Fall 2014 - Message
I'm writing this just after returning from the recent American Numismatic Association convention in Rosemont, which Bourse Chairman Patricia Foley and I attended as part of our marketing and promotional efforts for your own Central States Numismatic Society 76th Anniversary Convention next April 20 - 25 in Schaumburg, IL.
Certainly this ANA convention will likely best be remembered for the release of the gold Kennedy half dollar. I'm sure that by now you have all read myriads of news accounts and editorial commentary, both in the numismatic press and the mainstream news media, so I'll refrain from adding to what must by now be an information overload on the topic. I might suggest, however, visiting the website www.coinweek.com and searching under "Laura Sperber." Ms. Sperber is well known in the trade. She presents a viewpoint there on the subject of the Kennedy half release that merits more than passing consideration, and that I suspect some in the trade will be reluctant to hear about. It is thought provoking and worth reading.
Numismatics is really at its heart about history. As I sat in my room in Rosemont at night reflecting on the carnival-like (or worse) atmosphere that surrounded the release of the Kennedy gold half dollar, I couldn't help but think about that day in November of 1963 when I was a freshman at Georgetown University. I had just completed a session of an English class with instructor Warren Herendeen, who bore an uncanny physical resemblance to Wally Cox, the male lead in the popular 1950s TV series Mister Peepers about a charmingly disorganized teacher. As I walked out of the class building, I noticed a red Ford Fairlane convertible parked in front of the 1789 restaurant, which is still there and still operating the Tombs downstairs. There was quite a crowd gathered around. I approached someone and asked what was going on. "The president has been hurt," he said. I asked if his plane had crashed, and the reply was, "No, he's been shot." In the life of all of us there is a "before" and an "after" moment when the world somehow never seems to be the same anymore. For people of my parents' generation it was Pearl Harbor, for those younger than me likely the destruction of the World Trade Center. Somehow, when I heard those words, "No, he's been shot," time seemed to be suspended. I can still remember what I was wearing, what the day was like and the feeling of helplessness because no one really knew what was happening, other than " … he's been shot."
After a few minutes, Father Dinneen walked up and announced that a Mass would be said for President John F. Kennedy outside Dahlgren Chapel. No one said anything, and as Father Dinneen walked off toward the main campus where the Mass would be offered everyone just silently followed. There was just silence, no speculating, no talking, just silence, with everyone, just as I was, likely alone in the crowd with their thoughts. At the conclusion of the Mass one of the Jesuits announced that the president was dead.
President Kennedy had aroused a feeling almost of rebirth in many of us. We had come through the threat of the Cuban missile crisis. A generation had accepted the call to service inherent in the Peace Corps. Vietnam had not yet divided the country. Decades of racial discrimination appeared to be on the verge of being confronted. The disorders of the 1968 Democratic National Convention were still far in the future. The world just seemed a more hopeful and optimistic place until that day. I can remember sitting in the lounge of my dormitory watching the TV news accounts, oblivious to the time and recalled then doing the same thing on election night in 1960 when the issue of who would be the next president - John F. Kennedy or Richard M. Nixon - hung in the balance until the early morning hours.
I remember standing at the corner of 16th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue outside the Treasury Department and across the street from the Riggs National Bank as the funeral procession passed by, hearing the somber drum beat that was part of the procession, seeing the riderless horse and Mrs. Kennedy in the back seat of a black limo, her face covered by a black veil. I remember trying not to cry and being unable, like so many others, to control that involuntary response. Even years later thinking about that day has an emotional effect on me that I find difficult to control.
As I thought about all of this I felt more in touch with what life is really about and was glad that I hadn't been there in line at the Stephens Convention Center at 11 o'clock the night before.