The Night Eisenhower Died

General Dwight David Eisenhower died the morning of March 28, 1969 in Washington, DC. I was soon to be 14 years old. The night before he died, something extraordinary happened, something I’m remembering 51 years later.


I doubt that at the time of his death, I appreciated how respected and beloved Eisenhower was. It would be decades before I knew of his vision for the Interstate Highway system (mixed blessing / blunt instrument that it was). Even longer before I heard his warnings against the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (why is that 3rd leg always forgotten?). That warning is more relevant today.


But none of this mattered to me at the time. What mattered was something unprecedented, something you can’t imagine in this age of 24 hour media choices. In those days, TV signed off, went off the air, each night, posting a bizarre image and blaring an awful tone to wake anyone tired enough — or drunk enough — to fall asleep with the tv on. Static ruled the night.


But not this night. For the first time, not just in my life but ever, TV stayed on to be ready to tell the nation whenever Eisenhower died. I don’t remember how I knew this was going to happen. I was a child of television (and CocaCola) and my biological parents indulged me in many ways, including letting me stay up this night.


To fill the hours, my DC-area station broadcast movie after movie after movie — did I stay up all night? There was Gypsy and Auntie Mame, both masterpieces with Rosalind Russell. Was this the first time I saw Goodbye Charlie or Some Like It Hot (Tony Curtis in both)? Or John Goldfarb, Please Come Home or What A Way to Go (Shirley McClaine and Dick Van Dyke — “Hop. Hop. Hop to Hoppers.”) Some of these must have been on other afternoons, after Dark Shadows, no doubt. (I hear the theme to the Early Show as I write this.) They couldn’t all have been on that night. (I’m sure about Auntie Mame.)


But, Grandpa, why this random synaptic dump now? Well, we may run out of TP and ammo, but we never could have imagined running out of media. It’s everywhere, so much so, one can binge and binge and binge while they crank out more. Perhaps you remember the Writers’ Strike? (And Dr Horrible?) While everyone everywhere holds their breath, the Industry does, too. How long before there is figuratively “nothing to watch”?


So, while you scan online for hand sanitizer, I’m stockpiling beloved films. It’s a life-long list. Perhaps, I’ll save On The Beach for last.

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