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This Day in History: Robert F. Kennedy Assassinated

On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, as he left the ballroom after giving his victory speech following his win in the California Presidential Primary.  Many believed his primary victory would lead to securing the Democratic nomination for President, and the Presidency.

Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, minutes before he was shot; the football player Rosie Greer, behind him on the left, helped apprehend the gunman, Sirhan Sirhan.
Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, minutes before he was shot; the football player Rosie Greer, behind him on the left, helped apprehend the gunman, Sirhan Sirhan.

This was one of many assassinations which rocked the country in 1968, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s just two months earlier.  In the midst of the tumultuous events of this most turbulent year in modern American history, and following his brother’s assassination just four and half years earlier, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination led to profound mourning and intense soul-searching on the part of many Americans.

Mourners await the RFK funeral train on June 8 as it headed from New York to Washington D.C.

Kennedy’s body was transported by train from New York City, where it had lain in repose in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to Washington D.C. for burial near his brother, President John F. Kennedy, at Arlington National Cemetery.  Thousands of mourners silently lined the train route and stations to pay their respects as his body passed.  Images of the crowds, consisting of young and old, rich and poor, white and black, rural and urban, were transmitted across the globe, and stood as testament to Kennedy’s broad appeal and the deep devotion he inspired across the country.

One of many places where Kennedy was mourned was Greenwich Village.  Kennedy represented the Village, and the rest of New York State, in the U.S. Senate from 1965 until his death.  His strongly anti-war, pro-civil rights, anti-poverty platform resonated strongly in the Village.  But Kennedy had another important connection to Greenwich Village.

It was at the legendary Lion’s Head Tavern on Christopher Street that, according to several reliable reports, writers Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield convinced Kennedy to make the surprise move to run for the Senate from New York in 1964.  Some reports claim that Kennedy decided to run for the Presidency there as well, but these are likely conflations of the Senate story, as more reliable accounts indicate he made that decision after meeting with a hunger-striking Ceasar Chavez in California in early 1968.

More mourners lining the train route.

In either case, the Lion’s Head was next door to the offices of the Village Voice, and both Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield wrote for the Voice, knew Kennedy well, and brought him to their favorite literary watering hole.  Newfield in fact published a book about Kennedy not long after his assassination, “Robert Kennedy: A Memoir,” while Hamill was actually with Kennedy when he was shot, sharing his account of Kennedy’s last moments in The Village Voice on June 13, 1968.

The Lion’s Head Tavern was located here, at 59 Christopher Street, until 1996, between what was in the 1960’s the offices of the Village Voice (left) and the Stonewall Inn bar (right).  Talk about a lot of history in one place.

Kennedy’s campaign for the U.S. Senate was apparently not only born in the Village, but he campaigned in the Village as well, holding  a rally at 9th Street and Sixth Avenue in early October, 1964.  On that day, according to Newfield in the Village Voice, Kennedy “evoked Beatlemania…and climbed on top of a blue station wagon to address a crowd of about 1000.”

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning in the Village on 6th Avenue. A young Ed Koch was standing on the right.

Kennedy won narrowly statewide against the Republican incumbent, Kenneth Keating, but unsurprisingly won overwhelmingly in the Village.

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