Friday, November 25, 2011

What is Your First Memory of a Historical Event?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Brooks Simpson over at Crossroads posted an inquiry the other day that stimulated a lot of discussion. Along the lines of a "where were you when..." sort of question, he recalled the news of President Kennedy's assassination and noted that this was his first memory of historical significance. His post inspired me to roll that notion over in my mind for a minute.

So today I step away from the Civil War in historical memory and throw in my personal memory of some - shall we say - more recent history. The date was August 8, 1974 - I was only seven but I remember clearly as if it were yesterday....Nixon addressing the nation and resigning the presidency, effective the following day at noon. What I remember most were not the details of the scandal leading up to this broadcast, but simply the term "Watergate" and how it had been dominating the media for what seemed like (to a seven-year-old) forever. What I do remember is venting my frustration to my grandmother, the person with whom I usually watched television, explaining (in an Alabama accent that I have long since lost) that "Watergate was the only thing on TV anymore." She, a Nixon supporter, had to agree.

In those days, my favorite shows were Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney. I had had enough of Watergate, especially when it preempted my programs. These days, I do not own a TV.

So....tell me, what is your first memory of a historical event?




  1. My first historical memory is of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was 6 yrs. old, in the first grade in Birmingham, AL. Thankfully, I did not grasp the concept of nuclear weapons yet. I had little understanding of what was going on. My mental image of the whole thing was a couple of Cubans in a row boat in the Gulf of Mexico lobbing grenades at us. I did not see what all the fuss was about, as I knew they could not throw those grenades to Birmingham. Mobile might be in trouble, but not us.

    I remember the school had a form all our parents had to fill out indicating whether we would stay at the school or go home in the event of an attack. Most of us little kids would stay at school, while a lot of the bigger kids were to go home.

    We had a drill one day. All us first graders were marched single file downhill (the school is built on the side of a hill) to the lowest level of the school. I looked back as we were marching down & saw the bigger kids running home. Kids were going every which way. It looked like a big ant bed someone had poked with a stick.

    We lined up in the hallway of the lowest level in the building at the bottom of the hill. Our principal told us that if this were an actual attack, he would have us turn to face the wall & pull our coats up over our heads to protect against flying glass. Like that would have mattered. The glass, along with us, would have been vaporized. Again, thankfully something I did not know at the time.

    Birmingham, as a major steel producer, would have been a primary target. Once again, something of which I was blissfully unaware. Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. If I had understood what was going on I would have been terrified.

  2. Like you, Keith, the first historical event I remember is President Kennedy's assassination. I was in first grade and I remember walking the two blocks home, crying because I thought that meant we were leaderless. I didn't understand exactly what a president did, but I knew everyone liked him (around me, anyway) and his death was something very, very bad.

    When I got home and told my mother why I was home early, she told me I was wrong. The president was just fine. I told her to turn on the TV if she didn't believe me. She did. I remember watching the funeral as well -- which meant I must've gotten the day off from school.

    Sidenote: my children were 9 and 7 when 9/11 happened and I called my mom to ask her what she remembered of Pearl Harbor (she was 9 at the time the attack happened). She said she knew something bad had happened because everyone was huddled around the radio. Her larger memory was having to cross the street and go down the other side on her way to school because "the German prisoners were working" on the street by their house. Seems we put the POWs to work doing street repairs!

  3. I was five years old watching a road crew making repairs. One of the workmen was listening to his transistor radio when he suddenly looked up an said "Kennedy's been shot".
    I ran home crying and my mother grabbed at the door and asked "What's wrong?"
    "Georgie Kennedy's dad's been shot" I said.
    I thought they were talking about my friend's dad who was their boss.

  4. I have hazy recollections of several historical events as a very young child but nothing really made an impression on me until the launch of the first manned American sub-orbital space flight of Alan Shepard in 1961. I was 12 years old. From that time on due to the insistance and encouragement of my mother I intensely followed every space shot and continued to do so up until the Space Shuttle flights became boringly routine. The single earliest historical event that made a big impression on me was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. It scared the hell out of us. Neighbors began building bomb shelters in their backyards and the "drop drills" at school intensified. These drills actually began from the beginning of Kindergarden in the early 1950's. We were instructed to get under a desk and not to look out the window else we would be blinded by the flash of a thermal nuclear explosion. It was the Cold War and it climaxed, really, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  5. Keith, I too was seven when Nixon resigned and it is my first historical memory as well. My family moved from Connecticut to Florida that day. We took a Delta Airlines flight (my first), and when we landed people in the airport were discussing the resignation that had transpired when we were in flight. The personal (My parents divorced the next year and their marital woes were the reason for our move) and political were all very confusing to my young self and are still intertwined in my mind.

  6. Thanks for the comment, Keith - I perused and enjoyed your blog, by the way. The Pete Rose piece sort of floored me. Sheesh. Anyway - good work! I added you to my blog roll.

  7. Keith, thanks for the kind words.

    Yes, the Pete Rose story is a sad one.

    I had a nice surprise this afternoon when I opened the mailbox and inside were the new editions of Monitor magazine and The Journal of the Civil War Era. I think I know what I'll be doing this weekend.

    Be well,

  8. yes indeed - I'll be looking for my copy of Civil War Monitor too! Have a great weekend.

  9. [...] Keith Harris asked the following question on his Cosmic America blog: “What is your first memory of a historical [...]

  10. This is odd, but Nixon's resignation speech is my first memory as well. It's a dim memory; I was only six. But I remember his face, and that it was some kind of big deal, and I remember that I got a mild electric shock from the ancient vacuum tube tuner or stereo thing we had under the tv. Maybe our appliances were crappy, but it seems to me electrical devices used to give you shocks semi-regularly back then ...

  11. David Edward WallApril 7, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    I just read your kind words about my Civil War presentation to a Civil War Roundtable in the Valley, and I saw this question. It deserves an answer just as your question at the Roundtable did.
    My first memory of a historical event happened when I was three and a half years old. A table in a corner of a room with a man paying close attention to a box on that table. the excitement was heavy and that caaused a memory to be formed, people came and went. I knew that something of import was happening. I don't have a memory of any words and I didn't realize who the people were.
    I asked my mother what that memory could be after approximately 60 years had passed.
    She had a stunned look on her face. She replied that that man was my older brother and he was home on his first leave from the Navy. The date was December 7, 1941 and his ship was in the middle lock at Pearl Harbor. Needless to say he had somewhere to go the next day.
    His ship, the USS Gambol, was one of a few that sailed out of the harbor and it dropped depth charges from the harbor entrance to Diamond Head.
    Just one other thing; I would like to have have your permission to use a part of what you wrote as a reference? I will be happy to send you a brief blurb about the book, some reviews and a list of appearances if you will supply me with an address.
    Thank you, David

  12. Hi David - thanks for that fantastic story! And of course, you may use whatever you like as a reference. I would also be happy to write a proper one. There is a question box on the right - if you will shoot me a quick note I will respond and send you my mailing address.