With the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s assassination approaching, I remembered a piece of sheet music that had been owned by my maternal grandmother, and I went and found it in a box in a closet.
It is a hymn, “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere,” with music by J. S. Fearis and words by Mrs. Jessie Brown Pounds. The sheet music offered three arrangements in one — soprano solo (with piano or organ accompaniment), and male and female quartets.
The first verse and chorus give the flavor of the whole:
Somewhere the sun is shining,
Somewhere the song-birds dwell;
Hush, then, thy sad repining;
God lives, and all is well.
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere!
Land of the true, where we live anew –
Beautiful Isle of Somewhere.
I hated the melody and lyrics of this sickly candy stick from the moment I discovered it in the upstairs room where my grandmother kept her upright piano. But I carefully saved the music, because of its presentation.
“As sung,” says the cover, “at the funeral of our martyred president William McKinley by the Euterpean Quartette.” The ladies of the quartette — Harriet Levinger, Fannie Levinger, Jeannette Bauhof, and Katherine Baehrens — are pictured, but above them, and larger, is the image of the martyred McKinley. My grandmother’s copy was printed in 1901, for 50 cents.
The sheet music made the point that America grieved for McKinley, as it did for JFK. It made the further point that the shock of JFK’s murder was increased by the lapse of time after McKinley’s. My grandmother, who was born in 1881 and died in 1976, lived to see both deaths. But she lived quite a long time. Anyone younger than, say, 65 in 1963 would never have experienced a presidential assassination. And yet everyone forty and older in 1901 would have experienced three — Lincoln (1865), Garfield (1881), and McKinley (1901). Anyone 25 and older would have experienced two.
You can read history books; you can read Julius Caesar. Yet it will not be real to you until you have watched it yourself. Let us hope we continue to raise generations as clueless as Americans were on November 22, 1963.