Has a photo book ever made you weep? I was poking around the excellent Strand bookstore the other day and came across RFK Funeral Train by Paul Fusco. I got choked up right there in the store, just flipping through the pages.
Fusco's photographs, originally taken for Look magazine, document the train trip Robert F. Kennedy's coffin took from New York to Arlington Cemetery on June 8th, 1968, three days after the Senator from New York was cut down by an assassin's bullet. Virtually none of the photos are of the train, they're of some of the many thousands of people who lined the route and paid their respects as the car rolled slowly past.
If you weren't alive then, it's almost impossible to describe the despair and grief that gripped our nation. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated just a couple of months earlier, and of course the country had only really begun to recover from the assassination of Kennedy's older brother John less than five years before. American society was being ripped apart by tectonic cultural shifts, not to mention horrific racial strife and bitter sparring over the Vietnam War. It just seemed like everything was coming apart.
RFK seemed to represent our last best hope, and his violent death was the very last thing we needed. It very nearly broke our spirit. Things would never be the same again, and I think people knew that more than they even realized. It's right there in these pictures.
Fusco's photography is beautiful; the expressions on people's faces are heartbreaking. It's basically the same shot over and over again — people standing in groups large and small, facing the funeral train. The variations are what get you: how people stand, where they stand, who they stand with. Some people dress in their best clothes; some are wearing bathing suits. The faces are solemn, respectful, distraught, confused, stoic. Click on the photo at right so you can get a nice big version of it. Note not only the integrated crowd and the apparitional twin nuns in this picture, but the woman in the center, waving goodbye. It's devastating.
You can see more RFK Funeral Train photos here.