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
"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