Recently, Keith Harris asked the following question on his Cosmic America blog: “What is your first memory of a historical event?”
I remember many things from my early childhood, including sitting in gas lines during the Carter administration, listening to records and eight-tracks, and being chased by a neighborhood dog, but my earliest historical memory is John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan on 30 March 1981.
I was in second grade, staying at a friend’s house after school. We walked in, and the radio was on with news reports about the assassination attempt. When we asked what was going on, my friend’s mother turned off the radio and told us not to worry about it.
I also recall two historical events from the third grade. We received a periodical geared toward elementary school children, the name of which I’ve forgotten. One of the stories was about this hockey wunderkind named Wayne Gretzky scoring 50 goals in 39 games.
The other story was about Lech Wałęsa, the Polish Solidarity leader, and his opposition to Communism.
As I’ve written before, other things sparked my interest in history, but recalling my first historical memory was a good exercise in pinpointing when I first became aware of contemporary world events. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Keith.
11 thoughts on “My Earliest Historical Memory”
Thank you for sharingg
Well, I suppose we are dating ourselves with these memories, but I grew up in the 60s, which were exciting times. In 1963 at the age of five, I remember my mother crying in front of the television when President Kennedy was shot. When Malcolm X was killed, I remember my father saying sadly, “They kill their own.” (A loaded comment coming out of a white suburban family setting, but evocative, nonetheless.) In school, we periodically prepared for nuclear war through drills in which we lined up in the halls, and then curled up into balls. The teachers were always morose at these times. Finally, while historians remember the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as a frightening time for America, I remember the USSR’s nuclear threat against China in 1969. Our principal was so certain that nuclear war was imminment, he said goodbye to all of us over the loudspeaker. It was weird.
Thanks for the comment, Nan. I think everyone who was old and aware enough remembers where s/he was when they heard news about JFK.
My first “Historical event” memory was the Iran Hostage crisis in 1978. Our family was living overseas and we had Time magazine sent to us from the States. It arrived several weeks late, of course, but there was a picture of an American hostage with a blindfold on. I read the articles, and read Time throughout the several months of the crisis. And yes, I was only eight years old.
So is that your first memory of a U.S. historical event? No PNG historical memories?
I must have been in 7th or 8th grade when this happened. I remember that Hinckley was obsessed with Jodi Foster and was reading The Catcher in the Rye.
That darn literature is dangerous!
I have vague memories of Desert Storm (i would have been 5) but I think most of those “memories” are just things I might have heard my parents talking about, or the news reports on TV I might have heard in passing. My first vivid memory is probably President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, when I was in second grade, which we watched in the school library.
You are quite welcome! I remember when I first heard about the Reagan shooting…I was on my way to gym class and the gym teacher came running down the hallway shouting hysterically “Reagan’s been shot, Reagan’s been shot.” It was quite the scene.
Not quite the example of calm one would hope from a teacher.