Just before Thanksgiving last year I set off on a small adventure to south Texas. My goal was to photograph some of the people, places and things associated with the Kennedy assassination.
I was already down in the Austin area last March, but I was short on time and had my family in tow. I just can’t do a lot of grave hunting with people looking over my shoulder and tapping on their watch.
My family is not really like that, but you get the idea.
My first stop was at College Hill in Salado, Texas. There the ashes of Liz Carpenter were scattered on the ruins of Salado College.
Liz Carpenter was Vice President Johnson’s speech writer and was in the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas. She wrote the short speech President Johnson gave to the nation upon returning to Washington, D.C.
All that is left of the Salado College is a really nice wrought iron and stone fence, some stairs up the hill, a statue, the foundation of the college and numerous signs saying not to climb on the ruins. At the top of the stairs is a stone bench and directly beyond that is a memorial for Liz Carpenter.
The nearby statue is of Elijah Sterling Clack Robertson, who was a Colonel in the Army of the Republic of Texas, Postmaster General, Brigadier General, Texas Ranger, Chief Justice and Founder of Salado and Salado College. The placard also says Roberson was a Knight Templar, but I could not find any grail clues.
I was told that Mrs. Carpenter wanted her ashes scattered here because this is where her parents went to college and this is where she played as a young girl.
If only we all could be so lucky to spend eternity in a place we love.
Maj. Gen. Erwin Walker
From Salado I drove further down to Center Point, which is south of Fredericksburg. After a lot of winding and dipping roads, I stopped at Center Point Cemetery off FM 480 to photograph the grave of Maj. Gen. Erwin A. Walker.
Gen. Walker was Lee Harvey Oswald’s first assassination attempt. Gen. Walker lived on Turtle Creek Blvd. in Dallas. Oswald took a shot at him from the rear of Walker’s house in April 1963. Gen. Walker missed being Oswald’s first victim.
By Dallas standards, Center Point Cemetery is small. I could easily have looked at all the graves and found Gen. Walker on my own. But time was of the essence for me and I found a contact number on the maintenance shed. I was fortunate to get the assistance of Richard Bloom.
Mr. Bloom directed me to Gen. Walker’s grave within minutes. Gen. Walker is buried in a family plot with other Walkers. He is located in the back of the cemetery under some trees just north of the maintenance shed.
My stop for Gen. Walker was a last minute addition to my schedule. I was planning on being done with the Johnson Ranch by now and heading to Austin. This diversion puts me way off schedule.
President and Mrs. Johnson
As I previously mentioned, I was already down south this past spring. I had already stopped at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas. On my first visit I was told I could not enter the Johnson Family Cemetery, but after talking with park officials for this visit I found out that I could enter the cemetery. The park supervisor clarified that I could not be buried in the cemetery without permission from the Johnson Family. No issue there.
After getting my free permit to travel the grounds I set out to the Johnson Family Cemetery. Unfortunately, the lighting at this time of day was really bad and the polished, pink marble headstones did not help at all.
I took several shots of President and Mrs. Johnson’s gravestones, but I don’t think they will be usable.
After the cemetery, I headed over to the Johnson Ranch house, the Texas White House. I only wanted photographs of the front, so I did not need to purchase a tour ticket. Having been on the tour before, I can recommend it. The Texas White House is very nice and full of history. There is a beautiful N. C. Wyeth painting in the TV room.
I think a photograph of the Johnson Ranch house would be a fitting end to my book. This was Kennedy’s intended last stop on Friday, November 22, 1963. It was also Johnson’s last stop as he died in his bed.
LBJ Library & Museum
By now I am way behind schedule and driving like a maniac. I won’t say what my speed was, because my wife does not need to know.
I made it to the LBJ Library & Museum just after 4 p.m., which was plenty of time to visit the Reading Room on the 10th floor. I had made arrangements with their archivists to see the actual speech that Liz Carpenter wrote and that Johnson read.
I felt really important standing in the LBJ Library Reading Room. The glassed in room had a long admin counter with a few shelves in the rear. There were rows of research desks with a few being occupied by actual researchers. The lighting wasn’t great for photography, but it would have to do.
I had to fill out an application to get a researcher card. Is that what I am now, a researcher? This project is getting way cooler by the minute.
Not long after I became a card carrying researcher, I was face to face with the original copy of Johnson’s speech. The speech was typed on Air Force One stationary, which you could see on the verso. There were pencil corrections made by both Mrs. Carpenter and President Johnson.
My first thought was how interesting it was that someone had a typewriter on Air Force One. Of course they had a typewriter on the plane.
I clarified with the archivist that this was the actual speech, which she confirmed. The archivist said a facsimile is usually on display. Paper ages poorly in the light.
I took several shots with my Holga and Nikon cameras.
Texas State Cemetery
With only a few minutes till the close of business, I zipped over to the Texas State Cemetery. I was looking for F. Trammell Crow, who build the Dallas Trade Mart, which was Kennedy’s intended destination after the motorcade.
F. Trammell Crow is a builder, philanthropist and the name sake for the Crow Collection of Asian Art, a very fine museum in Dallas.
I was directed to the Crow memorial, which I later confirmed was just a memorial, not a grave. I was told Mr. Crow was buried in Dallas.
Alas, the hunt continues for the elusive F. Trammell Crow.
Although the cemetery was closing, I was told I could stay on the grounds after the main entrance is locked. There are a couple of side gates that stay unlocked all the time. So it was just me and my fellow Texas patriots after sundown. I walked around to visit AG Waggoner Carr, Stephen F. Austin, Gov. and Mrs. Connally, Gov. Ann Richards and a few others.
Houston National Cemetery
After a good night sleep at La Quinta Inn Capital, I set off for Houston at 6 a.m. I got to hear all sorts of interesting radio as I lost and gained stations along State Hwy 71 to US 10. It was a really fun drive until the sun came up and blinded me for over an hour. If I wasn’t in such a hurry, I would have stopped in La Grange, Texas.
U.S. Congressman Albert Thomas is buried at the Houston National Cemetery. This is a beautiful cemetery with lush green grass and the reverence of perfectly aligned grave markers.
The cemetery was undergoing a little construction as was evident by the many detour signs. They are getting a new visitors center. Unfortunately, the visitor center deficiency was not supplemented with a temporary visitors center. I was forced to use the automated grave locator, which was of little help. I had to knock on a side door of the admin office for assistance.
It appears that Congressman Thomas was really important as he is the only one buried in the area surrounded by Thomas Circle. His landscaped grave faces the open end of the Hemicycle, the large monument in the center of the facility. You can’t miss it.
Congressman Thomas was on board Air Force One and witnessed President Johnson take the oath of office from Judge Hughes.
The Menil Collection
After photographing Congressman Thomas, my must-do list was all completed. Now it was time for a little fun. I drove over to The Menil Collection to the the Byzantine Chapel before the Byzantine frescoes left for good. The frescoes were only on load to the Menil.
The Menil Collection is a beautiful museum. I really like the feel of the surrounding park with the spaciousness of the interior. The Menil has wonderful old wooden floors that run the length of the building.
On view in a room all its own was Walter De Maria: Trilogies. The main focus of the exhibit was three perfectly restored 1955 Chevy Bel Airs. All three cars were the exact same color scheme. They were beautiful … and hard not to touch.
If you’re ever in Houston, I highly recommend visiting The Menil Collection. Tell Vance I said hello.
After visiting a new Twitter friend at the John Cleary Gallery, I gassed up my speedster and grabbed a Subway for the four hour drive home. I arrived just after dinner.
Further research has turned up another grave I need in Austin. Looks like I will be making one more trip down south to photograph Paul Groody. Mr. Groody was the mortician for Lee Harvey Oswald. His assistant, Allen Baumgardner, is still alive and living in Fort Worth. I will be meeting him soon too. Cheers.