Just when I thought I knew everything about President John F. Kennedy’s trip to my hometown in 1963, I discovered many new facts about that time, thanks to three extraordinary Tarrant County exhibitions, all free to the public.
As an example, let me offer you this brief quiz:
1) Why were the Kennedys given the second best suite in the Hotel Texas, with Vice President and Mrs. Johnson getting the best?
2) What was the cost per night of each suite?
3) How much were tickets for the sold-out Chamber of Commerce breakfast featuring the Kennedys?
4) What famous Fort Worth resident loaned the car used by the president in the Fort Worth motorcade?
5) Who served the president breakfast, his last meal, that Friday morning?
6) What incident prior to the president’s arrival almost caused the presidential party to change hotels?
Even if you already know the answers to these questions, you shouldn’t miss the three visual experiences that put them into context — that take you back to that place and time five decades ago.• “Hotel Texas: An Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy” is a homecoming of sorts, bringing together 13 of 16 paintings and sculptures that a small group of Fort Worth residents quickly assembled to adorn the Kennedys’ suite at the hotel.
One of the principals who made that happen was Ruth Carter Johnson (later Stevenson), who was the longtime head of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art before her death earlier this year. So, it is more than fitting that the exhibit, which opened this month, be at the Carter on Nov. 22 and remain through Jan. 12.
The exhibition, produced in partnership with the Dallas Museum of Art, where it opened last spring, includes works by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Henry Moore, Thomas Eakins and Charles M. Russell.
The Kennedys didn’t notice the art until the next morning, and the president made his last phone call to Johnson to thank her for what turned out to be the last art exhibit he ever saw.
By the way, the president’s suite was $75 a night, and the Will Rogers suite, where the Johnsons stayed, was $100. The breakfast tickets cost $3. Kennedy was given Suite 850 for security reasons: It had one door compared to three in the larger suite, and the Will Rogers suite was visible from floors in the high-rise Fort Worth National Bank Building across the street.• On the sixth floor of UTA’s Central Library is a display of photographs (primarily from the Star-Telegram) and artifacts depicting the president’s visit to Cowtown.
“Howdy Mr. President! A Fort Worth Perspective of JFK” also has photos of the funerals for Lee Harvey Oswald and Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit, and photos of a young reporter named Bob Schieffer sitting in the hallway of the Dallas Police Station.
Although poorly lit, it is a good exhibit and runs through Feb. 8. In it, among other things, you’ll learn that it was golfer Ben Hogan who provided the car for the motorcade.• The most surprising exhibit of all, both for its number of photos and comprehensive historical texts, is “JFK in Fort Worth: A Lasting Impression” at the Fort Worth Central Library, through Dec. 6.
In addition to numerous well-lit photographs from the president’s arrival at Carswell Air Force Base through his departure, there are artifacts from the Hotel Texas, notes from leading participants about the plans, details of what was stocked in the bar of the Kennedy suite and transcripts from Oswald’s grade school. Also included are pictures of Kennedy’s visit to Fort Worth during the 1960 presidential campaign.
In this exhibit I found out that George Jackson served the president his last meal; that the White House threatened to move the presidential party from the Hotel Texas when an African-American agent with the advance team was at first denied admittance there; and that when it was discovered that no black people had been invited to the breakfast, the chamber gave 40 tickets to Dr. Marion Brooks to be distributed to African Americans.
A second gallery includes photos from Fort Worth Press photographer Gene Gordon.
Do yourself a favor and see all three exhibits.