Cathy Spitzenberger remembers standing in a crowd of thousands to greet the arrival of President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
It was Nov. 21, 1963, and the 19-year-old Spitzenberger awaited the Kennedys at Fort Worth’s Carswell Air Force Base with her husband, who was stationed there. Kennedy was kick-starting his 1964 re-election campaign.
“I was living in the area at the time and I remember how everything unfolded,” Spitzenberger said.
Those memories recently surfaced in the photo research assistant’s mind as she prepared 81 black-and-white photos shot by Star-Telegram photographers chronicling the Kennedys’ visit. The photos are displayed throughout the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries Special Collections in an exhibit running Sept.9-Feb.8, “Howdy, Mr. President!”
The rarely seen photographs are to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK’s arrival, not his death, Spitzenberger said.
“These photos show a different story — a happy one,” she said. “We want people to understand that part of the story, too.”
The photographs show the Kennedys landing at the Air Force base and later in his hotel room, Suite 850, on the eighth floor of the Hotel Texas. Visible in the photos are Pablo Picasso sculpture of a bronze owl and Claude Monet painting brought in for the president’s stay.
One of Spitzenberger’s favorite photos is of Kennedy walking to greet a crowd of 5,000 in front of the hotel with his arms outstretched.
“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” she recalls the president telling the rain-soaked crowd.
Also shown in the photos are the Kennedys receiving Justin boots at a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast, their departure from Fort Worth and their arrival in Dallas, where he told his assistant, “It looks like everything in Texas is going to be fine for us.”
Though there are areas that show the aftermath of his death, including former Star-Telegram reporter Bob Schieffer who interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother after convincing Dallas police he was a detective, the exhibit doesn’t focus much on his death.
“We knew this exhibit would have a happier feel. We mention the assassination, but it’s not the focus, and we started with that,” exhibits coordinator Erin O’Malley said.
For the past eight years Spitzenberger has looked at 1,000 to 1,500 photos related to JFK. When she thought about how the collection was going to unfold, she focused on pictures that show rare moments, like the president and his wife holding hands.
Spitzenberger scanned the negatives and wrote small stories to go with the photos using Star-Telegram newspaper clippings, her memories and research. The exhibit features a remembering board where people can leave sticky notes about their own experiences and their feelings about the exhibit.
“Presidents seemed to hold much more respect than they do now,” Spitzenberger said of Kennedy’s 50th anniversary. “Besides, the Kennedys were like celebrities.”