennedy was killed will be no larger than the number who can tell you when Abraham Lincoln was, which I would guess is maybe no more than a few thousand.

As to the number who could tell you when the other two American presidents were assassinated -- that's James Garfield and William McKinley -- I'd say 10, maybe a dozen. Plus most regular readers of this column, of course.

Those who needed to look it up in what was meant to be the new reference book wouldn't get much detail. That's "The Dictionary of American Culture/ What Every American Needs To Know." All it says is:

"After only a few months in office [Garfield] was assassinated by a man who had been passed over for a government job."


"McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist shortly after his second term started."

But it says of the Kennedy assassination: "His presidency ended with his assassination November 22, 1963, apparently by Lee Harvey Oswald, who allegedly shot the president as he rode in an open car through Dallas."

Will some future edition of this reference book edit out "Oswald," "Nov. 22, 1963" and "Dallas," leaving only bare bones entries, a la Garfield and McKinley? Probably. "The Dictionary of American Culture" says of Lincoln's demise only this, "the actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated him a few days after the southern states surrendered."

By the way, I know most of the readers of this column are know-it-alls, but for those few who are not:

Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, in the Baltimore and Potomac railroad station in Washington. He died on Sept. 19. McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz on Sept. 6, 1901, in the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y. He died on Sept. 14.

And Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater in Washington on April 14, 1865, and died the next day.

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