DEALEY PLAZA AND THE DREAM
by Mack White
Mack White, 11 years old, November 23, 1963, Dealey Plaza, Dallas
(Photo by Al White)
It was Saturday morning. I was sitting with my father in his weekly newspaper office in Mansfield, Texas. I was 11 years old.
The town was unusually quiet for a Saturday morning. Traffic on Main Street was sparse, there was no bustle on the sidewalk, and several businesses were closed.
Normally there would have been a steady stream of people coming into the office to buy classified ads, turn in news stories (weddings, birthday parties, and so forth), or just talk to my father, but today there was just a trickle, and the few who came in all had the same somber look on their faces and spoke quietly and said what a terrible a thing it was, and how much more terrible that it had happened here in Texas.
Then, having said that, they would tell where they were when they heard the news. One man said, “I was at the Theatre Café. I’d just sat down to have lunch when Harry came running in and said, ‘Kennedy’s been shot.’ I didn’t believe him. None of us did. You know what a joker Harry is. We sat there waiting for the punch line, but there wasn’t one. No sir, this time he wasn’t joking.”
Everyone had these stories, and shared them all weekend and for weeks to come. And fifty years later those of us still alive are still sharing them. Here’s mine …
I was at school. The band director Mr. McDonald had taken me and some other boys out of class to help stack up folding chairs in the auditorium. We were happy to get out of class and were having a good time, stacking the chairs and cutting up—mostly cutting up. Mr. McDonald left us alone, then after awhile he came back with a funny look on his face and said the president had been shot.
I didn’t take it seriously at first. Getting shot could mean just shot in the arm. But later, when we got back to the classroom and were listening to the radio reports on the intercom, I began to realize the seriousness of the situation. And yet, bad as it sounded, I thought Kennedy would pull through. I couldn’t imagine him dying. So when the official announcement came that he had died, I was stunned—we all were—and a terrible wave of grief swept through the room. We cried, and the teacher sat white-faced at her desk, looking out the window, unable to say a word. I remember looking up at the American flag that hung over the blackboard, trying to find some kind of comfort there, my vision blurred with tears.
The shock was so great that, sitting in my father’s office the next morning, it still had not worn off. And judging by the look on people’s faces, I was not alone.
I had come to the office with my father because that was what I did every Saturday. We lived in the country, so this was my weekly opportunity to come into town and spend my allowance on comic books at the drug store. Also, I just enjoyed hanging out with my father and liked to accompany him on his newspaperman errands: picking up ad copy from a local business, interviewing someone for a story, taking a picture of a beauty queen or the town’s new fire truck or someone’s prize cow, that kind of thing.
But on this particular morning, as I say, not much was happening. My father typed a news story. I flipped through a Batman comic. But we did so distractedly, our attention mostly focused on the radio and the latest reports from Dallas. And when we talked, it was about the assassination—the only thing on our minds.
Usually on Saturdays my father closed the office at noon, but today there was no point keeping it open even that long. So, around 10, my father said, “Let’s go to Dallas.”
My heart leapt. I had not expected such an adventure as this. Normally, my father only covered local news stories, but this was no normal weekend: the biggest news story on the planet had just happened in Dallas, a short drive away. That made it a local story.
So my father grabbed his camera and an extra roll of film, and out the door we went—only this time it wasn’t to take a picture of a prize cow. We were covering the Kennedy assassination.
* * *
It was sunny that morning, but cold and windy, and Dallas, like Mansfield, was unusually quiet—and for the same reason: a lot of businesses were closed out of respect for the president and people were home watching the news.
We parked in a pay parking lot. It was empty and there was no attendant. Another car parked at the same time we did and out got two Asian reporters carrying cameras. They were confused by the absence of an attendant and in halting English asked my father what to do. He said don’t worry about it, just pay when you get back.
I was excited. We didn’t see many Asians in North Texas in those days, and not only that—they were the World’s Press. This was indeed the biggest story on the planet.
They asked which way Dealey Plaza was. My father said follow us.
We started walking to Dealey Plaza through the cold, windy, empty streets. Along the way, we passed the Dallas County Jail. “This is where they’re keeping Oswald,” said my father.
I looked up at the building, fascinated to think that inside was the man—the Communist, the bad man, the creep who had done the terrible thing. I wished he would die—never imagining that that very thing would happen the next day—nor, for that matter, imagining a day would come when I would no longer believe in Oswald’s guilt.
Dallas, as I say, was quiet that morning, and this was so even in Dealey Plaza. You would expect there to have been a large number of curiosity seekers, but there were not. They would come later, of course, and lay wreaths on the grass, and point and take pictures, and never stop coming, and someday there would be a museum. But at that early hour the tourist trade had not yet begun; it was mostly cops and reporters, and they were all gathered in a small, but noisy, crowd in front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository.
We walked over there. A short stubby man stood under the live oak hawking an extra edition of the Dallas Times-Herald. My father bought a copy (which I still have, along with all the other local newspapers from that weekend), then we joined the crowd of reporters, all talking in a babble of accents and languages from all over the world. Again, I was excited.
The front door of the building opened, and a heavy-set man in a dark suit and fedora came out. The reporters surged forward, shouting questions. The man smiled and shook his head and the reporters fell back, loudly groaning their disappointment… a scene familiar from many a movie, here played out in real life.
My father pointed out the “sniper’s perch,” the sixth floor southeast corner window of the Depository. “That’s where the shots came from,” he said.
I looked up, and as I did happened to glance at the building on the other side of Houston Street—the Dal-Tex building—where I was startled to see two men on a fire escape, one of them looking through the scope of a rifle mounted on a tripod.
“Look,” I said to my father and pointed.
He guessed they were detectives. “They’re probably checking to see if there was another shooter,” he said.
Until that moment, the idea of another shooter besides Oswald had not occurred to me. Now I began to wonder about it.
But were the men on the fire escape detectives? Since then I’ve learned they may have been journalists using the gun as a prop for a photo of Elm Street that appeared the following week in the Saturday Evening Post.
Nevertheless, in the years that followed, evidence would emerge that there was likely a shooter in the Dal-Tex Building, as well as evidence for shooters all over the plaza, including the Grassy Knoll.
We walked down Elm to the place where Kennedy was killed, and my father took two pictures—one of me facing the camera, and the other with my back to the camera looking up at the Depository. The latter photo was published on the front page of the two papers my father edited, the Mansfield News-Mirror and DeSoto Star; the original of that photo was lost long ago, but the one of me facing the camera remains, as does a photo my father took of the small crowd of reporters in front of the Depository.
In the photos, the Hertz clock on top of the Depository reads 11:38. Less than 24 hours had passed since the assassination.
We left Dealey Plaza and drove north on Stemmons Freeway, retracing the route taken by the president’s limousine as it raced to Parkland Hospital. My father pointed out the hospital, where at that time Governor Connally was still being treated. Then we took the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike (now I-30) to Arlington and the offices of the Citizen-Journal, the paper that owned the Mansfield and DeSoto papers and employed my father as editor.
As we entered Arlington city limits, we drove past the theme park Six Flags Over Texas. The six flags that stood by the road (Mexico, France, Spain, Confederate, Texas, and the US) were at half-mast in honor of the president. The sky was now overcast.
Looking at those flags, I remembered something…
Three years earlier, before moving to Mansfield, we had lived here in Arlington, and one night after Kennedy’s election I had a dream. I was eight years old.
In the dream I saw a black-and-white photo. The scene was an airport runway, with the camera angle looking straight down at a group of men in dark suits standing next to a plane and holding a stretcher. On the stretcher lay President Kennedy, his eyes closed.
As it was a photo, the scene was still, entirely without motion. But there was audio. I heard voices: two men talking about the president’s death. I don’t remember what they said, except for the last thing I heard before waking, when one man asked the other, “Has his father been told?”
I woke up and lay in the shadows of my bedroom thinking about the dream. Though I was very young, I understood that by “his father” the man meant Joe Kennedy, the president’s father.
I went back to sleep and forgot about the dream until that day on the Turnpike, seeing the six flags at half mast under the darkening sky.
* * *
My father knew a great many newspapermen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in those days. One of these was Penn Jones, who published the weekly paper in Midlothian, twelve miles south of Mansfield where we lived.
Jones was one of the first Warren Commission critics. Early on, he began interviewing assassination witnesses and writing about his independent investigation in his paper and in his self-published four-volume book series, Forgive My Grief.
I remember hearing my father talk about Jones’ work, and it made a great impression on me. I was particularly interested in reports that Oswald and Ruby had been seen together prior to the assassination, and that assassination witnesses were dying under suspicious circumstances.
Later, I closely followed the news about Jim Garrison’s investigation and began reading everything I could find about the assassination. Over time, I began studying the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations as well, with the result that today I have collected enough books on these and related subjects to fill two bookcases.
Conspiracy research has, in fact, become a major preoccupation of mine and has led me to some strange places (Waco, for instance, where I met the surviving Branch Davidians in the aftermath of the FBI’s deadly assault on their church and home). Conspiracy is also a recurring theme in my stories and artwork.
But on that cold and windy morning in Dealey Plaza fifty years ago with my father, all this was far in the future and beyond my wildest dreams. I had complete faith that the authorities had solved the crime (Oswald did it!), and I thought if there was another shooter they would catch him too, and fully expected justice to be served.
It never occurred to me—and I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me at that tender age—that the authorities were in fact covering up the crime, and that fifty years later there would still be no justice, and worse, there would be more assassinations in the years to come, and more black ops, and more cover-ups, right up to the present day—and no justice for those crimes either.
No, I could not envision such a future that sunny, cold, windy morning in Dallas, 1963. Nor did I realize that a journey was beginning for me: a fifty-year journey from innocence to wisdom, from faith in government to the deepest distrust, and a quest for justice that still remains out of reach …