The Day JFK Was Shot

I noticed something interesting the other day in the description of Cassidy’s contribution to an oral history project at the Tamiment Library, curated by New York University. You can find the description here: http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/aia_030/dscref56.html

In general, the oral history project looks interesting. There are plenty of names I’ve never heard of, along with some which will be familiar to most Irish people and even one or two who are familiar faces around Belfast, like Frank Costello.

Cassidy was interviewed by his old crony Peter Quinn. One particular detail caught my eye. It says that “Cassidy provides an insider’s perspective on the day JFK was assassinated as a rookie journalist in the newsroom of the New York Times.”

This is interesting, because it throws up the same problems of chronology and accuracy that bedevil every attempt to work out the details of Cassidy’s life. The problem is that Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. We have sporadic references to Cassidy in the Cornell Daily Sun from February 1961, when he was applying for admittance to the Chi Psi fraternity, right through February 1963 when he was made co-editor of a literary mag at Cornell called the Trojan Horse, right up to May 1965, a month before he was withdrawn from the University, when he won a university award for his poetry.

In other words, I am very sceptical about his ‘insider’s perspective on the day JFK was assassinated as a rookie journalist in the newsroom of the New York Times.’ Not that I’m calling Cassidy a liar or anything – I’m sure we’ve all invented a degree or two to get that plum job or written a book full of fake nonsense in a language we don’t speak at some time in our lives.

Of course, I suppose he could have been working part-time in the New York Times while studying, or done a year’s work experience in between two years at college. It’s just that that isn’t the way Cassidy himself told it. In a radio interview with Myles Dungan broadcast on RTÉ 1 on the 11th of February 2007 (now available as a podcast), Cassidy states that he took a job with the New York Times after he finished at Cornell. Notice that he doesn’t say that he graduated (he knew, and we know, that he didn’t graduate.) Perhaps he just forgot where he was. I mean, who remembers where they were when JFK was shot?

I must say, I know where I was. I was in my high chair eating a rusk. As the car glided on and the president crumpled, I pointed at the screen, the rusk momentarily forgotten, dripping milk and crumbs into the bowl. I was unable to speak. Well, to be honest, I only knew about four words at the time: mummy, daddy, doggie, horsey, and somehow none of them seemed quite appropriate to the gravity of the situation …

(If anyone at the Tamiment Library would like to interview me about my traumatic experience of JFK’s death for posterity, you know where to find me.)

So, if Cassidy was still a student in 1963, why did he tell Peter Quinn he was in the newsroom of the New York Times? I’ll take a wee punt here. Cassidy was probably chatting to Peter Quinn one day about JFK, and in keeping with his personal philosophy that a lie is simply a fact with ambition, Cassidy probably told him about his imaginary experience in the newsroom when the news of JFK’s death came through. After all, he was in the newsroom at the New York Times just a couple of short years later, so he was well-placed to take a guess. All well and good, until Peter Quinn turns up with a tape recorder and asks him about that particular occasion. And at that point, Cassidy has the choice to do the right thing and say, Actually, Peter, that was just a humungous crock of shite, like nearly everything I’ve ever told you, or do the wrong thing and carry on lying as if his life depended on it.

Not much of a choice if you’re Daniel Cassidy, who would sooner have stopped breathing than stop lying!

By the way, there’s another interesting inconsistency in the Dungan interview and the Tamiment description. In the Dungan interview, Cassidy states that he sold a script called South of Market to F.F. Coppola, who was a few years senior to him in the New York Military Academy and was nicknamed Ichabod (thank God Cassidy didn’t try to find an Irish origin for that! Ith an bod, which sounds very similar, means ‘eat the penis!’). In the Tamiment description, it says that it was a script called The Volunteer. So maybe the details are wrong. Or … maybe he never really sold any scripts to F.F Coppola at all?

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