With the recent anniversary of the JFK assassination, the memory of that fateful day hung in the air, with people asking each other, “Where were you when it happened?”
Some events are noteworthy enough that the memory of them is ingrained permanently. We can recall exactly where we were, what we were doing, and who was with us when we heard about a major incident. A few of those were the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the moon landing, Nixon resigning, the Jonestown massacre, John Lennon getting shot, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lady Di’s Royal Wedding, and the last episode of M.A.S.H. Our family members can recall these vividly, such as my mother being in home economics class in junior high school and hearing an announcement over the PA system. My father can still remember coming home from work and hearing about John Lennon, then driving around in shock while listening to the radio play Beatles songs.
John Lennon’s death is announced:
Although we belong to a different generation, we have our own memories that invoke the question of “Where were you when…?” and we thought we’d take a closer look at them. If you have your own memories of these events, please share them with us in the comments.
We came up with a list of 21 events that one or both us have memorable memories of. We have them listed in chronological order from the oldest to the newest. You’ll find numbers 21 down through 11 below, and rest will be in a future blog post.
#21 Challenger Disaster January 28, 1986
Chris: When I was a schoolboy in Florida they would let us go outside and watch the space shuttles going up. All you could really see was the plume it left going up, since we were on the other side of the state. By 1986 the novelty had worn off so we weren’t outside watching, which is just as well. The one thing I really recall from hearing the news of the Challenger explosion is the surreal quality of it. It did no seem like it could be real.
#20 Rescue of Baby Jessica October 14, 1987
Chris: What I remember about the Baby Jessica incident is the feeling of community that we all had. It was scary, but we had optimism. With so many people rooting for her, how could she not be rescued?
Christina: I remember watching the news and seeing someone use a doll as a model for Baby Jessica and showing illustrations of how she fell in the well. Of course I became paranoid and kept a careful eye on the ground for weeks after she was rescued.
News report on Baby Jessica:
#19 Berlin Wall Comes Down November 9, 1989
Chris: Cold War fears lingered throughout the 80s, but I can’t imagine it was as bad for us then as it was in the 50s and 60s. Still, it was there. The main things I recall from the end of the Berlin Wall: President Reagan telling Gorbachev to tear down the wall, and, embarrassingly, David Hasselhoff
#18 Persian Gulf War Starts August 2 1990
Chris: I have vague memories of seeing troops in Vietnam on the TV, and can recall watching, on the TVs in a store at the mall, news of the U.S. bombing Libya in 1986, but this was completely different. To be able to watch live bombings and missile strikes from my apartment was a real lesson in reality TV. I think it also helped me to start looking at the world in a different way, as an adult able to draw my own conclusions about what was happening.
Christina: What I remember my mother sitting me down and explaining that we were at war. I was about ten so I had an idea of what was going on but not why. She did her best to explain it, but social studies class went into it a bit farther.
#17 Johnny Carson leaves The Tonight Show May 22, 1992
Christina: I never really got into late night tv until I was older, but I knew Johnny Carson was a legend. Plus I knew this was a big deal with all the celebrities coming to say goodbye to Johnny, and all the clips they showed of him hosting the Tonight Show.
#16 Waco April 19, 1993
Chris: Waco stands out to me because it was the first kind of its thing that I saw that required waiting. It wasn’t hearing a report on something already happened, it was something that was happening now, or more precisely something that was going to happen. As the stand off dragged on I expected some type of peaceful resolution to occur. Instead there were tanks and flames, and we were all shocked.
Christina: My mom and I just watched the siege in stunned silence. I can remember my mom saying “There are children in there!” and shaking her head.
#15 OJ Simpson in a Bronco June 17, 1994
Chris: This was the first incident that I “heard” about. A friend said that OJ was on TV, and indeed, there he was, speeding along…or, well, driving slowly along.
Christina: The entire trial took the country by storm. Later I talked a teacher into showing the verdict announcement during class, but I can still recall seeing the Bronco chase on TV. My dad called and the first thing he said was “Are you seeing this?” and of course I was…it was all over the news, and would be for some time.
OJ Simpson talks to the police:
#14 Kurt Cobain’s Suicide April 5, 1994
Chris: First there was seeing Kurt Loder report this on MTV, and seeing his hands shake really brought it home. And then there was the public memorial service, which I listened to at work on the radio, as Courtney read his suicide letter and commented on it (“Then why did you do it, Kurt?”). Kurt’s death seemed almost personal to me. I was living in Seattle at the time, and Nirvana was so imprinted onto the culture there. It was the first celebrity death that I recall truly affecting me.
Christina: My best friend called me with the news. I insisted that she was mistaken, but turned on the TV and saw that it was true. I was fourteen and it was the first time I cried over a celebrity death. The second time was when George Carlin died.
Kurt Loder makes the announcement.
#13 Oklahoma City Bombing April 19,1995
Christina: I’d just come home from school and was trying to get my homework out of the way so I could play some Sonic when my friend called me and said a building was bombed and looked like it had been cut in half. Even worse, it had been occupied when the bomb exploded and there were numerous deaths and injuries, most of them children. It was truly a terrifying sight.
#12 Lady Diana Car Crash August 31, 1997
Christina: I was on an AOL chat with someone and I had the TV on, and breaking news told of Lady Diana’s car accident. I told the person I was talking with, and we kept each other updated on the news as it was unfolding. It was almost like a precursor to Twitter, now that I think about it. The tragedy itself was disheartening, especially considering that Diana had left two children behind without a mother.
#11 Seinfeld Last Episode May 14, 1998
Christina: My dad and stepmother are Seinfeld fanatics, and while the show lagged near the end (and the last episode itself was lackluster), it remains a classic. Thanks to reruns, it garners new fans all the time, and the ratings of the last episode just prove how influential it was.
We would love for everyone to share their own memories of these or any other notable events, and be sure to look for part two, coming to you soon from Shelf Life in the Mountains!
All of the titles listed in this blog (and more!) can be found in our catalog here: https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=23514;page=0;locg=155;depth=0
(Edited 12/5/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)