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‘Poignant’ Erik Jonsson Exhibition at the Old Red Captures A City’s—and a Nation’s—Sense of Loss

Trade Mart luncheon invitation, newspapers from Nov. 22 are on display at the Old Red. Photo by Jeanne Prejean.
Nov. 22, 1963 Trade Mart luncheon invitation, newspapers are on display at the Old Red Museum. Photo by Jeanne Prejean.

For anyone trying to understand the impact of President Kennedy’s shooting on Dallas citizens in November 1963, the Old Red Museum exhibition about Mayor Erik Jonsson, which opens today, is highly recommended. The exhibit is mostly upbeat, focusing on how Jonsson led Dallas out of its depression to new heights in the years following the assassination. But some of the presentation’s most touching displays are photographs and artifacts involving the scene on Nov. 22, 1963, at the Dallas Trade Mart, where an estimated 2,500 people had gathered for what they thought would be a luncheon with the President and Mrs. Kennedy.

There are, for example, beautifully printed invitations to the noon event from luncheon co-sponsors like the Dallas Citizens Council. A typewritten schedule lists each planned stop on the First Couple’s itinerary for that day. There’s material from the President’s “unspoken speech” at the luncheon. And, most vivid of all, you can press a button and watch film of Jonsson, then president of the Citizens Council, delivering the news about the shooting to the stunned crowd at the Trade Mart.

At a private preview at the Old Red last night, Linda Pitts Custard, vice chairman of “The 50th: Honoring the Memory of President John F. Kennedy,” pronounced the Jonsson exhibit “poignant.” And, that was exactly the right word. Maybe you had to have been living in Dallas in 1963—or at least watching the events here unfold on TV in some other place, as I was—to truly feel and understand the loss that happened that day, and the grief that followed. If you’re in either of those camps and like me, though, beware: Suddenly, unexpectedly, the “realness” of this part of the exhibition may leave you with tears in your eyes.