Camelot: The Memory That Never Was

Nov 21, 2013

Credit Tom Chalkley

The Kennedy story transfixes like dream.

He arrived as a candidate for President with PT-109 figuratively emblazoned on his forehead. He arrived with the promise of a new, more vigorous and exciting day. He had a great sense of humor, a great smile and great hair.

In the new day, ideas and policies would be considered by all of us without regard to official status. We would enter a world unconstrained by official positions on war or civil rights or any other issue.

Change, I think, was already in the air. Forces beyond our discerning made change more unsettling than unusual. How Kennedy might have dealt with hippies or flower children or a wider war in Vietnam submit only to speculation.

Camelot struck me at the time as a monumental PR campaign ginned up instantly -- and brilliantly -- by Kennedy insiders. Moments of romance and grief got us through the trauma, and became part of the family’s 50-year effort to control the JFK legacy.

These men and women might have been more devastated than the rest of us. Their power became dust in the wind.  And the promise of a new day was lost to recovery.

Instead of a moving with a new, young leader, we were thrown back to the political war horses, the ones Kennedy had shouldered aside with our applause.

Murder at the highest level left us to live in in a suddenly more violent world. Camelot was the antidote. A decade or more of social and political upheaval followed the pageantry of death.

We rallied. We persevered. We look back for something that never was.

Your comments are welcome at fsmith@wypr.org.