Column: Forty years ago, Paul Fusco photographed historyPaul Fusco is a photographer. In September, Paul Fusco has a $50 picture book coming out. The book is called, “R.F.K.” Robert Francis Kennedy.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Paul Fusco. I never heard of him.
Paul Fusco is a photographer. In September, Paul Fusco has a $50 picture book coming out. The book is called, “R.F.K.” Robert Francis Kennedy.
It was 40 years ago this month that Robert Francis Kennedy, younger brother of JFK (eight years younger), older brother of Ted Kennedy (seven years older), was shot dead in Los Angeles, age 43.
What is 40 years ago? If you are 40, it’s an entire lifetime. You were born but you knew nothing when Robert Kennedy fell dead. If you are 80 — well, 40 years is a good long time ago. You can’t remember details. If you are 20, then 40 years is so long ago it is ancient history. Benjamin Franklin and Robert Kennedy.
If you are 20 you may ask who was Robert Kennedy. Robert was his brother John’s closest adviser. He was an U.S. Attorney General. He was U.S. Senator from New York State. He was following in his brother’s footsteps, running for president and making big strides. He won the presidential primaries in California and South Dakota the day he died.
Paul Fusco — the photographer who is bringing out the book — rode on RFK’s funeral train from New York City to Washington, D.C., on the day of the funeral (June 8). He took pictures, took pictures, took pictures of people lining the railroad tracks. Clusters of people and throngs of people. It is said there were no fewer than one million people. The pall bearers brought chairs together and raised the casket onto the chair backs so that people could catch a glimpse of the casket through the windows.
The train slowed for the biggest crowds. The four-hour trip took eight hours.
I have seen some of the photos. I have studied them. I can’t tell you how fascinating they are to me, and I can’t tell you why I am fascinated. Oh well — I can so. These are photos of the way we were.
There is one crowd. Whites and blacks only. I think I can find 17 people waving. Waving good-bye. Why do they wave? Who will see them? Well, they wanted to do something, make some kind of expression. I think people still would do this.
I can’t find one person who appears to be weeping and I find two, maybe three people who appear to be smiling. The others are standing with — oh — solemn expressions. This, too, probably is how we would be today.
So very many women and girls in skirts. Some of the older women have skirts to mid-calf. The girls and the younger women have skirts to their knees, or slightly above. Many jumpers. Probably more skirts than slacks. Many pedal pushers. No shorts.
There is one man, maybe in his 20s, wearing shorts. The other men are wearing pants, slacks, jeans. Many boys wear short pants but not all of them. Little boys.
I can find one T-shirt. This seems strange. There are a couple of men in A-shirts — sleeveless underwear. Most men are wearing knit polo shirts or short-sleeve shirts open at the collars. There are two or three plaid sport coats. A couple of young guys are wearing dress shirts with the shirt tails out. This was cool. (I still think it’s cool.)
In all those throngs I cannot find a man with a beard or a man who apparently needs a shave. A number of men and half the policemen (it seems) have close-cropped mustaches. Hair is clipped short. No athletic shoes.
Nearly everyone, man and woman, is bare-headed. A few men have loose-woven summer hats with plaid hat bands and a few have flat caps. One man waves his straw hat. Not one baseball cap.
A few hand-lettered signs. “Bobby We Will Miss You.” “So Long Bobby.”
Not many cameras. This surprises me. Many of those with cameras have camera straps around their necks.
One young farm couple has three boys and two girls lined up stepladder style, small to large.
A few people — only a few — have right hands over their hearts. All the servicemen are saluting and a few other men and boys are saluting.
That is how we were. Forty years ago this month.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.