On this 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, some perspective from a Sioux Falls man who has been collecting assassination memorabilia for about 30 years....beginning when we was 8 years old. His collection is extensive, but the wisdom and insight he has gained....is more so.
He went to Dallas as a way to unofficially kick off his 1964 re-election bid. It was a beautiful, sunny day...that would quickly turn into one of the saddest days in American history.
"President Kennedy and Governor John Connelly have been cut down by assassins bullets in downtown Dallas." In the 50 years since that horrible day, John Kennedy has become more than legendary...in death he became larger than life.
And 22 years after Kennedy was killed, a then 8-year-old boy in Milbank began a special collection. "Not only did he have brothers like I did which was exciting for an 8 year old but this sense of energy. Which live so long beyond him...which was intriguing to a young kid." Hugh Weber was that 8 year old boy who is now a man in his late 30's. On his dining room tables lay the collective fruits of his collecting labor. Magazines, newspapers, campaign buttons. All of it connects Hugh to a time when the nation was more innocent, when politics wasn't so partisan and a time when John Kennedy was in the spotlight. "What was it about this man that Life Magazine would want to feature him when he was courting his wife? What was it about this man that families would keep golf balls that he used for generations after he had died?"
Every piece of this collection is a connection. And the central piece of this collection may be something small in size, but to Hugh it's a big thing. It is a lifetime membership pin for the American Legion. Kennedy was a veteran of World War Two and would wear this pin when meeting with other veterans. Weber has a letter from Kennedy's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, to certify it's the real deal. "This gold with diamond inset American Legion pin which you now have in your possession was taken from the middle drawer of late president John F. Kennedy's desk in the Oval Office the morning of November 23rd, 1963.....somehow through the improbability of the situation, it ended up here. It ended up being a story I get to tell. It becomes part of my story."
But what about the story of Kennedy's assassination? Every November 22nd, the same two names come up: John Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, his suspected killer. But Weber says he very rarely ever spends any time thinking about Oswald. He instead tries to imagine what that day was like....for Jackie Kennedy...who was sitting right next to the president when he was killed. "Think about the next day....it's November 23rd and you've been married to the president and you have two young kids, you just lost a 3rd one in August, think about moving on from that as a parent...or a spouse."
Weber tells me Kennedy was a very talented but very flawed man. I asked him if he will use his collection to teach his two kids....anything....and if so, what would that be? "Man may die but an idea lives on. I think that perspective is one I want them to own is they can live beyond their own life."