If you never heard of Breslin or don’t know why he’s famous, a great place to start is this 1963 column he wrote about the funeral of President John F. Kennedy — as seen through the eyes of the gravedigger. It starts like this:
Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did.
He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
(Note: Newsday has put the story behind a firewall now, alas. They own it and that’s their right, so we won’t point to other versions online. But it’s too bad they couldn’t leave this one up for the public to see.)
This column came on the heels of Breslin’s powerful column about the scene at Parkland Hospital, A Death in Emergency Room One. Truly incredible, such writing under deadline pressure. Breslin wrote another famous column 17 years later, after the shooting death of John Lennon.
Peace out, Mr. Breslin. You sure could write ’em.