Gov. Connally’s clothes tell terror of JFK assassination

October 20, 2013

JFK: Fifty Novembers
Gov. Connally’s clothes tell terror of JFK assassination

by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist DENNIS THOMAS
Posted on October 15, 2013 at 6:26 PM

AUSTIN — For many Americans, the date November 22, 1963, still brings vivid memories.

“I was in eighth grade and I was taking a math test,” recalled John Anderson, preservation officer with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “The principal waited until our math test was over before he came and told our teacher, and I remember seeing the shock on her face.”

As the historic date of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy nears its fiftieth anniversary, the commission is readying a new exhibit at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building featuring historical artifacts that haven’t been seen by the public in almost half a century.

On Tuesday morning, KVUE’s television camera became the first in nearly fifty years to photograph the clothes worn by Texas Governor John B. Connally, who was shot along with Kennedy and seriously wounded. The centerpiece of the new exhibit, the clothes were obtained by the commission from Connally’s wife Nellie in 1964, and briefly displayed just once before being locked away for the next five decades.

“It’s absolutely unique,” said Anderson. “It hasn’t been seen in fifty years, and I think for the viewers it’s going to be a first-hand, very visceral connection to the assassination.”

Connally was seated in front of Kennedy in the presidential limousine as the motorcade approached Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository, where gunman Lee Harvey Oswald waited near a sixth floor window armed with a high-powered hunting rifle. The shooting would leave Kennedy dead, and Connally in serious condition with wounds to his chest, wrist and thigh.

“He didn’t know at the time he was going to survive,” said Anderson. “He thought that he had received a mortal wound. He was pretty sure of it.”

Bearing the label of Fort Worth clothier John L. Ashe, Connally’s dark suit is perforated by bullet holes through the chest, back, wrist and leg. The suit’s punctures match corresponding holes in Connally’s Arrow dress shirt, still heavily stained by blood despite being laundered after the shooting. A large tear along the shirt’s placket marks medical efforts to save Connally’s life.

“As I turned, I was hit, and I knew I’d been hit badly,” Connally said in a bedside interview with NBC News journalist Martin Agronsky at Parkland Hospital shortly afterwards. “I knew the president had been hit, and I said, ‘My God, they’re going to kill us all.'”

Archival footage of the interview posted online by JFK assassination blogger David Von Pein shows the wounded Texas governor reflecting on the moment.

“In the space of a few seconds, it’s unbelievable what can happen,” said Connally. “We went from great joy, anticipation, wonderful crowds, wonderful throngs, to great tragedy.”

“We’ve kind of gotten used to looking at it here in the conservation lab, but it’s pretty dramatic to see,” Anderson told KVUE.

“These garments really have an impact when you look at them,” said conservator Sarah Norris, who worked to preserve and prepare the clothing for exhibit. “It’s an unusual opportunity to think about what happened in 1963 and to think about what it meant.”

The exhibit will focus on the state’s role in the investigation following the assassination, and will include other unique and rarely seen artifacts such as teletype prints from news agencies in the chaos immediately following the shooting. It will also feature historical items from a trip President Kennedy had scheduled to take to Austin before his death.

“Texas Investigates: the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally” is free to the public and will open at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building on Tuesday, October 22.

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