DEALEY PLAZA AND THE DREAM
by Mack White
Mack White, 11 years old, November 23, 1963, Dealey Plaza, Dallas
(Photo by Al White)
Mansfield, Texas, in the 1960s: Main Street, the City Library, the Farr-Best Theatre, Ray's Pharmacy (where I would buy my Superman and Batman comics), my father's newspaper office, the barber shop, the "Whites Only" signs on the local laundry-mat and cafes, the mysterious windowless Masonic lodge, the town characters--Shorty the midget with a toothpick in his mouth, little legs dangling from the bench where he sat with the other town men, and Bulldog the barber (Bulldog his nickname because he really looked like a bulldog, and with his visor looked like one of those poker-playing dogs in the paintings), and Johnny the big grinning Cowboy who would take me riding on his horse through the back streets of Mansfield--and the Kow Bell Indoor Rodeo Arena which on Saturday nights was always crowded, and the haunted house on Broad Street which (if it was daytime) you stopped and stared at and (if it was nighttime) ran past like your life depended on it, and the time local writer John Howard Griffin was hung in effigy on Main Street after publishing Black Like Me, and how on summer evenings "Let's Twist (like we did last summer)" would blast from the juke box at the city swimming pool, and the old red-brick funeral home where Johnny the Cowboy finally ended up after a Saturday night's car wreck in Fort Worth, and football games at Tiger Stadium on Friday nights, and the time the circus came to town and an elephant got loose in the streets and scared (and delighted) everyone, and every morning riding the school bus through the black dirt farmland, and playing trumpet in Beginners Band in the fourth grade, and playing touch football at recess, and the time I passed a love note to Diane by the bicycle rack, and the way her eyes lit up and she smiled and her cheeks dimpled when she read it, and drawing monsters (Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Dracula, et al.) on notebook paper for my friends' amusement when I should have been doing Math or English, and in that same year watching the trains laden with military equipment roll past the school every day for weeks during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Atomic Attack Drills and how we used to duck and cover, and the time Jerry and I got in a fight on the playground following a dispute over which one of us Diane liked best, and every afternoon watching the minute hand on the classroom clock slowly approach 3:30, then enduring the long ride home on the school bus and finally jumping off the bus and running down the dirt road to reach the TV set in time for Superman and Slam Bang Theatre ....
And the quietness of the country on summer nights when, sleeping on the cot on the front porch of the crackerbox house, all you could hear was the mooing of cows, and how you could see so many stars and the Milky Way and the glow of Dallas and Fort Worth on the northern horizon, and the blinking red lights of the broadcast towers on Cedar Hill to the east, and how in the morning you would wake to the crowing of Papa the rooster, and it would be your chore to gather the eggs from the chicken house, and later in the day you would ride your bicycle down the road to Sam Jackson's Grocery Store to eat some Red Hots and read the comic books, and then you would come home and sit in the tree house, lonesome and daydreaming, watching the cloud shadows race across the farmland, and how the sonic booms would suddenly split the country quiet.
This was the world I grew up in. It was predictable, comfortable, and safe. It was also a world of boundless optimism. Then, the Kennedy assassination intruded on this world, splitting it apart, much like those sonic booms.
I was eleven years old. That morning (a Friday), I saw the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sitting on the breakfast table with the banner headline "Welcome, Mr. President!" This caught my attention--but only for a moment. The thing that most excited me that day was the long-awaited bi-district football game Mansfield High School would be playing that night against Jacksboro.
Also, the next day, I would be going to the movies in Arlington with my friend Paul and his sister Diane (who was my sweetheart) to see the new Three Stooges film, Around the World in a Daze. Thus, I was in very high spirits that Friday morning.
It was raining as I rode the school bus. But, by morning recess, when we ran out onto the playground to play touch football, the sun had come out and it was a beautiful, warm, golden November day.
After lunch (Friday was Hamburger Day in the school cafeteria, another cause for rejoicing), the band director Mr. McDonald came to my fifth grade classroom and picked out a few of us boys to help stack chairs in the auditorium. I was among the lucky to be chosen.
We followed Mr. McDonald to the auditorium. He showed us what to do, then left. We had a fine time, happy to be out of the classroom and chattering about the upcoming football game. Now and then, we stacked a chair or two.
After a while, Mr. McDonald returned. "Hey, boys," he said, "I just heard Kennedy got shot over in Dallas." He left to find out more.
At first, my friends and I did not take the news seriously--mostly because we were fifth-grade boys who did not know how to react to serious news. Also, at that early hour, the gravity of the president's condition was not yet known. Thus, for all we knew, Kennedy had only been shot in the arm. In fact, that is what we assumed had happened. It seemed impossible that a great man like Kennedy could die. He had been shot, but surely he would survive, like a hero in a movie. We even made jokes about the shooting as we went back to stacking chairs.
Then Mr. McDonald returned, with an odd expression on his face, and told us to forget about the chairs and go back to our classroom.
As we walked down the hall, we could hear the radio reports from Dallas echoing throughout the building on the intercom system. There was no other sound. Somehow, this conveyed to us the seriousness of the situation and we stopped our giggling and carrying on, and grew quiet.
Back in the classroom, we listened to the radio reports. They grew ever more alarming, until, finally, unbelievably, we heard that the president was dead.
The first to cry was Evelyn, then the other girls. Then it spread to some of the boys, me included. I didn't want to cry, and was embarrassed, but once the tears started there was no stopping them. For a long time there was only the sound of sniffling and those dreadful radio reports.
School let out. I went to the school bus, my high spirits extinguished. No sooner had I sat down in the bus than my mother appeared on the bus and took me and my sister (who was in the first grade) off the bus. After hearing the news about Kennedy, she had decided to drive into town and pick us up herself that day.
She was pale and her voice shaking. "Isn't it awful, kids?" she kept saying as we drove home.
Later, I went outside and played with my football. I had looked forward to this day--the day of the bi-district game--for a long time, thus was determined to recapture my earlier high spirits.
The day, as I say, was beautiful. It felt good to kick my football up towards the sky, imagining I was Superboy and the football would keep on going all the way into outer space.
But I did not get to enjoy the good weather for long. After a while, the northern sky turned dark blue, and a cold wind came rushing across the black dirt farmland. A "blue norther," as it is called in Texas, was blowing in.
I went inside, and sat down in front of the television--just in time to see the live coverage of Air Force One's arrival in Washington and Jackie Kennedy getting off the plane wearing those blood-stained stockings. It was the gruesomest thing I ever saw, and the saddest.
We went to the game that night. It was in Weatherford. But, unlike previous games, which had been held on crisp, invigorating autumn nights, this night was brutally cold--so cold, in fact, that my mother, sister, and I went back to the car while my father, editor of the town's newspaper, stayed with the game till it was over so he could write about it.
While we waited for him, we listened on the transistor radio (which hung from the rearview mirror) to the news reports from Dallas. It was awful. I remember hearing a Parkland Hospital intern describe how he helped put the president's body in the casket. He said he got blood on his hands. "I'm not proud of that," he added.
When the game was over, my father came to the car. He told us Mansfield had lost. It was the first loss of the season, which made the night even more depressing, if that can be believed.
Back to Mansfield we drove, through the black, howling, bitter cold night, listening to those awful radio reports from Dallas.
When we got home, my mother and sister went to bed, and my father and I sat up watching the live coverage on television. Around midnight it ended, and Channel 11 started playing an old movie about Abraham Lincoln. I fell asleep on the couch, and my father carried me to bed.
I remember that, when he tucked me in, I was grateful he was alive and I felt sorry for President Kennedy's children whose father was dead.
In the morning the sun was shining, but the wind was still strong and cold--not a good day for going outside. So I turned on the television, and discovered that the usual Saturday morning cartoons had been pre-empted by the assassination coverage. The only thing on all the channels (we only had four in those days, before cable) was a continuous video feed of people filing past the flag-draped coffin in the White House.
It was too awful to watch, and since there wasn't anything else to do and it was too cold outside to play, I went with my father to spend the morning at his newspaper office.
The town was quiet. Usually Saturday mornings were bustling, but this morning, evidently, most persons were home watching the assassination coverage on television. The town was so quiet, in fact, that there seemed little point in keeping the office open. So my father decided to close the office early--that is, before noon, the usual closing time for a Saturday.
He also decided to drive to Dallas, which was only a thirty minutes' drive away. He was, after all, a newspaperman, and this--the biggest news story in the world that weekend--had happened practically in our backyard.
I went with him.
In those days, the Dallas skyline was much smaller than now. Most buildings now standing had not yet been built, so you still had an unobstructed view of the neon Pegasus on top of the Magnolia Building. I was always fascinated by that thing--also by the rocket-shaped ornament on the Republic Bank Building, then the tallest building in town.
Downtown, we pulled into a pay parking lot just as some Asian reporters, cameras in hand, were getting out of their car. I had never seen Asians before, except in movies, and was fascinated. (Today, of course, Asians are common in Dallas, and elsewhere in Texas.)
We walked to Dealey Plaza, passing the Dallas city jail. My father told me that Lee Harvey Oswald was being held inside. This made a great impression on me, to think that inside that very building was the man who had done the horrible thing.
We were sure of Oswald's guilt. At that early hour, everyone was. It never occurred to us that his guilt might be less than a sure thing. The doubts would not begin until the next day, when local Mob man Jack Ruby appeared on the stage of history and shot Oswald while in police custody.
In front of the Texas Schoolbook Depository a man was selling copies of the Dallas Times-Herald. There was a huge stack of papers, but only a few people to buy them. Strange as it may seem now, tourists had not yet begun to arrive in Dealey Plaza in significant numbers. That morning it was mostly reporters and cops.
My father bought one of the papers (which I still have) and we walked around, my father taking pictures (which I also still have).
At one point, my father pointed out the so-called "sniper" window to me. As I was looking up, my eye wandered away from the window to the fire escape on the building across the street--the Dal-Tex building-where I saw two men taking turns looking through the scope of a rifle mounted on a tripod.
I was alarmed. "What are they doing?" I asked.
"It's part of the investigation," said my father.
So the police were checking out an alternative sniper perch. Evidently, that morning, there was still something resembling a real investigation. The investigation, of course, would end the next day with Oswald’s death.
He took two photos of me. In one, I'm facing the camera, with the Depository behind me. In the other, my back is facing the camera and I'm looking up at the building. The latter is the picture he used on the front page of his paper (the Mansfield News-Mirror), with the caption, "A young boy is shown facing the building from which the assassin fired the shots which killed President Kennedy." (It would be a while before we heard about the grassy knoll.) In the photos, the Hertz clock on top of the building says 11:38--less than 24 hours since the assassination, though it seemed longer.
Back in the car, we drove down Stemmons Expressway. "This is the route they took to the hospital," my father said. We passed Parkland Hospital, where Governor Connally was still being treated, then headed home, taking the toll road known as the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike (known today as I-30). In Arlington, we passed Six Flags Over Texas. The amusement park--only a few years old at that time--was my favorite place in the world. Thus, I always made sure to get a good look at it whenever we drove by. On this occasion, the six flags (US, Texas, Confederate, French, Spanish, and Mexican) that hung by the road were at half-mast.
While I was looking at the flags, I remembered something. It was a dream I had had two years before, in 1961, shortly after Kennedy's election.
It was a strange dream, in black-and-white, and, like a photograph, still. The vantage point was looking straight down. Below was an airport tarmac where Kennedy lay on his back on a stretcher, eyes closed as if in death. Around him stood several men, all dressed in black, poised to carry him onto a nearby airplane.
Over the scene, I heard voices--two persons talking. The conversation seemed to go on for a long time. I remember only one sentence: "Has his father been told?"
At those words, I woke up. Strangely, the dream did not frighten me. I lay in bed, thinking about it for a while, then went back to sleep--and forgot about it until that moment on the Turnpike, as my father and I drove past Six Flags.
"Hey," I said, excited, "I just remembered--I dreamed that Kennedy would be killed!"
My father gave me an irritated look, so I did not elaborate. Evidently, he thought it poor taste for me to be telling tall tales about such a thing. But it was true, and I knew it, and know it to this day. It is my own personal proof, along with a few other prophetic dreams I have had over the years, that there is much more to this life than is evident on the surface.
However, you do not have to believe in prophetic dreams to learn a lesson about surface appearances from the Kennedy assassination. The moment Oswald was killed in police custody it became apparent to many that there was more to this matter than met the eye. These suspicions were not dispelled by the Warren Commission. If anything, that transparent cover-up only added fuel to the fire--a fire which still rages these many years later.
One of the earliest Warren Commission critics was a colleague of my father's, Penn Jones, who published the Midlothian Mirror a few miles down the road from Mansfield. Early on, he began interviewing witnesses to the assassination and publishing his findings in his paper. Later, these articles were collected in his four-volume series Forgive My Grief. My father knew Jones, and from my father I began to hear about Jones' research and the accumulating body of evidence for a conspiracy in Kennedy's death.
Later, I would read everything I could find on the assassination, and in time this interest would lead me to study other conspiracies. It would take me, for instance, to Waco in the first year after the fire at Mt. Carmel, where I would meet the surviving Branch Davidians and see for myself the difference between what I knew to be true and what the government and mainstream media were saying was true.
But, in 1963, as my father and I drove home from Dallas, all this was far in the future. I had not begun to think about the implications of the Kennedy assassination, and was in fact eager to put it behind me. Kennedy had been killed, Mansfield had lost the game, but there was still the trip to the movies with Paul and Diane. The weekend could still be salvaged.
So, late in the afternoon, my father drove me to Paul and Diane's house in Mansfield, and we picked them up, then drove to the theatre in Arlington. During the movie, Diane and I held hands, awkwardly, for a long time, our hands getting sweaty. Eventually, we let go.
The next year I left Mansfield, and lost all contact with Paul and Diane.
Then, 34 years later, we met again.
By this time, we were in our 40s. I had been married, raised a daughter, gotten divorced, and also during that span of time acquired some notoriety as an underground cartoonist and conspiracy researcher. It was this notoriety which led to our getting back together.
On a November evening in 1998, I was signing books at an Austin bookstore. Paul and Diane's younger sister Laura, who was living in Austin, saw my name in ads for the event and came to the bookstore to see if it might be the same Mack White. It was.
She walked up to my table and said, "We were a lot shorter when we last saw each other." I had no idea what she meant. Then she told me that she was Paul and Diane's younger sister. She had, indeed, been much shorter when I last saw her.
She also told me that she had been living in Austin for a number of years, and that Paul also lived in Austin. Diane, she said, was living in Arlington.
Not long afterwards I got together with Paul. Then, a few months later, I visited Diane at her apartment in Arlington. She lived near Six Flags. From her balcony I could see the very place on I-30 where I had remembered the dream.
Flash-forward a few years: Today, Diane and I are married. We are very happy. And yet, sometime, it feels strange to be together again, to be a part of each other's life again decades later and under such different circumstances--and in such a different world.
The world we grew up in--the world of Mansfield, the Kow Bell, Tiger Stadium, the Farr-Best Theatre, my father's newspaper, Shorty the midget, Bulldog the barber, Johnny the cowboy, and Dallas with its smaller skyline, the days of the New Frontier when Kennedy was president and you could imagine yourself kicking a football into outer space--that world is long gone. Not a day goes by that I do not miss it.
Yes, there was darkness in that world, things that needed to be fixed--those "Whites Only" signs, for instance--but look at the world we find ourselves in now--this strange world, this new millennium, in which planes knock down skyscrapers on live television, and we fight an endless Orwellian war against "terrorism," and Made-in-China-by-Slave-Labor American flags flap on the backs of oil-guzzling SUVs--a world of computer viruses, CIA drugs, a gutted Bill of Rights, and a president whose grandfather was Hitler's U.S. banker and whose president/CIA director father was a business associate of Oswald's best friend in Dallas.
Yes, it is a strange world, and dangerous, and it was born in Dealey Plaza.
Hear Coverage of the Kennedy Assassination
as it was Broadcast on November 22, 1963,
on Dallas Radio Station KLIF at ReelRadio.com