The Assassination

Alistair Cooke's first-hand account:

It was about 18 minutes after midnight. A few of us strolled over to the swinging doors that gave on to the pantry. They had no glass peepholes but we'd soon hear the pleasant bustle of him coming through, as the waiters and the chef in his high hat and a busboy or two waited to see him. There was suddenly a banging repetition of a sound that I don't know how to describe: not at all like shots - like somebody dropping a rack of trays. Half a dozen of us were startled enough to charge through the door. And it had just happened.

It was a narrow lane he had to come through for there were two long steam tables and somebody had stacked up against them those trellis fences with artificial leaves stuck on them that they used to fence the dance band off from the floor. The only light was the blue light of three fluorescent tubes slotted in the ceiling.

But it was a howling jungle of cries and obscenities and flying limbs and two enormous men - Roosevelt Greer, the football player and Rafer Johnson, I guess, the Olympic champion - piling on to a pair of blue jeans. There was a head on the floor streaming blood and somebody put a Kennedy boater under it and the blood trickled down like chocolate sauce on an iced cake. There were flashlights by now and the button eyes of Ethel Kennedy turned to cinders. She was slapping a young man and he was saying "Listen, lady, I'm hurt too." And down on the greasy floor was a huddle of clothes and staring out of it the face of Bobby Kennedy, like the stone face of a child lying on a cathedral tomb. I had, and have, no idea of the time of all this or even of the event itself for, when I pattered back into the creamy green, genteel dining room, I heard somebody cry - "Kennedy - shot" and heard a girl moan "No, no, not again".

And my companion was fingering a cigarette package like a paralytic. A dark woman nearby suddenly bounded to a table and beat it and howled like a wolf. "Stinking country! No, no, no, no!" And another woman attacked the shadow of the placid TV commentators who'd not yet got the news. And then a minute maybe, or an hour later, or a day, the cops and the burly Johnson shot through the swinging doors with their bundle of the black, curly head and the jeans. And I recall the tight, small behind and a limp head and a face totally dazed.