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Nov. 22, 1963: a tragic and shameful day

Like newspapers around the nation and the world, The Gilmer Mirror reported the somber news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination 60 years ago. We join many others in observing this week’s significant anniversary of that world-changing event.

Local angles were stressed in The Mirror’s coverage.

A page one story told of Congressman Lindley Beckworth’s experience as a passenger on Air Force One with President Kennedy on his last fateful flight into Dallas’ Love Field, and riding in the fourth car behind the presidential limousine in the parade that ended with President Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally being shot.

The next week, he was one of eight Texas congressmen, along with Sen. Ralph Yarborough, chosen to represent the state at President Kennedy’s funeral.

Two former Gilmer residents, Ruth Marshall Smith and Marvin Gage, both employees of the Texas Department of Social Welfare, were watching from their office. Mrs. Smith said they heard shots and she saw the President slump forward.

Mirror Publishers Russell and Georgia Laschinger learned of the assassination in Waco, en route to Austin to attend the dinner planned for President Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

Another member of the Mirror family wrote a report about being with the press corps that waited for the President to arrive for that day’s luncheon speech. A shortened version follows:


For years ahead, anyone you ask will be able to tell you where he was and what he was doing when he first learned of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

I was in the Dallas Trade Mart, awaiting the moment when the President and his party would take their places at the head table of a luncheon for 2,500 persons.

The Mirror seat was on the lowest balcony, close to the TV cameras overlooking the head table. We had a close view of the raised platforms where swags of greenery and yellow roses extended out from the presidential seal.


A few minutes before 1 o’clock the corps of Washington correspondents entered from the rear of the mammoth building and ran single file toward the front. The luncheon audience, then already eating the steak and potato meal, stirred with the anticipation that the President and his party were arriving at the front door.

Minutes later, the reporters and the heavily laden photographers came running back in the other direction.

I had been able to pick out Keith Shelton and Bob Hollingsworth of the Dallas Times Herald and, near the rear, Ronnie Dugger of the Texas Observer. Penn Jones of Midlothian remarked, laughing, that he was afraid his friend Ronnie wasn’t going to make it.


A man stopped by our table and said, “They’ve been shot. I said something about all the photographers we’d just seen and how there was doubtless a lot of picture taking going on.

“No,” he said. “They’ve been shot in an underpass on the way here. They’ve taken them to Parkland.”

Penn Jones and I struck out for anyone with a radio.

(NOTE: This was the beginning of Jones’ obsession with the assassination, which led him to sell his newspaper and eventually write a book, Forgive My Grief.)

A group of Trade Mart employees had a radio with the first fragmentary reports saying only that the president and governor were both still alive. Then a woman looked up from her radio and said that a priest had been called.


I returned to my table to report the grave developments, but somebody said that calling a priest could be routine, and surely it couldn’t be serious.

Indeed, looking down on the Dallas dignitaries and men close to the governor like Julian Read, an assistant, and Cliff Cassidy, his Dallas County campaign manager, it was hard to find anything amiss on the scene.

At about that time, Texas Instruments President Erik Jonsson came to the microphone and said he was not sure he could do what he had to do. He reported the shooting and called on the Rev. Luther Holcomb, who asked the audience to “offer the most earnest  prayer any of us have ever offered for the president, the governor and their families.”

The president then was believed still alive, and the supplications could not have been more heartfelt.


Still, no word came and beneath a calm surface ran an increasingly nightmarish current. The TV monitor screens by our table continued to carry the scene around the head table, milling people on the floor and fruit cocktail and green salad still in place.

At 1:20 p.m. I stood by KRLD newsman Eddie Barker and heard him say into the microphone that he had word that the president was dead.

(NOTE: Recent news stories have disclosed that Barker, whose announcement preceded the more famous one by Walter Cronkite, was told the news by a Parkland doctor.)

Dr. W.H. Dickinson Jr., pastor of the Highland Park Methodist Church, didn’t mention the death when he rose to give the benediction, for the official announcement had not yet come.

“There are no words to express that which we are feeling,” he said. “I know we face an issue and responsibility as citizens that we cannot face without the wisdom and patience of our God. Grant us wisdom, strength and courage to live in keeping with Thy law and as free men.”


The crowd dispersed and left, walking beside the reflecting pool with its flock of warbling yellow parakeets that had lent such a touch of glamour to the luncheon scene. Tearful women clutched handfuls of yellow roses and Six Flags over Texas centerpieces they would take home as historical souvenirs.

Emerging under a cloudless sky as blue as only Texas can produce in November, I found it hard to believe it was the same day as when I had left Gilmer six hours earlier.

Driving in a hard rain to Dallas, I had relished the radio report of the presidential visit to Fort Worth. The chief executive’ buoyant spirit came through most in his remarks about Mrs. Kennedy. The triumph she enjoyed, I was sure, would be repeated in Dallas.


This feeling was reinforced two hours later when I entered the Trade Mart amid a throng of light-hearted, gorgeously dressed women and their handsomely tailored men.

At the Sam Bloom Advertising Agency staff members had worked to bring order out of the confusion of distributing the press invitations. Mrs. Price of Frankston, who’d ridden the bus in for the luncheon, asked for a ride to the Trade Mart.

As we got in the car we remarked on the scudding of the clouds, as swift as if a giant broom were sweeping them, leaving blue sky in the west.

Dallas Police Chief Jess Curry was to say later that if the rain had continued the bubble top of the limousine would have been used and the tragedy perhaps prevented.


Perhaps because of the sight of so many Cadillacs with mink-clad women emerging, Mrs. Price and I talked for a few minutes, in cliches, about how money doesn’t always buy happiness. I mentioned Mrs. Eisenhower’s constant fear that her grandchildren might be kidnapped, and remarked that Mrs. Kennedy must feel the same nagging apprehension.

As one always does when eagerly anticipating a visit, I viewed familiar scenes as through the eyes of the visitors. I was proud, as a Texan, of what the President and his lady would soon be seeing.

I noticed a guard on top of the building and I wondered if I  could get by with taking the Times Herald I had just bought into the luncheon. The thought crossed my mind that it could easily conceal a revolver. But no one seemed to notice, and if there were any Secret Service men inside, I never could spot them. But there were Texas highway patrolmen, including Gilmer’s Bud Andrews. 


When I left two hours later, my overwhelming feeling was one of shame that this monstrous act should have happened in proud, beloved Texas. And for all the stricken Dallas citizens, who had tried so hard, a sense of pity came even before the feeling of grief for the country’s loss. It was evident on many faces that the keen edge of shame cut deep.

Driving on Stemmons Expressway, I was passed by a fire truck, then by two police cars, sirens on.

One pulled into an underpass, stopped and emptied. I began to have the unreal feeling that I was about to be involved in the closing-in on the assassin. Turning into the Triple Underpass, I saw police swarming over the scene of the crime, and first realized where it happened.

Still feeling dazed, I drove down Main St. and stopped at an open parking meter. I got out, and thought that people looked strangely normal, unmoved. Aimlessly, I started to go in Neiman-Marcus. A doorman lifted his arm and I ran into it.

“We’re closed,” he said.

It became real. I started for home.

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