November 22, 2018

The 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963

November 22, 2018 marks the 55th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.  He was the fourth president martyred. (Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and William McKinley were the three previous presidents killed by assassins.)

President Kennedy planned a two-day, five-city tour of Texas in advance of the presidential election in 1964. Jackie was with him. It was The First Lady's first extended public appearance since the death of their son in August.

Kennedy stopped in San Antonio and Fort Worth before arriving in Dallas. As the motorcade drove through downtown Dallas, at 12:30 pm shots were fired that struck the president and Texas Governor John Connally, who was seated in front of the president in an open limousine.  

The president was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1 pm.  

At 2:38 pm, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office aboard Air Force One, becoming the 36th President of the United States. Jackie, her suite stained with her husband's blood, stood nearby.

Choosing the location for burial

The Arlington National Cemetery site puts the selection of the cemetery for his grave in historical context:

There are only two U.S. presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The other is William Howard Taft, who died in 1930.

Though Kennedy is buried at Arlington, at the time of his death, many believed that he would be buried in Brookline, Mass. Woodrow Wilson was the only other president besides Taft who had been buried outside of his native state and in the National Capital Region. President Wilson is buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in consultation with Robert F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, approved burial of the president at Arlington National Cemetery with the gravesite below Arlington House.

On Nov. 25, 1963, at 3 p.m., the state funeral of President Kennedy began.

Among the mourners at Kennedy's grave site were President Charles de Gaulle of France, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of the Federal Republic of Germany, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom. Overhead, 50 Navy and Air Force jets flew past the gravesite followed by the president's plane, Air Force One, which dipped its wing in final tribute.

The initial plot was 20 feet by 30 feet and was surrounded by a white picket fence. During the first year often more than 3,000 people an hour visited the Kennedy gravesite, and on weekends an estimated 50,000 people visited. Three years after Kennedy's death, more than 16 million people had come to visit the Kennedy plot.

Because of the large crowds, cemetery officials and members of the Kennedy family decided that a more suitable site should be constructed. Construction began in 1965 and was completed July 20, 1967. Lighted by Mrs. Kennedy during the funeral, the Eternal Flame burns from the center of a five-foot circular flat-granite stone at the head of the grave.

Recollections from newsmen there that day

At the time, legendary newsmen Bob Schieffer was working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Jim Lehrer was working for the Dallas Times-Herald. In this video, Lehrer describes the "bubble top" that sometimes covered the limousine and Schieffer recalls getting a call from Oswald's mother, who asked for a ride to the police station.

While the official report on the assisnation is known as the Warren Commission Report (full text), more than 40,000 books have been written on the assassination. The Guardian reviewed some of them last year.

Museum and historic sites


— Larisa Moran, Regional Editor, The History List


For more major history events, see our History Lists section of the site.

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