By Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
The BBC television program Doctor Who holds the Guinness World Record as the longest-running science fiction series in history. Such a record is not terribly surprising considering that this British institution premiered one day after the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Perhaps because of its coincidental connection to the program’s 1963 premiere, its historical and pop culture significance, and its malleability for science fiction writers forever pondering “what if,” the Kennedy assassination has been curiously linked to Doctor Who for virtually all its history.
Doctor Who, the television program, was developed entirely during the Kennedy years, beginning in March 1962 when the BBC began to explore creating a new science fiction series. Its premiere on Saturday, November 23, 1963, was delayed approximately five minutes by assassination news coverage. Ratings were poor as one might expect, and in a rare move, the BBC decided to rerun that first episode the following week. The assassination occurred during production of the series’ second story, “The Daleks.” Reportedly, shooting of the series was interrupted and postponed once cast and crew learned that President Kennedy had died.
John F. Kennedy and the assassination were not directly referenced in the series for twenty-five years, though a wax figure of President Kennedy made a brief cameo appearance in the 1970 Third Doctor story, “Spearhead from Space.” During its 25th anniversary in 1988, Doctor Who was particularly nostalgic and John F. Kennedy was twice mentioned. The story “Remembrance of the Daleks” took place in November 1963 near the same London junkyard location where the television series began a quarter century earlier. This story opened with a view of the Earth and included a famous quote by John F. Kennedy from his “Strategy for Peace” speech at American University in June 1963—the first and only time his voice is heard in the series’ history.
Another 1988 story, entitled “Silver Nemesis” specifically mentioned the Kennedy assassination for the first time. The Doctor, now in his seventh incarnation, revealed that he launched a dangerous artifact into space which, unbeknownst to him, had returned to Earth’s orbit once every twenty-five years, triggering some terrible event each time. In 1963, he noted, this would have been the death of President Kennedy.
The assassination again resurfaced in Doctor Who mythology in the very first episode of the re-launched series in 2005. In the premiere, “Rose,” the Ninth Doctor is shown standing along Main Street, observing the Kennedy motorcade moments before the assassination.
In reality, the face of actor Christopher Eccleston was Photoshopped into a famous Dallas Morning News photograph taken by Walt Sisco. The implication, however, was that the Doctor was in Dallas when President Kennedy was shot.
Beyond television, President Kennedy and the assassination have been referenced numerous times in the worlds of Doctor Who through original novels and audio-only adventures that fit within the series’ official canon. Among these, most notably, is the fan-favorite novel, Who Killed Kennedy (1996). Author David Bishop, writing as an investigative journalist, constructed a complex narrative linking bits and pieces of the series history together, building up to a climax that revealed, once and for all, what actually happened in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, and how the Doctor was directly involved in this significant event.
The 1998 novel Matrix presented an alternate reality in which President Kennedy survived his trip to Dallas but was assassinated three years later while visiting London. And as one might expect from the titles, Kennedy is referenced in two audio adventures: The Conspiracy and 1963: The Space Race. November 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of both Doctor Who and the Kennedy assassination.
To once again acknowledge their connection, the Eleventh Doctor novel, Shroud of Sorrow, takes place the dayafter the assassination where an alien entity is trying to use the tragedy as part of a plot to plunge the Earth into grief. The Doctor teams up with an FBI agent and a reporter at The Dallas Morning News to save the day.
It is inevitable that a historical event such as the Kennedy assassination would turn up so many times in a series centered on time travel, yet Doctor Who holds a special distinction because of its November 1963 premiere. It is likely that, in time, President Kennedy and the assassination will again be part of this long-running series’ history. As for when this might happen next, Who knows?
To read the books mentioned in this blog or see other fictional stories related to President Kennedy or the assassination, make an appointment to check out the Museum Reading Room!
by Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
More than fifty-three years after the Kennedy assassination, the ongoing Oral History Project at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is in a race against time. A seventeen-year-old high school student in 1963 is today 70 years old. As these November anniversaries go by, we sadly lose more of our storytellers each year. As we acknowledge those interview participants who passed away this year, we also applaud their willingness to add such unique perspectives to our ever-growing archive of “living history.”
In late December 2015, we lost Dallas Police Lieutenant Rio Sam Pierce, who was in charge of basement security on the day of Lee Harvey Oswald’s planned transfer to the Dallas County Jail. Pierce drove his vehicle up the Main Street ramp at the time many believe Jack Ruby gained access to the basement. Ruby’s good friend, longtime Dallas Times Herald television editor, Bob Brock passed away this year. Brock spoke with Ruby just one day prior to the Oswald shooting. When Ruby went on trial the following year, young SMU law student George Bramblett, Jr. was there to watch the spectacle unfold. Covering the trial for the Associated Press was photographer Ferd Kaufman, who held the distinction of capturing through his camera lens Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby. In fact, Kaufman was one of the first to photograph Oswald after his arrest at the Texas Theatre, where the late Dallas police patrolman Jerry Pollard had helped wrestle Oswald to the ground.
Another photographer who passed away in 2016 was Joe Laird, the last surviving staff photographer at The Dallas Morning News in 1963. Laird photographed the Kennedy motorcade at the corner of Main and Harwood Streets. Near his location was parade spectator Sam Berger, who had sold Abraham Zapruder the Bell and Howell home movie camera that he would use to capture the assassination on film that day.
Following news of the assassination, young Karen Knight Neukom and her family went to Dallas Love Field. Her father had been Senator Kennedy’s campaign manager in Wichita County, Texas, during that hard-fought 1960 campaign. The late Harold Vaughan also understood the pressures of campaigning for Kennedy. As the senator’s direct link to the African American community in Boston, Vaughan worked on Kennedy’s first U.S. Senate campaign in 1953.
Prior to his Texas visit in November 1963, the president supposedly asked Arkansas Sen. John McClellan to quietly survey the conservative political atmosphere in Dallas. His cousin, Sue Crutchfield, who passed away this summer, shared this untold story that might have been lost to history. The Dallas City Council had also voiced concerns, questioning the police chief at length about security preparations. This November we lost Dorothy Roberts, widow of 1963 councilman Bill Roberts. Though the Warren Commission later investigated right-wing activities in Dallas, they ultimately concluded that Oswald acted alone. The late Justice Richard Mosk served on the Warren Commission’s staff. He shared his memories with us at a 2013 public program exploring the Commission’s efforts.
The assassination impacted individuals around the world in profound ways. In Dallas, the Reverend Wally Chappell led a special prayer service for President Kennedy at Ridgewood Park United Methodist Church. Noted Fremont, Ohio, artist Bernadine Stetzel responded to the tragedy through seventy-one paintings depicting President Kennedy’s life and death. In 2011, she donated those works to the Museum. We also lost two oral history subjects from the world of entertainment. Actor Alan Young, star of the popular Mister Ed sitcom in 1963, shared his memories of when production shut down on November 22, 1963. The advertising manager for Disneyland, Jack Lindquist, discussed the unscheduled closing of the Anaheim theme park in memory of President Kennedy.
Everyone has a story to share, and we are grateful to these individuals for helping us better understand the moment and the memory of the Kennedy assassination and the 1960s. If you would like to add your voice to our ongoing Oral History Project, please contact OralHistory@jfk.org.
Stay tuned for an upcoming special blog post in memory of former WBAP reporter Bob Welch.
by Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Earlier this year I was invited to teach a short-term, non-credit course on the Kennedy assassination as part of Richland College’s Emeritus plus 50 program. Richland, part of the Dallas County Community College District, offers a selection of diverse classes to provide “affordable, quality education to enable individuals 50 and over to stay intellectually challenged and enriched, physically fit and socially connected.”
It was an honor to be included, and during the Fall semester I taught a six-hour course entitled “JFK, Dallas and the Power of Memory.” This was spread across four Monday evening classes on the Richland campus on Abrams Road in Dallas. Much to my surprise, two of the individuals who signed up for the course were “non-rememberers,” both born more than a decade after the assassination. While not commonly known, Dallas County residents of all ages can enroll in Emeritus classes, and I was thrilled to see some young people take advantage of this opportunity. The rest of the attendees were, on occasion, willing to share their own memories and discuss the impact of this tragic event. Two of those individuals will soon be recording interviews as part of our ongoing Oral History Project.
During the four classes, we covered a wide variety of topics: Dallas stories related to the 1960 campaign between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the city’s political climate at the time, background on the President’s trip to Texas in November 1963, and of course, the assassination itself—told through the personal perspectives of more than a dozen individuals: police officers, reporters, schoolchildren and many others.
No course on the assassination would be complete without a look at the investigations and lingering questions. So we spent time on Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby and the most popular theories and influential literature over the past half century. Ultimately, we brought the story back to Dallas, concluding with a look at Kennedy memorialization and the creation of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
While there were no formal evaluations, I did receive a few comments from those who enrolled in the class. One of the younger attendees wrote to me, “…[T]hank you for such a fascinating walk through history. When I realized I had registered for a class intended for senior citizens, I was worried I should not have been in there! I’m so glad non-seniors were allowed, even if I don’t have any first-hand memories to share.” I was humbled to receive a note from another attendee, a Dallas high school student in 1963: “Anytime someone can take an hour and a half and turn it into 20 min. is in command. Could have even used a couple of more classes on this topic!”
For me, it was a worthwhile and fascinating experience—a rare chance to explore so many facets of the assassination story with the same group of people. If you are a Dallas County resident—of any age—and would like to take this class, it will be offered again as part of the Emeritus Spring 2017 semester. I will be teaching “JFK, Dallas, and the Power of Memory” across four Monday evenings, April 17 to May 8. If you are interested in registering, please visit this website for more information.
by Krishna Shenoy, Librarian/Archivist, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
This week in 1963, Governor John B. Connally was released from Parkland Memorial Hospital after spending ten days in recovery.
On November 22, 1963, the governor suffered critical wounds while riding in the presidential limousine through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. The Governor was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital and doctors treated an entry wound in the back near the right shoulder, a broken rib, an exit wound in the chest, a shattered wrist and wound on his thigh.
In the immediate aftermath, the Governor’s safety at Parkland was a serious concern. The hospital windows were painted black in the area near his room, thick steel plates were installed to deflect possible gunfire, and a guard was posted at the door. Both the public and reporters were eager to hear from Mrs. Connally.
On Sunday, November 24, 1963, Mrs. Connally gave a brief press conference on her husband’s condition and the tragedy as she viewed it as a passenger in the presidential limousine. She would later document her experience in a book, From Love Field: Our Final Hours with President John F. Kennedy.
During, Governor Connally’s recuperation, the seat of Texas government was temporarily held at Parkland Hospital, and a hand-lettered cardboard sign, reading “Office of the Governor,” was hung on the wall outside of the administrative suite which was used as a temporary office during his recovery.
On Tuesday, November 26, 1963, Governor Connally gave a bedside interview to Martin Agronsky of NBC in which he recounted the assassination and reassured a shocked nation, commenting on Lyndon Johnson, “I know of no man I would rather have dealing my hand in this hour of tragedy.”
Four days after Governor Connally’s release in their hospital newsletter, Parkland published his message to the hospital staff and personnel, conveying his appreciation for the treatment he received during his stay. The unsteady signature was a result of his having to sign with his left hand, since his right wrist was injured and in a sling.