June 5, 2013, The Dallas News, 'The Reporters' Notes' on JFK assassination are opened, by Will Pry,
Dallas Morning News photographer Joe Laird watched as Robert Baskin, the paper's Washington bureau chief, called in his story over a car radio from the parking lot at Parkland Memorial Hospital on Nov. 22, 1963.
The night before John F. Kennedy’s assassination,Dallas Morning News reporter Mary Elizabeth Woodward gave herself a manicure because she was so excited to see the president. She watched the motorcade from a spot in Dealey Plaza; hers may have been the last face Kennedy saw.
When Hugh Aynesworth reported to the newsroom on Nov. 22, 1963, he felt left out, not being assigned to cover the president’s visit. He would later be an eyewitness to Kennedy’s shooting and the arrest and shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Nightclub columnist Tony Zoppi watched the motorcade on his day off, so he wasn't at his office to welcome his visitor that morning: Jack Ruby.
The News staffers’ recollections of Dallas’ darkest day were among the hundreds of pages of notes written in the months that followed. The rarely seen documents are the basis for JFK Assassination: The Reporters’ Notes, an interactive book for the iPad that was published in May and is available in the iBookstore.
An excerpt of the first chapter appears below.
The presidential limousine leaves Love Field. (Tom Dillard/Staff Photographer)
CHAPTER 1: LOVE FIELD AND THE MOTORCADE
A reporter for the Women's News section, Woodward and three friends watched the motorcade from the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza. Woodward wrote a first-person account of what she saw for the next day's newspaper.
Aynesworth, a reporter, was not assigned to cover the president's visit. That day, he left the newsroom and made his way to several locations along the motorcade route, eventually stopping in Dealey Plaza. He also witnessed the arrest and shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Harris was a reporter who was assigned to cover the Kennedys at Love Field and to write a story about the president's trip through downtown. He drove fellow reporters Kent Biffle, Larry Grove and Mike Quinn and managed to maneuver his car into the motorcade.
Dillard, a photographer, was assigned to cover the Kennedys' arrival at Love Field, the motorcade and the luncheon at the Trade Mart. He rode in a convertible with four other photographers.
Quinn was a reporter who was assigned to cover the president's visit. He rode to Love Field and in the motorcade along with colleagues Kent Biffle and Larry Grove in the car driven by Lewis Harris.
Baskin was Washington bureau chief for The News. He traveled in the press corps that followed Kennedy from Washington to all stops on his Texas trip: San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas.
MARY ELIZABETH WOODWARD: On the night of Nov. 21, a group of friends and I went out to dinner after work.
The dinner conversation was charged with excited talk of the big day coming up – the day when we would see our president and, best of all, his beautiful, charming first lady. …
When the dinner party broke up, we drove back to town and scouted out the best place for us to view the motorcade and decided on Dealey Plaza across the street from the Texas School Book Depository. I was anxious to get home because I wanted to give myself a manicure. I knew the president wouldn’t see my hands reaching out from the crowd, but somehow I couldn't bear the thought of going to cheer the president looking less than my best.
When Friday, Nov. 22, dawned, I was up earlier than usual to give myself those extra few minutes that everyone wants when preparing for some big event.
HUGH AYNESWORTH: Upon arriving at the office I looked at the assignment sheet. I had told my wife I would not be assigned to the president’s doings. Sure enough, we were covering it from every angle imaginable, but I wasn't one of the score that was to take part. …
Somebody asked me to sit on the city desk while they went to eat at the Trade Mart. I recall thinking, “The hell with it. If I am not good enough to write something about all this, I’ll just go look at the crowds or walk uptown. No sitting on the desk answering phones for me."
LEWIS HARRIS: Fellow reporters Mike Quinn and Kent Biffle joined me for the ride to the airport.
Personally wanting to hear President Kennedy’s speech scheduled at the Trade Mart, I had decided to try to get my car into the official caravan.
An unmarked police car was swinging into the area restricted for the arrival ceremonies as we approached. Falling in behind the car, we stayed close as though we belonged there as it led us unchallenged through several police lines.
We later learned that no other local press cars were allowed into this area.
TOM DILLARD: A large crowd, which seemed strongly partisan to the president, filled all available space at the airport arrival gates. There were a few political signs boosting Goldwater for president and some young people had a large Confederate and a Texas flag displayed.
But most of the signs were hand-lettered welcoming Jack and Jackie.
LEWIS HARRIS: The airport crowd began growing fast. Our apprehensions grew with it. More and more unfavorable signs began jabbing the air around the restraining fence. And there were the nagging thoughts of earlier ugly incidents involving visiting political figures.
But I had asked a Secret Service agent a couple of days earlier – only a few feet from where we waited now – if any unusual security measures had been taken for the presidential visit.
"No," he replied confidently. "We don't believe we'll have any real need for any."
MIKE QUINN: Then as time moved on, the planes came in and the president’s plane pulled over to the parking area. I remember I was surprised to see the attention focus on the rear door of Air Force One instead of the front – where by this time, the pool press and others were coming off.
From my vantage point, I saw Kennedy step past the back door of the plane, then saw his arm reach back for something or someone. It happened to be Mrs. Kennedy. That first impression of her stepping to the door will linger forever, I think. She had on a rose suit (or pink, I guess, but it was beautiful and the color seemed to reflect the sun). As she stepped out ahead of the president, the crowd seemed awestruck, then started applauding and – if you will pardon – squealing.
I understood then why Kennedy liked to have Mrs. Kennedy along.
BOB BASKIN: The motorcade got under way about noon. Behind the car bearing Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy and Gov. and Mrs. Connally came the big Secret Service Cadillac known as the “Queen Mary,” then a car bearing Vice President and Mrs. Johnson, followed by another open car in which Mayor and Mrs. Cabell and Rep. Ray Roberts rode. Then came the press pool car.
MIKE QUINN: We dashed for Harris’ car and hopped in. The cars came out faster than we thought, so Harris – driving well – cut in ahead of the White House press buses, giving us a good spot to see the crowds. However, at the fence post going onto Cedar Springs, one of the buses got outside us and squeezed us out. But we were still in good shape, being between the two press buses.
"The crowd was genuinely warm, and the Kennedys were enjoying themselves, laughing and shaking hands," Mike Quinn wrote. (Tom Dillard Collection/Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza)
HUGH AYNESWORTH: I left the cafeteria about 11:30 and started uptown. … The crowds already were lining up three and four deep as the bus made its way along Main Street.
Five minutes later, I was getting off the bus near Main and Akard streets. … I didn't feel like standing 30 or 40 minutes more just to see the parade, so I just began walking toward the Harwood corner, where I knew the president would turn onto Main for the glorious sweep through downtown Dallas.
LEWIS HARRIS: Then the motorcade began rolling out. As we waited, only a few cars had passed when the next one in line stalled momentarily.
In a sudden decision, we gunned into the open space. It was a favorable position to see the presidential car as it made its turns ahead, winding between lines of spectators.
HUGH AYNESWORTH: Another five or 10 minutes and I was at Harwood and Main. … There were screaming mobs by this time. The intersection was nearly blocked, and the closest I could get to the actual parade route was five or six rows deep.
"To hell with it again,” I thought and started walking back down Main to return to the Dallas News office. By now it was probably 12:10 to 12:20. As I approached the courthouse area, I greeted some News workers and some lawyers. I thought as long as I was this close I might as well just stand another 10 minutes and see Kennedy and Co. I stopped at the corner of Houston and Main.
"They seemed to be pushing to get out in the street," Quinn recalled. "They were on fire escapes, windows and everywhere." (Tom Dillard Collection/Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza)
LEWIS HARRIS: There was Main Street, the last lap through the downtown business area. We were relaxed now, reassured by the deafening cheers ahead.
"They've got this town wrapped around their little fingers," I smiled at Quinn.
There was even occasion to notice the pretty girls in the crowd. “Wow, look at that blonde,” someone commented.
MARY ELIZABETH WOODWARD: Dealey Plaza is only about three blocks from The News, but by the time we got there the crowd was so heavy we decided to cross Elm Street and wait for the parade on the grassy slopes between the School Book Depository Building and the Triple Underpass.
HUGH AYNESWORTH: As I looked toward the Texas School Book Depository Building – never dreaming that this would become a legend, only interested in the Hertz clock it held high atop its roof – I spotted a man, I thought, named Maurice Harrell, an assistant district attorney.
I thought I’d walk over and say hello. He was standing out from the crowd at Elm and Houston. By the time I got there, he was gone, moved to another vantage point. … So, by at least a dozen strange quirks of fate I found myself only a stone’s throw from where a crazed gunman fired three shots really heard ’round the world.
MARY ELIZABETH WOODWARD: At last the presidential limousine was in our range of view. For those in the car, it seemed as though the parade was over. The president and his wife were talking to each other, and for a moment it seemed that after all the waiting, we weren't going to get to see them full-face.
Then we started our own cheering section, and President and Mrs. Kennedy turned around, looked directly at us, flashed their well-known smiles, gave us a wave of recognition, then looked forward again. Ann and I remarked, almost echoing each other, how well and radiant they both looked.
The car proceeded down Elm, and when it was about 40 yards from us, we heard the first noise.