By Boston Emmet
It was a night that Boston would never forget. Decades later I would go to Boston celebrations for the Patriots then the Red Sox championships. They were nothing compared to this.
This was election eve, 1960 and our Favorite Son, Jack Kennedy was coming to Boston Garden to celebrate. Naturally we all assumed that Kennedy would win over Richard Nixon in a landslide the next day. This was the city where my grandfather, Jeremiah Twomey, born in Ballyvourney, Ireland had seen all those “No Irish Need Apply” signs as he sought his way in life. So he started his own livery stable a few doors down from the famous “Cheers” bar near the Boston Common. Those are his horses you see in the introduction to the show.
On Sundays, Jeremiah Twomey used to hitch up his team and take the family along the Jamaicaway to see the revered home of James Michael Curley. It made them all feel great; my mother said that “one of our own” had been elected mayor, then congressman. Sure Curley went to jail, too, but was all part of a plot by the jealous Yankees.
Imagine how we felt, outside Boston Garden, that night in 1960, when Kennedy was coming. A Boston boy (sort of) was on his way to the White House. Sure he was filthy rich and movie star handsome, but he was still Boston Irish and “one of our own.” I was used to crowds and they never bothered me. But this was something different. It was so thick that it could suck you up and move you a half block like a rip tide without your feet touching the ground. You were helpless.
The crowd got even louder. He was coming! The black car somehow pushed its way along Causeway Street, through the throng. I was only a few feet away, screaming at the top of my lungs, like everyone else. A poor woman in front of me was pushed in front of the car and struck. Someone said later she broke her leg. People that were on the inside that it was even crazier and swore that the old building rocked along with the frenzied crowd.
I just assumed that Kennedy would win the party nomination, then the election and went to bed before either was finalized. Not my mother. She stayed up until both were decided. She wanted to make sure that “one of our own” was going to the White House. We gathered around the television (only three channels then) to see each Kennedy appearance and every new child. John and Caroline became members of our family. If you were Irish, you walked a little taller.
I was driving from Sharon, Mass. to classes at Northeastern University on Nov 22, 1963 when my favorite station, WHDH started playing sad, heavy music, instead of the usual rock n’ roll. I had no idea what was going on until the announcer came on and said “the president” had been shot in Dallas. At first, I assumed it was some South American despot. American presidents do not get shot. I followed Kennedy pretty closely but was only dimly aware that trip to Texas was planned to mend some Democratic fences before the next election. By the time I got to a friend’s flower shop in Boston, it was reported that President Kennedy had died, murdered on a Dallas street.
It was a death in the family.
When the details finally came in, that this twerp named Lee Harvey Oswald had killed our president, blown his head off in a presidential limousine, it was impossible to believe. Oswald told the television audience that he was just a “patsy” set up by the police. I believed him then, I believed him now. When lowlife Jack Ruby killed Oswald in a Dallas police station before my eyes, my suspicions were confirmed. This was no twerp acting alone. Certainly there were greater powers at work to kill our president. Read the books. They were all suspects, the FBI, the CIA, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, the Russians, Lyndon Johnson, everybody but the Owls Head Baptist Church.
We will never know. There are still documents hidden from our eyes 50 years after the Dallas assassination. If Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general couldn’t get to the bottom of it, who could?
Jack Kennedy said on more than one occasion, “If you are Irish, the world will break your heart.” We have seen all the shows about the brief Kennedy Administration, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuba Missile Crisis, the endless stream of women coming to Kennedy’s bedroom. The latest shows documented his shocking illnesses and drug use. But we always thought he would be reelected and accomplish even greater things.
Kennedy was right. The world did break our Irish hearts when they slaughtered “one of our own” 50 years ago and got away with it.