Exhibit offers ‘cues’ to spark memories of JFK and his era
The page was ripped from the Teletype machine when the final news alert came over.
“President dead,” it said.
The teletypewriter pages from Nov. 22, 1963, are among more than 700 pieces of history in a Denton exhibit surrounding the life of President John F. Kennedy and his death 50 years ago this week.
Badges from Dallas police officers, personal photographs, photos of Kennedy’s visit to Fort Worth before his trip to Dallas, cultural mementos and other items collected during the days and weeks after the president’s assassination will be on display through Dec. 29 at Western Heritage Gallery’s “JFK Texas Exhibit.”
“This is a community exhibit,” said Brett Jones, gallery manager. “A lot of people in the community have loaned their things, which is touching.”
The exhibit is among several events and displays with Denton connections this week, including a documentary sponsored by the Mayborn Institute at the University of North Texas on Wednesday, in addition to a number of events to be conducted in Dallas.
The Teletype page hangs from a wall in one of the exhibit rooms, loaned to the gallery by one of the 150 dealers who sell items at Western Heritage. Many of them also contributed to the exhibit.
“We have 17 original photos, many pictures of the two speeches he gave, including a picture of him speaking on a platform in the rain outside the Hotel Texas and a picture of him speaking to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce,” Jones said.
Also on display are planning documents noting the president’s schedule and the route of his motorcade so people would know where he would be going, which Jones noted became controversial later.
The exhibit also includes a room focusing on Dallas with newspapers, photos, books, figurines and the string of Teletype alerts sent out moments after Kennedy was shot.
“It’s the saddest and most poignant part of our exhibit,” Jones said. “We have wonderful photos of the president and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field.”
Other parts of the exhibit include material from Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit — who had a deadly encounter with Lee Harvey Oswald — and from several other Dallas officers, presidential campaign material from the time, and books on presidents before and after Kennedy.
Jones said he wanted to show the popular culture of the era, so he included musical artists in the exhibit as well.
Local historians Georgia Caraway and Doug Harman helped conceptualize the exhibit, and contributed items.
“We wanted to tell it in pictures and Life and Look magazines and newspaper headlines and book covers,” Jones said. “It’s a very visual exhibit.”
Harman said he did not know of any other non-government, non-museum entity celebrating the Kennedy visit and the era of the 1960s the way it is being done at the Western Heritage Gallery.
“I give him [Jones] credit for doing something out of the ordinary,” Harman said.
He offered a few items to be displayed in the exhibit, including a “Do not park here” sign from Kennedy’s inauguration. Harman was a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., at the time.
“I’m delighted he has picked up the broad period of the ’60s in addition to Kennedy in Texas and his visit to the area,” Harman said of Jones’ work. “The more you explore the period and the story, you see there are so many unique things about it.”
Harman said, “Kennedy wouldn’t have been here if the liberal and conservative Democrats weren’t feuding so much and if Texas voters were not so important. So many different aspects of it are so complicated.”
The exhibit will also raise funds for the Denton Community Food Center. The gallery is having a special ticket-only benefit for the food center on Friday, with each ticket costing $20.
“They’re a wonderful organization and we supported them last year,” Jones said. “Every dollar we raise for them, they can feed three hot meals during the holidays.”
Jones said the exhibit gives Denton residents the chance to see how history unfolded.
“We think the exhibit is educational and historical, and it’s charitable,” he said. “A lot of people have never seen this stuff. It was such a huge part of American history … a world-history-changing event. It was also probably the biggest news story that came out of Texas in the 20th century.”
Jones said there is no agenda for the exhibit.
“One hundred different people remember that day 100 different ways,” he said. “What we hope to do is throw out a few hundred memory cues and let people go back and reflect where they were and come to their own conclusions.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.