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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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American Bye: 1968

American Bye: 1968

June 8, 1968. "Funeral cortege of Robert F. Kennedy." Mourners atop a pink DeSoto viewing RFK's funeral train as it made its way from New York to Washington. 35mm Kodachrome transparency from photos by Paul Fusco and Thomas Koeniges for Look magazine. View full size.

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how many of the women in this and the other photos came out to pay their respects with their hair up in curlers! I guess it was just a spur of the moment decision to run out and watch this train go past. My family in So Cal watched the entire train trip from DC to NYC on television. During the funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral the next day, I remember Andy Williams, with that soaring high tenor of his, singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" with never a break in his voice. I don't know how he did it.

Colorful sturdy cars

Am I the only one who misses the bold bright colors of '50s-'60s cars? Today's parking lots are a sea of boring pale earth-tones. Nor do I recommend standing on today's cars. They don't build them like they use to.

I remember

I watched the train's passage on the TV in my parents' home on Long Island. Nine days later I was inducted into the Army on my way to Vietnam. 1968 was not a happy year.

I was there

We watched from some crossing in Maryland, and many people placed coins on the rails in hopes of having a flattened keepsake of that sad event. I don't remember much but I do recall how quiet the crowd was, trying (I realized later) to demonstrate respect in the only manner possible in those circumstances. When JFK was killed, I happened to be in downtown D.C. and when I tried to make a call to my Silver Spring office, I was puzzled by the payphones not working because "all circuits are busy". Still not knowing what was going on, as I drove past the U.S. Capitol (you could do that then) I was amazed by all of the people out on the steps, many holding transistor radios to their ears. Then I turned on my car radio.

Crumple zone

Let's see two men and a boy perched on your modern car's fender and see how it fares.

Frozen in time

I just love all of these motion-blurred snapshots of our citizens all turning out for a fleeting view of something that moved them, not necessarily putting on their Sunday best, in the year of my birth. The ordinariness of the scenes looks not like today, but at the same time not at all different.

For me, it is not the pink tailfins that place it before my time, but the fact of people turning out en masse to watch a moving train. This was the moment in which traditional passenger rail was in its death throes, but not quite dead. Most communities only had a few TV channels, and many people didn't have air conditioning at home. I suppose nowadays we'd prefer the experience to be virtual.

I'm not quite sure what would inspire such a turnout today. Let's not have any assassinations to answer that question.

Additional deaths

As the funeral train passed through Elizabeth, New Jersey near the start of its journey, the crowds were so large that they spilled over onto other, active tracks, and two people were fatally struck by a different train. As a result, the Penn Central Railroad ordered all train movements stopped whenever the funeral train passed through an area.

@Don: some of the JFK conspiracy theorists have cited the DC phone system's temporary overload as evidence of a government conspiracy.

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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