From One Nightmare to Another 50 Years Ago

A few hours after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, I met with several other Binghamton University students to plan a memorial event of some kind.  I don’t recall how many faculty were there, but I vividly remember one, Ed Wilson, a sculptor.  After deciding to hold a (needless to say) peaceful march that weekend, we came up with language for posters and, as was the practice back then, waited for a mimeograph machine to make copies.

As we waited, Ed told of how he had met with Sen. Robert Kennedy a short while earlier, getting his approval for a sculpture he had been commissioned to design memorializing President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated five years earlier.  Ed told us that when the Senator walked into the room he looked into the candidate’s eyes and said to himself that Bobby would never live past November.  I don’t recall what I said, if anything, though at some point I said to myself something like, “Well, Ed’s an artist, and that’s the kind of thing artists think about after all.”

Jump ahead to early June 1968 and I was visiting my family in Queens and had made plans to play golf (very poorly) with old high school friends.  There was no scheduling tee-times in advance at public courses back then, at least not for us, and since we wanted to play reasonably early in the morning, we needed to get to the course really early.  So, I set my clock radio for four a.m.  Or, one a.m. West Coast time, hours after California’s presidential primary.

The radio turned on and the first thing I sensed hearing through the haze was, “Senator Kennedy has been shot.”  “Of course, he’s been shot,” I said to myself, more asleep than awake, “Ed Wilson told me two months ago he would be shot.”  And then I realized he actually had been.

It was decades before I told this story to anyone, fearful that if it ever got misconstrued and the FBI or Secret Service got wind, they might wind up at Ed’s door.  He has since died, but not long before I ran into him at an event and asked what went through his mind when Bobby was murdered.  I don’t remember exactly how he described it, other than thinking if I had staggered from one nightmare to another, how severe was his unnerving?

Why do I like to think I’ve never romanticized the 1960s, though I suspect I did on occasion?  Two instantaneous months, a half century ago, are the briefest answer I have.