In the rush of commemoration and remembering of President John F. Kennedy‘s death some fifty years ago, it is fitting to remember how widely inscribed his name is in the land–as well as across much of the world. While we often examine places’ renaming, the widespread adoption of one name is a striking act of commemoration; while it’s not clear when they were bestowed, a great proportion of these names must have been made in the days soon following the President’s sudden–and numbingly shocking–death.
We can see, over the fifty years ago in Dallas, the memory of the killed President is present across the land, dotting the country, schools, parks, streets and more–of which there are over 400 across the world. The maps below chart, thanks tot he diligence of OSM’s many mappers, the rippling out of shock and memory after November 22, 1963. (Open Street Maps collects the data that its users upload, creating a collective map of global scale whose open data is an invaluable resource.) Thanks to their diligence and the work of Chris Kirk, Emma Goss, and Nicholas Duchesne of Slate Labs, whose excellent controlling and parsing of this data in a map of three sorts of Kennedy commemorations ensures the Kennedy commemorations referred to the President (or that Kennedy)–with little comment. Yet the graphic has impact alone.
We may never know how many of the fatal shots were fired–or from where, or by whom–or what led the so-often-analyzed events of that day to occur, although we may. But we can se the country as marked almost ubiquitously in ways we have come to overlook. By looking at the overlooked, as it were, we can appreciate how closely rooted President Kennedy is as part of our national memory, and how familiar such namings–especially of schools, but also parks or squares–actually are.
Though we don’t have a graphic of their temporal spread, the toponymy is almost uniformly spread about the country, particularly of schools–it might be interesting to ask why there is not a school named after John F. Kennedy in any major city–and Kennedy roads are mostly uniform from Texas to the East, outside of which regions Kennedy parks are present across the nation in a slightly lesser degree to judge at first glance. But the map is, if most striking for its weird clusterings of Google Maps pinpricks, or inverted tears, a difficult canvass to read: the clustering in Texas is striking, as is the density of overlapping sigla in New England in New York, but can we read its abstraction of sites of memorialization as more than a residue of collective mourning, or a reverberation of the terrifying events that day in Dealey Plaza to the world?
The distribution of sites that were named after President Kennedy almost seem the clearest reminder of the border between the US and Canada, it’s interesting to note, especially in the West and Midwest–though this is a bit less true of Quebec, perhaps since the region always sets itself apart from Anglophone Canada.
This has something to do with President Kennedy’s Catholicism, as well as the sudden shock and hopes invested in the young President.
Although the spread of commemorations world-wide reveals a clear differentiation between a wide density of road names in Europe, including squares or places, and even an actually surprising number of schools (and parks) outside of the United States, according to the statistics compiled so far by many OSM-mappers–and not only in satellites like Guam or the Philippines, but in Pakistan and India, as well as in Liberia, Hong Kong, and Brazil, or Argentina and Peru.
The spread of “John F. Kennedy”nomenclature extend far beyond the usual Anglo-American ties–and the Anglo-Irish that the Kennedy family embodied, but is particularly dense across France and Germany–we can see in a map that also reminds us of the Cold War, and its division of the quasi-continent into two halves, with outposts in Berlin and Vienna.
And a somewhat famous (laudable) Swiss profession of neutrality:
Turning back to the United States, the concentration of Kennedy commemoration might be predictably dense in the Boston area, which seems explicable given the Kennedy ties, but it actually seems the process of naming was actually perhaps more difficult to be performed.
A broader look across New England clearly reveals greater breadth of naming outside the Boston areas:
But the density of mapping in the Northeast–particularly of schools–seems most reliably intense around New York City, probably marked by an intense expansion of educational institutions, but perhaps because of a possible intensity of legislative involvement in renaming of the region, from roads to, of course, airports.
The southeast betrays a real density in southern Texas and in Dallas-where two schools appear–and a strong number of roads in Florida–perhaps a reflection of the longstanding Cuban community?
The places whose names honor the former president’s memory seem densely grouped (or looped) around Cuba, in a memory itself of how closely discussion of his death has been often, but in ways still not fully explained, linked to that country, and to the American policy with it.
While it may never solve the Gordian knot around the bizarre relation of Lee Harvey Oswald to the assassination, or the unanswered questions of what happened on Dallas that day, the huge act of collective grieving is awe-ing, and can remind us, if we need it, of how close and physically proximate its memories still are.