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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • CARNIVAL OF THE ARTS, 1937

R.F.K., R.I.P.: 1968

R.F.K., R.I.P.: 1968

June 8, 1968. "Funeral cortege of Robert F. Kennedy." Thousands of people lined the tracks as the train carrying RFK's casket made the eight-hour journey from his funeral in New York to Washington, D.C. 35mm Kodachrome transparency. From photos by Paul Fusco and Thomas Koeniges for Look magazine. View full size.

Elizabeth, NJ Accident

I was there. The crowd was so large I climbed a fence with a pole alongside. Stood on top of the fence with one arm around the pole, the other holding my camera.

Platforms were ground level and the crowd moved onto the tracks to get a view of the special train. "The Admiral",an express train heading to New York City from Chicago came around the curve just south of the station. "The Admiral's" GG1 locomotive sounded its horn,a long loud blast, but some of the people in the crowd did not clear the track in time and sadly two were killed and four seriously injured.

After the tragic accident the Penn Central ordered all train movement stopped until the special train passed. The funeral train arrived in Washington's Union Station four hours behind schedule and had caused disruption to the entire railroad.

Final, 60's version of a tradition?

What a wonderful photo of the last gasp of funeral trains and of public observance of such grief. Very 60's. Can't recall any major public funeral trains after this one.

Three Kennedys

Mr. WMtraveler. You are correct, but not totally right. There were three Kennedy Brothers, John (Jack), Robert (Bobby) and Edward (Teddy). Two of them were assassinated, John in 1963 and Robert in 1968.

[There were four Kennedy brothers. -tterrace]

On display to the world

"You feel all of the country is on display..."
Yes. When RFK was killed, my parents were stationed by the Foreign Service in Europe; we were in a restaurant in England right after we found out about the shooting, and there was a strong buzz of comments on the order of "These Americans shooting everyone who matters." The comments were genuinely aghast and puzzled, not mean spirited, but we were for sure on display to the world. Martin Luther King had just been shot at a moment when his fame and importance were growing overseas, and I had just been in a rather small "race riot" of demonstrations after his shooting; not a real riot, but exciting and disturbing stuff in my college town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As with JFK in 1960, RFK and MLK were overwhelmingly popular overseas, far more so than in there own country. I felt like a citizen of a surreal pariah nation that summer.

Time warp

I thought Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

[Yes. -tterrace]

Re: Photographed From?

Definitely from the moving train.

As Hackensacker commented on the slow 35mm film, the blurred background is a result of the photographer panning the shot to keep the mid-ground people fixed in the frame. You can see a lesser degree of lateral blurring in the foreground foliage, as well.

Something Happening Here

Fusco's photos from the RFK funeral train (published in book form for the first time a few years ago) present a deeply moving group portrait of a specific instant in American history. You feel all of the country is on display, united, fleetingly, in confusion and grief. The blurred backgrounds, which contribute so much to the sense of the world unfurling outside the train window, were the unwanted but inescapable result of the ASA 25 film he was using.

Between this post and the previous two, there's a James Ellroy novel in the making.

Photographed From?

Was this taken from the moving train, or from across the tracks?

Two Sides

Wonder what the people looked like on the other side of the tracks.

A further tragedy

As the funeral train approached Elizabeth, New Jersey, two people who were standing on an adjacent track to get a view of the funeral train were fatally struck by another train.

Curlers

That was a common thing, to go out before your curls had set, and the butt of not a few jokes. Nobody does that anymore. Do they even still make curlers?

In the '80s, my dad worked next door to the Ambassador Hotel, where RFK was shot. I remember him taking me there and showing me the exact spot.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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