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Chris Matthews '67 films documentary about Kennedy assassination

Alumnus recalls HC campus reaction to event

Published: Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Updated: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 09:09

Chris Matthews '67, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," frequent commentator on the Today Show and NBC news and last year's HC commencement speaker, returned to the College to film a documentary on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK) entitled, "The Day America Changed."

The documentary focuses on the events surrounding the assassination and features the recollections of many celebrities, ranging from Tom Brokaw to Kevin Bacon, many of whom likened that day to 9-11, as they heard the news of JFK's death. The program argues that JFK's death was the first tragedy that the nation experienced through the medium of television, featuring up-to-the-minute coverage.

During the final segment of the documentary, Matthews, while walking on the lawn in front of Kimball, reflected on where he was when he learned about the president's death. He was down in the basement of Kimball, checking his mail when a friend told him the news.

"I raced over to Carlin Hall and turned on the television on the ground floor and sat there, amazed, as Walter Cronkite told what had happened, and then...took off his reading glasses, to say that the President was dead," he said. "I had a World History class a good walk across campus. By the time I got there people were all talking and wondering what had happened. All we knew is that someone had shot at the president- nothing else. The history professor, James Powers, announced that he would hold the lecture but that anyone who left could do so without taking a cut."

Matthews also recalled that, when he was in an airport a few days later, an older woman asked him where he was from. When he told her Holy Cross, she said, "People must be so sad up there in Kennedy's home state."

However, Matthews noted that the assassination's ramifications, whether emotional or political, extended beyond the state of Massachusetts, marking a demarcation line in the decade.

"It was a lot bigger than that," he said. "I think something changed in this country that day. We went from the early Sixties of short haircuts, thin ties, and the New Frontier - to the Sixties of the Beatles, drugs, and protest. It took four years - until the Gene McCarthy-Bob Kennedy race of 1968 - to bring back the hopes that had died that early Friday afternoon of November 22."

The documentary is Matthews' first.

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