President's Family leaves the Capitol after ceremony
Photo: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service / John F. Kennedy Library

Any leader's assassination becomes a national tragedy. But when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, he had only served 1065 days, less than three years. And while he was not the first President to be murdered in office, the outpouring of grief at his death represented nothing less than a national psychological trauma. For four days, businesses closed while, for the first time, Americans watched television and mourned collectively. Just two days later, they together witnessed the televised murder of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Mrs. Kennedy patterned the President's funeral after Abraham Lincoln's, duplicating the most dramatic aspects of its pageantry and ceremony. It was also Mrs. Kennedy who made the now-famous comparison of the Kennedy Administration to the legendary Camelot court of King Arthur.

President's Kennedy's death brought a sudden and tragic end to a glamorous image of a modern, lively, and happy First Family, an image that had brought comfort, hope, and novelty to the American public. And because the assassination ended the life of a still youthful man at the peak of his power and vitality, it also brought sharply into focus for each American, our personal vulnerability. At the same time, the President's family set, for all Americans, a model of how to face tragedy with courage, strength, and grace.

Acknowledgements: Photo research, images, and audio for this article were provided with the generous support of the JFK Library staff. Use of the JFK at the State House photo graciously donated by the family of Burton Berinsky.