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Dueling Tales From Esquire and Washingtonian on the Air Force One Flight From Dallas

Last month, Chris Jones over at Esquire fired up a 7,700-word story about the moments on Air Force One after the Kennedy assassination. The story is titled “The Flight From Dallas.” Today brings a similar tale told by the editor of Washingtonian, Garrett Graff. When I say similar, I mean it chronicles the moments on Air Force One after the Kennedy assassination. Garrett’s story is titled “Angel Is Airborne.” And it clocks in at an astounding 18,000 words.

I haven’t read Garrett’s story yet. Too, I have to be careful because I know both authors. My interaction with Chris has pretty much been limited to a bar conversation about which was the biggest animal he thought he could kill with his bare hands. But I know Garrett better. Every year, we attend the National Scrapbooking Convention together, and his uncle was briefly married to my step-grandmother’s manicurist. Anyway, even after I’ve read Garrett’s story, I’m not going to tell you which one I think is superior.

I will tell you this. I asked Garrett what went through his head when he saw Chris’ story. His response: “Initially I was terrified to see that Esquire had done a similar piece — especially since mine was all finished and fact-checked when they published — but I think in the end Chris Jones and I looked at the same material and came away with very different stories.”

13 comments on “Dueling Tales From Esquire and Washingtonian on the Air Force One Flight From Dallas

  1. The most important clue to the JFK assassination can be found by searching Youtube for “Folksteady.”

  2. 18,000 words, eh? OK. This could be a slog.

    Early on from Graff, we read that “Jackie walked off the plane first, a violation of protocol that went overlooked…..” Graff assigns this violation no value, although is compelled to note it, as have others over the decades. I doubt it’s of any import.

    Who knows if Jack in the doorway didn’t say to her, “You go first; they’ll love that look.” Fact is, we don’t know. After all, in Europe two years earlier, he joked, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.” The man knew he had a great opening act.

    Just that morning in Fort Worth, at a breakfast event before the 13-minute flight to Dallas, he beamed at the attention she drew, saying “nobody notices what Lyndon and I wear.” About her pink American knockoff of a Chanel suit, he’d previously told Washington grande dame Susan Mary Alsop that Jackie looked “ravishing in it.”

    That “violation of protocol” at Love Field is historical detritus. I’ll plow through the whole Washingtonian piece in due course, and I expect it to be a good read, but I want new perspective along with tiresome filler, if such a thing exists.

  3. Getting SO TIRED of seeing the references (several in this story alone) about how ‘this city’ (i.e., Dallas) killed JFK. He was killed by a disaffected idiot with delusions of grandeur who’d defected to Russia, returned, was actively lobbying for Castro’s Cuba and tried to relocate there. If Dallas killed Kennedy then NYC killed Lennon, LA killed Bobby Kennedy, Memphis killed MLK, etc., etc. Lots of interesting detail but the same tired storyline…..enjoyed the more straightforward/less editorialized story in Esquire much more…

  4. You need to get with the program, Terrapin. It’s trendy and European to whip up on Dallas of the early ’60s, because it was a center of Republican/conservative opposition to a bigger, more powerful federal government. Since much of the same fight is being waged today, the ‘city of hate’ theme is a great way to score bonus points against the right in general. The irony is that while some of the ’60s rallies by Alger et al were indeed rowdy, the only true tragic violence was perpetrated by a loser Jackie Kennedy called a silly little communist. Get used to the propaganda campaign, though, because it’s likely to intensify in the weeks ahead.

  5. Glenn, the DMN continued its excellent year-long coverage of that tragedy this past weekend. The latest installment is titled “Extremists in Dallas created volatile atmosphere before JFK’s 1963 visit.” People who actually lived here and lived through those venomous times are quoted. “You could feel it in the air,” recalled historian Darwin Payne, who was a Dallas newspaper reporter in the early 1960s. Just how “trendy and European” is Darwin Payne, Glenn?

    Stanley Marcus was born in Dallas in 1905. He lived here his entire life except for when he was at university. While he and his emporium are certainly trendy (and dare I say European in terms of fashion), I’d also daresay nobody had a greater tap into the vein of Big D than he. He’s quoted as saying that “The {Dallas Morning} News, in my opinion, was almost single-handedly responsible for the prevailing state of mind in Dallas at the time of the assassination.”

    I think Mr. Stanley (or my own parents, for that matter) knew a great deal more about the local “state of mind” in those days than you, Glenn. Indeed, you didn’t even arrive in Texas until the 1980s, after college. Back of the line, friend.

  6. 1. I’ve also talked to plenty of people who “lived through those venomous times” here, and they say the city of hate idea was not their experience nor that of most Dallasites. Again, blaming right wingers in Dallas for the murder of the president (which was actually committed by a Marxist) is a partisan political point of view.
    2. I had occasion to speak with Mr. Stanley about those times, and it was quickly clear that he was no fan of Bruce Alger. Alger was a conservative Republican and a believer in limited government and American sovereignty; Mr. Stanley was a liberal Democrat and a UN-promoting internationalist. He was a liberal Democrat speaking out against conservative Republican views that he didn’t like. What else under the sun is new?
    3. I think my first wife, who lived with me in Los Angeles and San Francisco throughout the decade of the 1980s, would be fascinated to learn from you that I was actually here in Texas during that time. (I didn’t get here until ’97, BTW.) So, once again, Jackson, the facts have eluded you.

  7. Glenn, one fact indeed eluded me: your arrival date in Big D, 1997. You’ve actually got much less lineage than I’d given you credit for. Thanks for the correction. Now to Marcus and Alger.

    You say retailer Marcus, born in Dallas in 1905, was a “liberal Democrat” and a “UN-promoting internationalist.” Whatever that last silly phrase means to you I can’t begin to imagine, but Marcus wasn’t known for his politics, and he didn’t trade in them. He was famous for minding the store, period. He wasn’t “speaking out against conservative Republican views he didn’t like.” That’s a characterization of Marcus from the ’50s and ’60s that doesn’t comport with reality. He wisely — and quietly — nudged Dallas to desegregate its retail and public spaces in the late ’50s, yet you paint him as some sort of out-front ideologue with a bullhorn, leading people who bash politicians in the head with placards. Oh, wait. That would be Bruce Alger, crackpot rightwinger.

    Let me tell you something. Stanley Marcus was no political outlier. Alger had a shelf life, a “sell-by” date. Yes, he got elected to Congress in the mid-50s, but by the early ’60s he’d become an embarrassment locally. It’s the reason the beloved Dallas mayor Earle Cabell challenged him for Congress in ’64 and beat him. My own parents in University Park were Republicans and split over Alger. Dad liked him well enough, although not all his antics. Mom thought he was rude, even radical, bordering on dangerous.

    Beyond all that, you’re trying to make the case that the view of Dallas in those days, as expressed by natives who knew of what they spoke and lived through it, must somehow be seen today through your own Ted Cruz eyewear. No. You don’t get to rewrite history you never lived through in the first place.

    I’m coloring you clueless.

  8. Yup–HUGE disconnect in terms of logic from Jackson and others–‘state of mind in Dallas at the time of the assassination’, which one can rightly condemn when it devolves into harassing the VP, calls for violence, etc., does NOT EQUAL or (based on what the evidence appears to show) CAUSE said tragic assassination. Again, many people really can’t get their heads around the fact that a single loser with a mail order rifle could alter the course of history in such a manner–it HAS s to be a conspiracy/the act of a group or city, etc. in light of the huge impact that that one individual had by his actions.

  9. Terrapin, some of us are capable of juggling multi-layered thoughts on a subject, yet you seem to think this is an either/or proposition: Either Oswald did it alone and therefore Dallas was hunky-dory, or Dallas was filled with strident rightwing vitriol and therefore the assassination was part of a larger conspiracy. I certainly don’t see it as either/or. My hometown was a backdrop to history, plain and simple. The fact that a loser like Oswald killed a President in Big D doesn’t negate the local political climate that existed in the late ’50s/early ’60s. It just doesn’t.

    I used to drink at the old Knox Street Pub, owned by Marina Oswald’s second husband, Ken Porter, and I knew an Oswald daughter when she was in college and working at the Texas Chili Parlor in Austin. She didn’t believe her father acted alone (or at least she didn’t back then). So what? Her opinion, my opinion, your opinion doesn’t have a thing to do with the local political climate that existed way back when.

  10. Jackson: Hard to argue with you and your ‘multi-layered thoughts’ that you ‘juggle’ (not sure what means, but am sure you will enlighten us). Never said that it was an ‘either/or’ proposition–if LHO did it (which I happen to believe he did, acting alone, although many others have alternative theories), that doesn’t make Dallas ‘hunky-dory’, and I agree with you (and the prior post notes that the political climate was pretty intolerant. My point continues to be that if he did do it, he has such an ample pattern of past dysfunction that I find it a pretty far stretch to blame it on the political climate (he also tried to kill General Walker, who was on the other side of the political aisle). And as for your acquaintaince with an Oswal daughter, the two kids were 21 months and 5-6 weeks old, so I put very little credence in what they think, and believe that if I had a father who was thought to have done what he did I’d want to believe he was part of some group as well.

  11. Glad you agree with me about what the Oswald daughter thinks about her father’s involvement (as I put it above, “So what?”). Glad you also concede that “the political climate was pretty intolerant,” as it was in many southern cities and towns back then. Glenn Hunter was challenging that latter notion with respect to Dallas, and doing so with weak bona fides. My comments to him were specifically related. I didn’t write or suggest, as you imply, that Oswald’s psychosis can somehow be blamed on the political climate of Big D back then. It cannot. And yet, the kinetic energy of that era, ideologically speaking, is what it was. It was real as wise locals saw it, even if the world outside ran with it and blew it up. Interestingly, the physical setting remains real fifty years on. It’s like a stage. The one-time book depository, the Old Red courthouse, the triple underpass, and Dealey Plaza, its dueling colonnades still framing the scene today, as well they should. It’s our Ford’s Theatre, only outdoors.