Is 2024 the New 1963?

'Chicago '63' captures another turbulent time in modern American history

A good friend and mentor taught me to ask two questions before I begin writing a project: ‘Why this story?’ and ‘Why now?’

They’re good questions, especially for a writer thinking about doing a historical thriller on spec.

Most of the books I’ve been fortunate enough to have published are set in the American past. My crime novels about the underworld of 1930s Manhattan reflected similar 21st Century concerns but with an Art Deco veneer. My Western novels set in 1880s Montana were about one age slowly being replaced by another.

Back then, the frontier gave way to civilization. Today, it’s America’s post-war optimism being replaced by a far less hopeful era.

Around the beginning of 2023, I felt myself being drawn to write about the turbulence of today’s society. Not from a Republican or Democrat viewpoint, but from a different angle.

Unfortunately, there’s little room for a centrist, patriotic approach anymore.

People snarl at the slightest whiff of a non-partisan thought. Criticize Trump? You’re a socialist ‘libtard’ who craves One World Government. Criticize Biden? You’re a MAGA extremist who hates the environment and women, too. And if a writer seeks to walk that precarious line of American objectivity? You’re a spineless flag waver.

Take a side!

I knew any commentary on the sorry state of discourse in our country was a minefield, but I still wanted to say something about it. And since distance allows for the best critique, I thought of another turbulent era where the American Dream appeared to be on the ropes.

That’s how the idea of “Chicago ’63 was born.

Much has been said and written about The Sixties.

  • Hippies
  • Protests
  • Free Love
  • Rebellion
  • Great music
  • Woodstock

But the early part of the decade is often forgotten amid the golden era of Camelot. A perfect age that came to a sudden and terrible end amid gunfire that fateful day in Dallas.

Many point to that single moment as the time when this country lost its innocence and was forced to face the cold realities of the world. But America was never as innocent as she was supposed to be. Not before 1963 or in any time since.

America was divided even back then, just like today.

People forget that President John F. Kennedy wasn’t coronated. He won with the narrowest of victories in a bitterly contested election. Some believed him to be an illegitimate president and sought to settle the score in the presidential race of 1964.

President Kennedy was also in deep political trouble. That’s not a criticism, but a fact.

Questions of the government’s role in society raged amid great racial unrest and rising crime rates. Threats to America’s interests around the globe raged and the shadow of nuclear conflict hung over everything.

And The Cold War wasn’t cold. The Korean War and coming Vietnam War prove that it was simmering.

President Kennedy had troubles abroad, too. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba cast America’s military might in doubt. A strident Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles 80 miles from Florida. The Cuban Missile Crisis ensued.

The Kennedy Administration itself was not immune from trouble, and I’m not talking about Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe thought JFK would marry her, book claims

In early November 1963, the massive corruption uncovered during the Bobby Baker scandal had rocked Washington. It hit the cover of Life Magazine and implicated Baker’s close ally Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Some believed Johnson would be arrested in early 1964.

That was forgotten after November 22nd.

It was against this forgotten backdrop of calamity, scandal, and upheaval that I wrote “Chicago ’63.” I used hindsight to take real – yet fictionalized – events to tell of the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy during a trip to Chicago on November 2, 1963.

Similarities between the Chicago Plot and what happened 10 days later in Dallas are stark.

The proposed route of the Kennedy motorcade would have required his open convertible to make a slow, 90-degree turn past a cluster of large warehouses in the heart of Chicago. A former Marine and mercenary, Thomas Vallee, was on his way to work at one of those warehouses on the morning of the president’s visit.

When Vallee was stopped by Chicago Police Department detectives, they uncovered large amounts of ammunition in his trunk, but no rifle. Vallee was also a loner who had worked several odd jobs since leaving the military.

Sound familiar?

President Kennedy’s Chicago trip was ultimately cancelled. Not because of this plot, but because of the assassination of President Diem in Vietnam in a coup on November 2, 1963. President Kennedy himself would be dead 10 days later.

We may not have known about this at all if not for the bravery of Abraham Bolden. He was the first African-American Secret Service agent assigned to protect a president. He served as the model for my fictional Abraham Golden in “Chicago ’63,” though he had no role in foiling the plot.

His bravery came later when he tried to alert the Warren Commission about the earlier plans to murder the president in Chicago. His claims were quickly dismissed and Bolden was later convicted of bribery charges a few years later.

President Joe Biden officially pardoned him in 2022.

Former secret service agent pardoned

So, my mentor’s questions remain: Why “Chicago ’63?” Why now?

Because our problems in 2024 are not unique to our time. Earlier, I stated that America has never been an innocent nation. That’s not a criticism. We’ve known turmoil, civil unrest, political upheaval and violence many times before in our history.

We’ve had unpopular presidents and claims of unfair elections. We’ve witnessed the death of idols and ideals, yet we endured. We changed and prospered and endeavored to improve.

We still do.

We found a way to survive before, and I believe we will do so again. If that makes me an idealistic flag waver, that’s fine with me. History is on my side.

Terrence McCauley is an award-winning, bestselling author of thrillers, crime novels and westerns. CHICAGO ’63, his latest work, is a novella published by SilverBack Publishing. CHICAGO ’63 is distributed by Ingram and available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound and wherever books are sold. Please visit his website at

Photo by Florida Memory on Unsplash


  1. “We found a way to survive before, and I believe we will do so again. If that makes me an idealistic flag waver, that’s fine with me. History is on my side.”

    I’m not so sure.

    The attacks on Free Speech are at a point never seen before. Technology has grown exponentially…and China is much more formidable for by using our freedoms against us. The bedrock that kept many together – regardless of political party – was Christian belief. When God is removed from daily life by most of the country, destruction of freedoms will not be far behind. I believe it’s irreversible, unless our nation has a change of heart.

    My 2 cents

  2. Yeah, the early 1960s definitely felt like the dark times. That’s what 2024 feels like now. What, with everyone kissing Ukraine’s butt(nevermind that Ukraine has a history of corruption) and keep funding them constantly, the border crisis going on right now, too many leftists being Joe Biden apologists, The MAGA crowd still supporting Donald Trump, instead of someone new, like Ron DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy, while making excuses, saying that he’s change(even though, he had his chance), Radical Leftists still planning to rig the elections and the mainstream media being more corrupt as heck. All Wokeness did was took steps backwards, and put us back to 1963.

  3. Anyone interested in how the mid-1960s transformed the country into what it is today – specifically the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the effect it had on nullifying key elements of the U.S. Constitution, including Freedom of Assembly, should read Christopher Caldwell’s excellent book “Age of Entitlement.”

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