Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bierstadt's Lander's Peak in the Met

All of these are my photos taken in October in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, except for the picture of the actual Lander's Peak in Wyoming at the end of this post.

Albert Bierstadt painted this picture in his studio on 10th Street in New York after returning from his first trip to the West.  He displayed this painting in his studio to great acclaim from the public, if not quite universal acclaim from the critics at the time.  The Sanitary Commission displayed this painting together with Frederick Church's Heart of the Andes (also in the Metropolitan and hanging across the gallery from Bierstadt's painting) to raise money for their efforts in the Civil War.

Lander's Peak Wyoming is one of Bierstadt's earliest and most famous large scale paintings showing his vision of a primeval North America that was being swept away even as he was painting it.  In 1863, the forces that would eventually conquer this wilderness were unleashed.

Bierstadt based this painting on extensive sketches and notes from his travels west, though in the end, he made up all of this out of his head.  Emotion informs this painting even more than scientific topography or anthropology.  His painting soaks in longing and nostalgia, made even more intense by the unavoidable awareness of the industrial carnage of the American Civil War at its height in 1863.  In contrast to wartime New York, he shows a peaceable Shoshone encampment by a lake at the foot of an immense, yet benevolent mountain.

The critics attacked him for exaggeration, a fair charge.  The real Lander's Peak is not quite the soaring Mount Everest in this painting.  And yet, this large painting, so full of splendid little anecdotal details, reminds me of Chinese landscape painting from the Song dynasty.  What mattered in Chinese landscape painting was not topographical accuracy, but the re-creation of the experience of wandering through and looking at the landscape.  Walking through scenery, we notice both the magnificent grand spectacles and the poignant little details; something which the Chinese painters famously re-created in their work, and which Bierstadt does in this and other later paintings.  That simultaneous experience of the grand and the small is very hard for photographers to capture, and when they do, they frequently have paintings in mind.  Like landscape paintings from China, Bierstadt intended this picture to be not simply taken in at a glance, but explored.  Repeated viewings would always reward with some new discovery.

And here is the real Lander's Peak in Wyoming:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Pope Springs More Surprises

This article by Emma Green in The Atlantic points out the radical shift laid out in Pope Francis' first "Apostolic Exhortation, Evangeli Gaudium," away from the Roman Catholic Church's historic anti-communism to what he sees as the real dominant threat to human dignity in our day, capitalism.

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.
          (taken directly from the official text of the Pope's Exhortation)

He actually used the term "trickle-down!"  Take THAT supply side economics!  So Jesus didn't create the Free Market after all.  I wonder what that devout Roman Catholic Randian Paul Ryan must be thinking now.  Ayn Rand must be screaming in his head.  Maybe Atlas Shrugged and the Bible don't belong on the same shelf after all.
[editorial insert:  upon repeated reading, that passage quoted above is truly remarkable; about as clear and articulate a moral indictment of international consumer capitalism from a religious point of view as any I've ever read]
And let's face it, communism isn't much of a threat these days.  No one really believes in that failed religion anymore, not even the Chinese leadership or the Castro or Kim dynasties.  The most ferocious enemies of Western liberalism are all religious fanatics of one kind or another.  There are no communist (or secular) suicide bombers.

This passage in the Pope's Exhortation is very striking and is beginning to get the attention it deserves:

Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”.[35] We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”.[36] Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated.[37] Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.

It looks to me like he wants to check, or maybe even reverse, the trend towards an ever more centralized monarchical papacy since the days of Pope Pius IX in the 19th century.  He appears to be calling for a more conciliar model of authority like the Orthodox churches, even for a less centralized Roman Catholic Church with more autonomous branches.  Such an idea is very striking to this still-in-some-respects-very-Protestant Christian.

And there is this passage from the Exhortation that could have come straight out of an Occupy press release:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. 
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.
Perhaps the Pope wants to take the Church out of the business of being another collection agency for the banks, another friend of the landlords.  That would be a huge change.

I remain cautiously skeptical of the new Pope.  The Roman Catholic Church still has a lot of dirty laundry to wash.  Pope Francis recently launched a long overdue reform of the too secret workings of the Vatican Bank in the direction of open book-keeping and accountability (which even so harsh a critic of the papacy as Gary Wills has praised).  However, the even worse international scandal of child molesting by clergy, and their bishop enablers, remains unaddressed and continues to fester, perhaps fatally poisoning the Church's claims to moral authority.

The Pope intends no change in the Church's policies toward women and gays.  However, if he is sincere in his desire to move beyond sex-policing, and if he really goes through with his plans to decentralize church authority, there might be some hope for room for liberalization on these issues on the local level (where liberalization would probably be most successful).  I would count it a major victory if the Church, even on the local level, backed off on its active opposition to any civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, independent of the marriage issue.  That hasn't happened yet, and I don't know whether or not it ever will.  Roman Catholic bishops in the USA remain uniformly and implacably hostile to any legal effort to lessen the marginal status of gays and lesbians.  They remain firmly opposed to any protections for gays and lesbians from employment and housing discrimination (though Roman Catholics in the pews can be even more supportive of gay rights issues than allegedly very liberal Mainline Protestant churches).

Even so, all the usual suspects are furious about the new Pope.  The Pius X Society is practically foaming at the mouth in rage.  As long as that haven for anti-semites and neo-fascists is outraged, then I feel reassured.  I sometimes wonder if the College of Cardinals really had any idea what they were voting for in the Sistine Chapel.

So it looks like the Cold War and the 20th century may finally be coming to an end in the walls of the Vatican.


A note of caution:  there are a lot of varieties of far right paternalism that can look like progressive criticisms of capitalism at first glance.  From the point of view of a far right monarchist or theocrat, capitalism and cosmopolitan liberalism are all of a piece.  They certainly were for Sayid Qutb and other radical Islamist thinkers.  They were for monarchist right wingers like Charles Maurras.  And the conflation of cosmopolitanism with predatory capitalism is still a staple of anti-semitism.
I don't think the current pope is any of those things, but far-right anti-liberalism has long found a home in the Vatican, even now.


Another reason to feel reassured about the new pope:  Rush Limbaugh rants about him preaching Marxism.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

50 Years Ago November 25th

The funeral of Dallas Police Officer JD Tippit, murdered by Oswald on the morning of November 22nd, 1963.

Lee Harvey Oswald's funeral in Fort Worth; Secret Service agents and reporters act as pall bearers.  The only 2 mourners at the funeral were Oswald's mother, and his widow, Marina Oswald.

Thanks for bearing with me during this historical fixation, and I apologize if this bores anyone.  If you are of a certain age, and were born in Dallas, then these events and their aftermath were a major part of your growing up.

I think this will be the last time these events will be commemorated.  Long ago, they joined the Lincoln Assassination, Pearl Harbor, and the death of FDR as paragraphs in history textbooks.  They are slipping into history.   People won't care much about them anymore because those with any kind of living connection to the events of November 1963 will themselves eventually slip into history.  I would imagine that those who died that weekend might envy those of us from that time fortunate enough to live a full span of years.

Again I saw under the sun, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill, but time and chance shall happen to them all.
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

Indeed, time and chance will have us all and life is short and uncertain.
Best wishes to you all, and may your days be many and prosperous.

Dealey Plaza in Dallas, November 25, 1963

John F. Kennedy's tomb in Arlington National Cemetery today

Saturday, November 23, 2013

50 Years Ago November 24, 1963

Also 50 years ago today; unedited newsfeed from KRLD in Dallas


From Brandon Wolf in Houston, some extra pictures from 50 years ago today.

An uncropped version of Bob Jackson's famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Oswald's murder.

Part of the miles long line of people waiting to pay their respects at the Capitol; the building was supposed to close at midnight, but at Mrs. Kennedy's request, the Capitol was kept open all night to accommodate the long line of people.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Ago Today

The first TV reports that day were on Dallas' local networks.  This was the very first.  WFAA's broadcast studios were about a block from Dealey Plaza where the shooting happened.  Two reporters ran from the Plaza to the station and breathlessly announced the grim news.

I was acquainted with the reporter Eddie Barker here (I knew his kids way back when).  Dr. Dickinson who leads the assembly in prayer was the pastor at my childhood church, Highland Park Methodist in Dallas, then and now a very large and prominent local church.  Dallas was a much smaller town in those days.

A major event in history preserved in the weirdly vivid amber of early videotape.


Erich Leinsdorf interrupts a concert by the Boston Philharmonic to announce the President's death:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address 150 Years Ago Today

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Photos of the very ceremony 150 years ago today where Lincoln spoke these words of dedication for the new military cemetery at the Battlefield of Gettysburg.

A detail from the photo above; most scholars identify the man seated in the center facing us as Lincoln just moments after he delivered the Address.

As Gary Wills pointed out in his book on the Gettysburg Address, this speech revived and renewed the original revolutionary promise of the Declaration of Independence, and transformed that document from a historic relic into a binding contract.  The USA rededicates itself to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," and to the idea that "All Men Are Created Equal."  Slavery is purged from the land in blood and fire, and out of those ashes shall come a new birth of freedom for all people.

The historian James McPherson pointed out that in 1863 the rest of the world looked more like the Confederacy than the North.  Most of the world was hierarchical societies dependent on some form of indentured labor, and where the ruling class governed primarily for its own benefit and preservation.  Most of the rest of the world was still agrarian with the land divided up into large estates and the farmers who worked them were mostly tenants.  The industrial North with its cities and independent farms was the exception.  The Declaration of Independence and other founding documents of the USA were considered incendiary literature and banned in most of Europe and Asia.  The very idea of "government of the people, by the people, for the people" was too radical and dangerous to even consider.

In these angry bitter days where selfishness and tribal loyalty trumps national loyalty, let us remember that slavery could not have been eradicated from North America without the preservation of the Union.  There is no USA without all of its citizens.  If one group claims to be the "real Americans" and imply or declare that all the others are imposters, then the nation conceived in liberty will not long endure.  As we demand to secede from our cities, counties, states, and country, let's ask ourselves, do we really want to leave to future generations a chaos where freedom depends on aggression, where everyone else is an enemy and "to the victor go the spoils"; or do we want to leave behind a nation of fellow citizens, neighbors, where freedom and dignity are guaranteed by equal justice under law?


Gary Wills on the Gettysburg Address writing for The Atlantic yesterday.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

More Work In My Studio

My fuzzy photos of struggles in my messy studio (see above).

I just finished, or quit work on, a painting that I've been struggling with for a long time.
The painting's title is Hustled, it's another painting from the new series about David Wojnarowicz.  It's based on his accounts in The Waterfront Journals and other autobiographical sources of violent sexual encounters in his days as a hustler.  David tells these stories with a combination of sado-masochism, horror, and a certain defiant "see what I survived" pride.  I hoped to combine all those qualities into a single painting that summarizes those many stories in Wojnarowicz's writings.

I must admit that after working and reworking this painting a lot, I'm still not happy with it.  I may revisit it at a later date.  Instead of destroying what I've got (as you can see I did already on this picture), I may put it aside and start a fresh canvas down the road some time.

Here is the finished painting with details.

The painting above went through several dramatic alterations.

First, it started out as a painting of David Wojnarowicz participating in an ACT-UP protest, an imaginary blockade of a bridge.  I never finished this picture, and decided to discard it when I came up with a couple of much better, and I hope more focused and active concepts for commemorating David's work with ACT-UP.
I sanded out this picture and began painting the first state of the Hustled picture.

This is the last of about a dozen sketches that I did for the Hustled painting.

This is one of 2 life drawings that I made for the figure of David in Hustled on a too hot night in July. The model was more comfortable than I was.

Here is the first version of the Hustled painting.

This is the second state of the Hustled painting.

This is the third state of the painting.

This is the painting's current and final state.


I'm working on the next painting in the Wojnarowicz series, a picture I'm calling Painting Fire based on David's paintings in the abandoned piers on the West Side.

Here is the second of 2 sketches for the painting.

Here is my usual model posing for David.

Here he is again posing for David a second time.

Here is the torso from that second life drawing.

And here is a blurry glimpse of the painting in its first stages.  It will probably look very different when it is finally finished.

In addition to this, I just stretched a canvas for another mountain picture, and I'm beginning to work on sketches for an 8 to 10 painting series on the Incarnation of Christ which I hope to start this Spring or Summer, and plan to work on concurrently with the Wojnarowicz series.  I also plan to throw in another Apollo painting sometime soon.

In the Wojnarowicz series, I plan more paintings about him as an artist, including one of him smashing up a gallery with a sledgehammer (that really happened).  As soon as I finish with this painting, I plan to begin work on pictures about AIDS, Wojnarowicz's involvement with ACT-UP, and others based on his reflections on mortality.

I sometimes wonder if the patron deity of artists should be neither Saint Luke nor Daedalus but Siva who destroys in order to create anew.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

JFK 50 Years Ago

I'm commemorating the anniversary today because I may not be free to do so next Friday.

In my 55 years, I was in the vicinity when 2 major where-were-you-when events happened.  I was in Manhattan in the East Village on the roof of my building watching the events of September 11th, 2001 unfold.  I was in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was murdered.  I remember the events of 9/11 vividly.  I don't remember the Kennedy Assassination much at all.  I was only 5, and living with my family in small rent house just east of the campus of Southern Methodist University at the time.  All I remember about the Assassination is that it happened on a Friday, and there was nothing but the funeral on TV for 3 days after.  I remember seeing Lee Harvey Oswald on TV wearing a white tee shirt and calmly denying that he killed the President.  I did not see Oswald's murder.
My parents remembered that day in vivid detail, of course.  My mother was a physical therapist employed by Parkland Hospital where Kennedy was taken after he was shot.  She was off work that day, and is everlastingly grateful.  The hospital was a zoo that day.  We heard about the Assassination the same way the rest of the USA heard about it, on TV.  My father hated the Kennedys bitterly, so we were not among the crowds that lined the streets to see his motorcade pass by.  I had friends in Dallas who were along the route and remembered seeing Jack's wavy auburn hair and Jackie's pink coat and hat.  I'm told that my brother and I were home from kindergarten watching cartoons when the bulletins came on.

My dad deeply resented the blame Dallas took for Kennedy's death.  He always wanted to see the old Schoolbook Depository leveled.  We did not travel out of state for about 2 or 3 years after the Assassination because of stories we heard about cars from Dallas being vandalized or worse outside of Texas.  I've always thought it the height of irony that Dallas had a reputation for being a hotbed of far-right kookery, and yet Kennedy was murdered in Dallas by a far left kook.  For Kennedy's visit, the kooks were out in force as all the old black and white photos remind us.

But on the whole, the crowds in Dallas that day were large and very friendly.  What's more, the crowds really were spontaneous.  A legacy of that day in Dallas is the security cocoon that the President must travel with.  Surging crowds like this along a presidential motorcade route would be unthinkable now, unless they were carefully screened and the whole event stage-crafted.

Kennedy's trip to Texas was a drearily routine task of political fence-mending, trying to keep Southern (and Texan) Democrats on board for the coming election campaign in 1964, to assuage injured feelings after a rumor leaked out that Kennedy was going to drop Lyndon Johnson from the ticket, a rumor that was never true.  He arrived in Dallas for what we would call a fund-raiser, addressing the local Powers That Be at a large elaborate luncheon in the Dallas Trade Mart.  As we all know, he never made it there.  He was scheduled to leave Dallas that evening, fly to Austin, and spend a night with LBJ on the Johnson Ranch before returning to Washington.  The whole event was carefully stage-managed to appeal to Texas voters.

Another reason we stayed home on that Friday in 1963 was that we were Republicans; at the time a very rare species in Texas.  Democrats in the state were a majority, and were overwhelmingly Dixiecrats; far right voters still loyal to the old Confederacy (though there was a substantial minority of labor Dems in Texas, including then Senator Ralph Yarborough whom my father also detested).  In the 1972 election, I had friends whose parents voted for George McGovern, a man they hated, but only because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for the Party of Lincoln despite Nixon's Southern Strategy.  All that is gone now.  As LBJ predicted, Texas and the rest of the South are now solidly GOP in the wake of resentment created by the Civil Rights Act.

The general consensus now seems to be that Kennedy was a good president, but not a great one.  He did indeed manage the Cuban Missile Crisis very skillfully and courageously with a lot of help from his brother Bobby.  As a politician, he could be over-cautious.  He supported the proposed Civil Rights Act, but very carefully.  His election in 1960 was very close, and he faced a hostile Congress.
While his intentions for Vietnam were unclear at the time of his death (he probably didn't know himself), Kennedy was responsible for creating the strategies and policies that would ultimately fail in that war.  He was responsible for the overthrow (if not the murder) of President Ngo Diem. We all know now that in his sex life, Kennedy was all too human and even reckless.  We also know now that his health was much worse than the public was told, that he was in pain and on medications most of the time.  His private life was full of pain and conflict, not the least of which was the death of an infant son.
For all of his abundant shortcomings, it could be argued that LBJ was a much better and more effective President.  I'm not sure that Kennedy could have succeeded in passing the Civil Rights Act.  Johnson did.  Kennedy tried since his days as a Senator to pass some form of Medicare.  Johnson succeeded in passing Medicare for the elderly.

I'm one of the small minority of Americans who think that there was no conspiracy behind Kennedy's murder, that for all its problems, the Warren Commission came to the right conclusion.  Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President of the United States, and that he did it alone.  Oswald was a demented megalomaniac yearning for the limelight before he was anything else, and had plenty of reason to kill the President of the United States.  People sometimes forget that Oswald shot and wounded retired General Edwin Walker the week before the Assassination, and that he killed a Dallas Police officer J.D. Tippit the morning of November 22nd.  He was already a murderer before he murdered JFK.   It seems to me that if there was a conspiracy, it would have come out by now.  It's been 50 years and there is still no ironclad evidence, and everyone involved is now dead and went to their graves with no deathbed confessions.  My dad died convinced that Kennedy was murdered by the mafia.  LBJ died convinced that Kennedy was murdered by Castro in retaliation for CIA assassination attempts.  Oliver Stone is convinced that Jim Garrison was right, that Kennedy was killed by a cabal of the Military Industrial Complex, the New Orleans Mob, and homosexuals.  I don't believe any of it.

I think these conspiracy theories are a psychological rejection of the possibility that so great a man as John F. Kennedy could be brought down by so insignificant a man as Lee Harvey Oswald.  And yet, history is full of just such precedents.   King Henry IV of France was killed by a lone fanatic in 1610 after surviving 2 previous attempts on his life by lunatics.  Queen Victoria survived 7 assassination attempts, all by lone lunatics, one of whom knocked her out.  It is not hard to imagine that Lee Harvey Oswald, a paranoid megalomaniac, a loner and a drifter, a former Marine, could have succeeded by dumb luck where other crackpots had failed.

Dallas about 1963

For me, all the old photos of Dallas on that day 50 years ago are soaked in memories from my early childhood.  I can remember those scenes when they were real and not in black and white.  I remember the cars, the hair, the sunglasses, Love Field, the big Hertz Rent-A-Car sign on the schoolbook depository, all of it.
It turns out that I have some personal connections -- very oblique ones -- to the Kennedy Assassination.  My Uncle Ray was Marina Oswald's landlord for many years after Lee's death.  In my teenage years I frequented Campisi's Egyptian Lounge, a restaurant and pizza joint on Mockingbird Lane owned by members of the New Orleans mob blamed by Garrison for Kennedy's death.  When I was in grade school, all of us kids knew about Jack Ruby's Carousel Lounge and its reputation (their fathers probably went there).  I had friends who knew General Edwin Walker, a retired (resigned actually) military commander and right wing nutcase who was supposed to be Oswald's first target.  Oswald shot Walker in his driveway the week before he shot Kennedy, but the General survived.  I remember the General's large house on Turtle Creek Boulevard painted battleship gray with a moveable sign out front condemning everyone to the left of  General Curtis LeMay for selling out to the commies (most people).  I also remember that the guys I knew who were regulars at General Walker's house were very attractive young men.  It turns out that Walker was big ol' closet sister attracted to young men.   He was arrested in 1977 for fondling an undercover cop in a public restroom.

General Edwin Walker's house in Dallas as I remember it.

My older cousin Gary and I always joke about whether or not we appear in anyone's conspiracy theories.  Dallas was a very different place back then, and a much smaller town than it is now.

I remember that as late as 1983, the memory of John F. Kennedy's sudden and untimely death could still reduce people to tears.
Now in the wake of 9/11, and with the simple passage of time, the impact of the Kennedy Assassination is fading.  I think a big reason why it resonated so strongly for so long  was not simply because of some lost "Camelot," or lost promise, but because the subsequent history of the USA was so awful.  His death was soon followed by the deaths of tens of thousands of young men in Vietnam, by race riots, by student riots, police riots, by more assassinations, by Watergate, etc., etc., etc.

It seemed in retrospect that everything good and hopeful in the USA died with Kennedy all of a sudden in Dealey Plaza in Dallas that November afternoon, and all the bats flew out of the belfry.  To many people, it seemed the world had ended.

Secret service agents loading JFK's body in a temporary coffin on board Air Force One 
at Love Field in Dallas

The Grassy Knoll in November, 1963 days after the Assassination

The Kennedy Memorial in Dallas designed by Phillip Johnson

From 1962: