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Chris Raymond

Black Jack: The Riderless Horse in JFK's Funeral Procession

By November 20, 2013

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JFK funeral procession

Like most Americans, I cannot help but anticipate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which will occur this Friday, November 22. Unlike most people, however, I find myself wondering whatever happened to the riderless horse that followed the slain president's flag-draped casket on that solemn, somber day in 1963.

This Friday, hundreds of thousands of people will undoubtedly descend on Dealey Plaza, where JFK was gunned down, the president's gravesite with its newly refurbished eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery, his cenotaph in Dallas, and other significant sites to hold vigils. Moreover, every conspiracy theory about President Kennedy's murder, new and old, is already receiving long and passionate debate in print and over the airwaves.

Despite this renewed focus on the man and his fate, however, I still find my thoughts drawn to the striking black horse that bore the empty riding boots reversed in the stirrups behind Kennedy's caisson through the streets of Washington, DC. Those leather boots and the meaning behind that symbolism, as well as that horse, always intrigued me since I was a child. (Simply put, the empty boots, reversed in the stirrups, represent a "fallen warrior" or a leader who will lead no more. Abraham Lincoln was the first slain president to receive this symbolic honor during his funeral procession in 1865, although the gesture might be centuries old.)

Anyway, a recent fascinating interview with the man who led the riderless horse during Kennedy's funeral procession finally answered all of my questions about that mysterious black animal. It turns out the horse's name was Black Jack, he was born in 1947 and he served in more than 1,000 funerals for members of the U.S. Armed Forces -- including the state funerals for presidents Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson, and for General Douglas MacArthur.

After his death in 1976, Black Jack was cremated and his remains were buried in Fort Myer, Virginia -- after receiving full military honors! The story surrounding this horse and the important role he played in the very public funeral procession of America's slain leader 50 years ago is intriguing, and I encourage you to read the full story.

How is the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination affecting you? Where you were when you first heard about the JFK assassination? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Above: Black Jack, the riderless horse that followed President John F. Kennedy's flag-draped casket on November 25, 1963, is seen in the lower-left. Photo SP/4 David S. Schwartz, U.S. Army

Sources:
"Mobile man recalls leading riderless horse for JFK" by Jeremy Gray, November 18, 2013. Miami Herald. Retrieved November 20, 2013. http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/18/v-fullstory/3761896/mobile-man-recalls-leading-riderless.html

Comments
November 21, 2013 at 5:24 am
(1) Charlene Fairchild says:

I was 14 and in Grade 9 in a school in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. The Prinicpal came on the loudspeaker: “The President of the the United States, John Kennedy, has been assassinated. You are dismissed from school.” We were sent home and for the next four days my family and all others were gathered in front of our TVs in disbelief and grief and with a sense of history upon us.

The striking images for me were Jackie standing by LBJ on the airplane as he was sworn into office, little John Kennedy saluting his father, the riderless horse with boots reversed.

I remember still every year with a sense of lingering sadness the loss of innocence of that day.

November 21, 2013 at 12:30 pm
(2) teejay henner says:

It is strange that JFK, his brother Bobbie, and Martin Luther King Jr. were all killed in the 60′s. there was a play done at the time called Macbird which has an interesting explanation of Kennedy’s murder.
I’m one of those who regard the murder of Oswald as part of the conspiracy theory. Jack Ruby was dying of cancer and may have been paid to kill Oswald. However, I hesitate to accuse anyone.
However the ethical values of the country seem to have declined in the last 50 years. As in ancient Thebes after the murder of the King,a plague infected the city, and continued to do so until the murderer was found. And when he was, Oedipus put out his own eyes.
We have a lot of self-examining to do.
tj

December 18, 2013 at 11:14 am
(3) Delores says:

Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post.
Thanks for providing this information.

March 22, 2014 at 8:06 am
(4) Black Jack says:

The Story of the horse name “Black Jack” in JFK’s funeral is wrong. Here is the real story. Please Read:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jackie-kennedy-receives-horse-from-governor-of-pakistan

Thanks,

March 24, 2014 at 9:50 am
(5) Chris Raymond says:

In response to “Black Jack”/Comment #4 above — I appreciate you commenting on this article, but the History.com article you reference is simply incorrect.

Black Jack, the riderless horse in President Kennedy’s funeral procession, was neither a gift to Jackie Kennedy in 1962 nor did she give the horse his name, as that article states.

Instead, Black Jack was born (“foaled’) in 1947 in the U.S. and began working for the U.S. Infantry in 1953. These facts are listed on the plaque above Black Jack’s cremated remains at Fort Meyers Army Base in Fort Meyer, VA.

Chris Raymond
About.com Death & Dying Expert

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