I was just under three years old, so I don’t remember anything about it. I did live in Dallas from 1984 through 1999, and it was very strange. The city is haunted by the assassination to this very day, in ways I don’t even think many longtime Dallasites can see. But one way everyone can see it is when you drove down Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, just about anytime day or night, you will see people standing next to the grassy knoll or on the corner of Elm and Houston, pointing and talking, as though it had just happened moments ago. Fifty years later, that corner is still in some kind of suspended animation.
I do have one other rather bizarre second-hand memory. In 1988, there was a lot of attention being paid to the 25th anniversary of the assassination, and Dallas was still trying to live down its reputation as “the city of hate.” Commemorations and seminars were scheduled all over the city, and there was an ongoing vigorous debate over what to do with the then-vacant Texas Schoolbook Depository. Some wanted to turn it into a museum, others argued heatedly that it should be torn down. The former group won the day.
Another thing: my supervisor in 1988 told me that in 1963, he had just graduated from Lamar University and taken a job as an electrical engineer in May. He said that when someone in his office announced that Kennedy had been shot, a lot of people stood up an cheered. Nice guy though my supervisor was, his politics was only a little to the left of Attila the Hun’s. He didn’t say so, but the way he told the story led me to believe that he had been among those cheering.
What about you? Do you remember?
Events This Weekend: Side-By-Side LGBT Film Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
German Industrialist Found Dead After Being Outed in the Press: 1902. Friedrich Alfred Krupp had every advantage available to one born to Germay’s most prominent industrialist family. Named for his grandfather who founded the family firm in 1811, and heir to the vast steelmaking, mining, and armaments conglomerate assembled by his father, young Fritz, at the relatively young age of 33, stepped in as head of the Krupp empire when his father died. Under Fritz, the Krupp firm developed nickel steel which would revolutionize battleship armor and cannons, and created a shipbuilding works which would go on to build Germany’s first U-Boat in 1906. Fritz also cultivated a very close working relationship and personal friendship with the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, which proved especially fruitful.
Fritz’s first love though wasn’t business, but oceanography, a hobby he would pursue throughout his life. Because of poor health, he frequently traveled to the Mediterranean where he could indulge his hobby, along with another — young, exotic men. From 1898, he took up a semi-premanent residence on Capri, where he could purue both pleasures, well out of sight of his wife and family. Because the burdens of business required him to spend a considerable amount of time in Berlin, he sent several of his favorites to the Hotel Bristol.
Between his time in Capri and the men he had stashed away in Berlin, stories began to leak out in the Italian press, some of which made their way to the German papers. Krupp’s wife had, by then, been confined to a mental asylum — whether it was due to her distress or to ensure her discression, it’s hard to say. On November 15, the Social Democratic magazine Vorwärts published an article revealing Krupp’s homosexuality, including his fondness for Adolfo Schiano, an 18-year-old barber and amateur musician. Krupp requested an audience with the Kaiser, but on the day they were to meet one week later, Krupp was found dead in his home, apparently of suicide, although the circumstances surrounding his death were never revealed. No autopsy was ever performed, and Krupp’s body was placed in a closed casket. Within days, Krupp’s wife was released from the asylum; her sanity apparently was miraculously restored. In a speech at Krupp’s funeral, the Kaiser denounced the Social Democrats for “lying” about Krupp’s homosexuality. His heirs then launched a libel suit against Vorwärts, but it was quietly dropped a short time later.
100 YEARS AGO: Benjamin Britten. 1913-1976. Fame came early to the English composer with his a cappella choral work, A Boy Was Born when he was just 21, and his 1945 opera Peter Grimes sealed his international reputation. His compositions were both prodigious and varied: working in orchestral, chamber, instrumental, choral and solo vocal. Much of his vocal work was written for tenor Peter Pears, who he met in 1937 and who became his musical inspiration and life partner. In 1939, Britten and Pears went to America, where his friendship with Aaron Copland inspired the development of Britten’s own work, notably his operetta Paul Bunyan.
Britten’s sexuality wasn’t the only thing controversial about him: he was also a pacifist during World War II. On returning to Britain in 1942, he fought a long battle for recongition as a conscientious objector. The resulting publicity led to a drop in commissions and performances in London both during and after the war. It also shaped his work. Many of his operas featured an “outside” character on the fringes of society, many of them at least suggestive of being gay. His 1973 opera, Death in Venice, based on a novel by Thomas Mann, is perhaps the first to feature an openly gay character. By then , Britten found that he was no longer an outsider, but an acclaimed 20th century composer. On July 2, 1976, he was awarded a life peerage as Baron Britten, just a few months before he died. Pears died ten years later, and was buried next to Britten at a churchyard in Aldeburgh.
70 YEARS AGO: Billie Jean King: 1943. Like all tennis greats, she started playing at a young age and won her first Wimbledon doubles title in 1962 at the age if eighteen. That was the first of 20 Wimbledon titles between 1961 and 1979. She also one 13 U.S. titles, four French and two Australian. Throughout her career, she fought for equal prize money for men and women players. When she won the U.S. Open in 1972 but received $15,000 less than the men’s champion, she announced that she would not play the next year if the prize money weren’t made equal. The following year, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to equalize its prize money for men and women.
Her campaign for tennis equality took a particularly public turn in 1973 when Bobby Riggs, a champion mens player from the 1940s, claimed that women’s tennis was so inferior to men’s that even a fifty-five year old like himself could beat the top women’s players. King accepted the challenge, and the Battle of the Sexes was on. Before more than 30,000 spectators at Houston’s Astrodome and a worldwide audience of 50 million people in 27 countries, King beat Rigs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
In 1974, King became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association. In 1983, she retired from singles play, but continued to play doubles sporadically through 1990.
In 1981, King was sued for palimony by a former lover with whom she had had a relationship since 1971. The lawsuit effectively outed King, making her the first prominent professional female athlete to be openly gay. This came about despite her having been married to her husband since 1965. They divorced in 1987. Since then, she has been very involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama for her advocacy work for women and the LGBT community.
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As always, please consider this your open thread for the day.