DALLAS — It was the same time, 12:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22. It was the same place, downtown Dallas.
But 50 years later, the thousands of people who filled Dealey Plaza weren’t there to cheer but to remember in quiet sadness the young, handsome president with whom Dallas will always be “linked in tragedy.”
The solemn ceremony presided over by Mayor Mike Rawlings was the first time the city had organized an official Kennedy anniversary event.
Somber remembrances extended from Dallas to the shores of Cape Cod, with moments of silence, speeches by historians and, above all, simple reverence for a time and a leader long gone.
“We watched the nightmarish reality in our front yard,” Rawlings told the crowd, which assembled just steps from the Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the sixth floor at Kennedy’s open-top limousine. “Our president had been taken from us, taken from his family, taken from the world.”
Two generations later, the assassination still stirs quiet sadness in baby boomers.
“A new era dawned and another waned a half-century ago, when hope and hatred collided right here in Dallas,” Rawlings told the crowd.
The mayor said the slaying prompted Dallas to “turn civic heartbreak into hard work” and helped the city mature into a more tolerant, welcoming metropolis.
The slain president “and our city will forever be linked in tragedy, yes,” Rawlings said. “But out of tragedy, an opportunity was granted to us: how to face the future when it’s the darkest and uncertain.”
Historian David McCullough said Kennedy “spoke to us in that now-distant time past, with a vitality and sense of purpose such as we had never heard before.”
“He was ambitious to make it a better world, and so were we,” he added.
On Friday, the mayor unveiled a plaque with remarks the president was supposed to deliver later that day in Dallas. Rawlings’ comments were followed by a mournful tolling of bells and a moment of silence at the precise time that Kennedy was shot.
Shortly after sunrise, Attorney General Eric Holder paid his respects at Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, where a British cavalry officer stood guard, bagpipes played and a flame burned steadily as it has since Kennedy was buried.
About an hour later, Jean Kennedy Smith, 85, the last surviving Kennedy sibling, laid a wreath at her brother’s grave, joined by about 10 members of the Kennedy family.
They clasped hands for silent prayer and left roses as onlookers watched.
In Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick and Maj. Gen. Scott Rice of the Massachusetts National Guard endured a heavy rain during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kennedy statue on the front lawn of the Statehouse. The statue, dedicated in 1990, has been largely off-limits to public viewing since security procedures put in place after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But the area was opened to visitors Friday.
Both of Kennedy’s grandfathers served in the Massachusetts Legislature, and in January 1961 the president-elect came to the Statehouse to deliver one of his most famous addresses, which came to be known as the “City on a Hill” speech, just before leaving for his inauguration in Washington.
The tributes extended across the Atlantic to Kennedy’s ancestral home in Ireland.
In Dublin, a half-dozen Irish soldiers toting guns with brilliantly polished bayonets formed an honor guard outside the U.S. Embassy as the American flag was lowered to half-staff. An Irish army commander at the embassy drew a sword and held it aloft as a lone trumpeter played The Last Post, the traditional British salute to war dead.
More than a dozen retired Irish army officers who, as teenage cadets, had formed an honor guard at Kennedy’s graveside gathered in the front garden of the embassy to remember the first Irish-American to become leader of the free world.
Together with Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore and embassy staff, they observed a moment of silence and laid wreaths from the Irish and American governments in JFK’s memory.