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Thursday, November 21, 2013

One Day Early - My JFK Anniversary Piece

Hello Readers!

As I will have reviews posted tomorrow and again the day after of events I am tasked to attend over the next two nights, I thought I would just jump the gun by a day to post a column I wrote several years back, that never did get published.

I don't think I need to do much more by way of explanation than that - here's the piece:

“Covering Chaos” in Dallas

Long before CNN, smartphones, embedded reporters and every-day civilian social media sites made news-reporting instantaneous, a routine appearance by the President Of The United States in Texas ultimately sparked a frenzy of activity by news outlets worldwide, as they scrambled to relay to listeners and viewers that John F. Kennedy had just been shot by a sniper. 

Television was really still in its infancy back then, and radio was primarily providing the light entertainment menu of the time. Newspapers (if you can believe it now with the state of the business here in 2013) were considered the most important medium for hard news devotees. 

The Sixth Floor Museum At Dealey Plaza in Dallas is a permanent exhibit dealing with the life, times, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy, housed in the infamous former Texas School Book Depository Building. From the sixth floor of this historic building, employee Harvey Lee Oswald was believed to have fired the three shots that killed President Kennedy, and wounded Governor John Connally.

In late June 2005, as a member of the National Society Of Newspaper Columnists, I was part of a group that had a sneak peek at a fascinating temporary exhibit, entitled “Covering Chaos”. 

The efforts put into recreating the reporting timeline between the initial gunshot fired, to the somber reading of Kennedy’s passing by Walter Cronkite was nothing short of spellbinding, given the limitations for news delivery that were standard in the media outlets of the day. 

From November 22-25, 1963, wire services, print media, radio and television stations covered the event, and their efforts were recounted in this temporary exhibit. Two videos were broadcast in this exhibit room continuously, showcasing the ongoing news footage of the era. Just a few of the journalists highlighted were Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Bob Shieffer, & Jim Lehrer.

One entire sidewall of the museum featured newspapers from around the world, released as news of the shooting began to spread. Another area featured actual network TV cameras, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and other tools of the reporter’s trade, circa 1963.

Standing at the window, looking down at the curved roadway that the President and his wife had been traveling along in their motorcade, you can’t help but feel a rush of history. This setting and scene has been played over and over hundreds of times on television and in movies, countless times in print. 

Markings on the road indicate the approximate location of the car carrying Mr. & Mrs. Kennedy, when the unexpected and unthinkable happened. 

Our group of columnists at this preview had the additional privilege of attending an address by three individuals who were on the scene at the time of the assassination. Bert Shipp was a Forth Worth TV news reporter, and Hugh Aynesworth a former reporter for the Dallas Morning News. Even amidst the gravity of recounting the situation they found themselves in, humor found a place, as Aynesworth recounted a story of borrowing a giant wooden pencil from a schoolboy on the side of the road, to write up his article. 

Jim Leavelle was the former Dallas police detective who was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald, when Oswald was shot and killed by businessman Jack Ruby. He had the attention of everyone in the room as he recalled not only the events leading up to Oswald’s arrest, but the drama that unfolded in front of him, as Ruby stood out and killed the man that had shot “his President”. 

Heading back to our hotel on the shuttle after our special access event, one colleague from California admitted that he hadn’t expected it to be so emotional. He was one of the luckier ones. We heard later how other attendees just broke down into tears. Even being a Canadian just-a-little-too-young to have experienced the magnitude of the event at the time, you can’t walk away from this place in history without feeling affected. 

If you are going to be in Dallas area, especially close to this sad anniversary, I can’t advise strongly enough to take the time to check out this moving and history-filled exhibit facility. 

The Sixth Floor Museum is located at 411 Elm, Dealey Plaza, in Dallas Texas. 

To find out more about this exhibit, go to


Mrs That Dan Guy said...

Wow. It is indeed an experience I will never forget. Standing in the building, in the midst of the exhibit, reading, looking, feeling that historic moment in time, knowing you are standing in the very location history was made was surreal, moving and powerful. I agree, a must see.

ThatDanGuy said...

It was something else indeed....