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Hopes dashed one fateful June night

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Senator Kennedy shot at the Ambassador Hotel after delivering speech
 
On the night Sen. Robert F. Kennedy won the California Democratic presidential primary, his thoughts were focused on gratitude and how Americans could work together to end their divisions.

During his victory speech June 5 inside the ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, the 42-year-old thanked family, friends and supporters for their help and said he believed the country could unite despite war and violence.

But minutes after finishing his address, Kennedy’s hopes and dreams were shattered when he entered the hotel kitchen on the way to a news conference. As he paused to shake hands with a busboy, he was shot multiple times by a young man named Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Twenty-six hours later he was dead.

Photographer Bill Eppridge was one of the journalists who documented the ensuing chaos. His image of stunned busboy Juan Romero cradling the fallen senator’s head remains a searing depiction of shock and loss and is one of the most gripping images in "The 1968 Exhibit." Enlarged on a wall, it provides a sober backdrop for a display case containing a campaign brochure and buttons that speak of Kennedy’s political promise. Underneath is a hotel cart from the Ambassador stocked with coffee cups and saucers, a silver creamer and plates.

Take a few more steps and you’re transported by a video screen and audio into a railway car snaking its way from New York to Washington D.C. Image after image shows faces etched with grief, sadness, anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. In one photograph a woman kneels in prayer; in another a police officer stationed beside some tracks salutes the fallen senator. As the train carrying Kennedy made its way toward his final resting place, mothers and children stood with their hands held over their hearts and countless others paid their respects, including a couple holding a sign reading "So Long Bobby."

The pictures, taken by Eppridge and Magnum photographer Paul Fusco, show Americans mourning yet another leader lost to violence. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered two months earlier and many were still grappling with the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. As the Vietnam War raged on and racial tensions gripped the country, Robert Kennedy represented for many a youthful promise of hope and was thought to be on his way to his party’s nomination and a possible presidency.

Instead, his lifeless body was headed to the nation’s capitol and he was buried near his brother in Arlington National Cemetery.