Half a century after President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, and 10-score years since President Lincoln delivered his unionizing Gettysburg Address, how is it that we continue to unearth new facts, view America's most defining moments through new lenses and seek out opportunities to re-purpose the meanings we pull from past events?
If anything can be learned from this month spent looking back at major events that have shaped America's cultural landscape, it's that we have a rather capricious relationship with history.
The NPR podcast Playback: November 1988 takes us back 25 years through the NPR Archives to explore our fascination with re-imagining and re-contextualizing the history books.
You Can't Make These Gems Up
In the podcast, you'll hear excerpts from Weekend Edition Saturday's third anniversary broadcast, for which the show's founding and current host, Scott Simon, spearheaded a (hilarious) "Behind the Scenes" audio documentary of the show's (bizarre) editorial process.
Weekend Edition Saturday staffers, photographed at NPR's former M Street headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Top left: (the late) Marta Haywood, Cindy Carpien, Scott Simon, Laura Ziegler, Steve Tripoli. Bottom left: Mandalit del Barco, Liz Buechel, Doug Mitchell, Neva Grant
Weekend Edition Saturday staffers, photographed at NPR's former M Street headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Top left: (the late) Marta Haywood, Cindy Carpien, Scott Simon, Laura Ziegler, Steve Tripoli. Bottom left: Mandalit del Barco, Liz Buechel, Doug Mitchell, Neva Grant NPR
As Playback editor Kerry Thompson most accurately puts it, "No, you're not on acid. You're listening to Playback, the podcast chalk full of gems from the NPR archives... And I'm here to tell you, stuff like this from 25 years ago, you can't make it up."
In 1985, Weekend Edition was conceived by Morning Edition Producer Jay Kernis and then-Correspondent Scott Simon, to provide longer-form, more intimate examinations of the week's hard-news stories.
The program initially aired on Saturdays as NPR's stand-alone weekend newsmagazine, and Simon hosted solo for one year. NPR launched a Sunday counterpart in 1986, with Susan Stamberg at the mic.
The 25-year-old audio provides a glimpse into the lengthy processes behind broadcast-quality production in the 1980s, and a window into elements of a story that rarely make the records.
50th Anniversary of President Kennedy's Assassination
All month, NPR and Member stations have been covering the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's death. Playback 1988 highlights audio from Weekend Edition's early days, to take listeners back to the last time NPR provided deep-dive coverage of the assassination.
A Voice in Sync with Our Best Instincts
Hear Susan Stamberg, the first host of Weekend Edition Sunday, speak with prominent American writers about the sudden loss of an iconic leader. Award-winning writer William Styron weighs in on the "desperate state of disruption" caused by the death of a man who, as described to Stamberg in 1988 by American author E.L. Doctorow, "knew what a poet was... and seemed to be a new voice in sync with the truth of our best instincts."
"People didn't feel real," Maya Angelou described to Stamberg. The audio from a November 1988 broadcast of Weekend Edition Saturday captures Angelou, as she describes catching wind of the assassination while living with a group of ex-pats in Ghana. She recalls that the news made her feel "frighteningly American," an identification directly at odds with her motivation to move abroad.
Everyone has their own memories of landmark moments such as this, and we're certainly thankful to have some of these experiences captured for our next look-back. (If all goes as planned, the author of this post will be a well-refined, silver-haired woman of 52 by then!)
Can't get enough of these stories? Here are a few more to check out.
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Host Peter Sagal rewrites history, credits Honest Abe with inventing the emoticon.