Friday was a beautiful day in Dallas. It was hot and humid, but the sun was shinning. There were people on both sides of Dealey Plaza. Some of them were pointing at the Dallas School Book Depository. A few people were asking if there were there four shots or only three.
In The Sixth Floor Museum on the seventh floor (used for special exhibits) the discussion of shots continued and the man responsible for those shots was on hand. No, not Lee Harvey Oswald, but Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Bob Jackson. Mr. Jackson took the famous shot of Jack Ruby shooting Mr. Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Station.
Mr. Jackson’s visit to The Sixth Floor Museum on September 10, 2010 was part of their monthly Meet the Museum program and a nice compliment to the current special exhibit, A Photographer’s Story: Bob Jackson and the Kennedy Assassination. The event was recorded for the museum’s Living History archive, a collection of oral histories and memories. The Meet the Museum event was packed without a chair to spare.
Associate Curator Stephen Fagin introduced Mr. Jackson and moderated the discussion. Mr. Fagin started with Mr. Jackson’s interest in photography at age fourteen and his early on-the-job training photographing races and the Dallas area. These works made up the portfolio that landed Mr. Jackson a job with The Dallas Times Herald.
From there the discussion went to Friday, November 22, 1963. Mr. Jackson discussed his assignment to cover President John F. Kennedy’s visit for the Times Herald.
“My chief photographer, John Mazziotta, and I were to meet Air Force One and photograph the arrival at Love Field. [John] would take our film back to the paper and I could get into what turned out to be the eighth car behind the president and ride in the motorcade to the Trade Mart and photograph Kennedy’s speech. That was my assignment,” said Mr. Jackson.
Along the motorcade route and several cars behind the president, Mr. Jackson snapped a few shots of a jubilant crowd. This was not Mr. Jackson’s first time to photograph President Kennedy, as he had done so twice before. There was not much to photograph that would be usable for the Times Herald.
Mr. Jackson was under orders to put his film in an envelope and toss it to fellow reporter Jim Featherston at the corner of Main and Houston. Both of Mr. Jackson’s cameras, one wide angle and one telephoto, still had unused film to be shot. Begrudgingly, he unloaded the wide angle camera and tossed the envelope to Mr. Featherston, who almost lost it in a wind gust. While laughing about the mishap, the first shot rang out.
“About the time the car straitened out we were facing the [School] Book Depository and we heard two more shots,” stated Mr. Jackson. “There were only three [shots] for any of you conspiracy people.”
Mr. Jackson recalled seeing men on the fifth floor hanging out the window of the School Book Depository looking up to the sixth floor. He saw a rifle resting on the ledge and then it being drawn into the window. This happened in a matter of seconds. There was no way possible to aim a camera, manually focus and shoot the image of the rifle in the window with 1963 technology.
Mr. Jackson was one of four witnesses to see a man with a rifle in the window of the School Book Depository.
After missing what could have been the photograph of the century, Mr. Jackson later went to Parkland Hospital and took photographs of the grieving crowd outside.
Mr. Jackson was assigned to get photographs of Mr. Oswald on Saturday and Sunday at the Dallas Police Station. It was in the basement of the Dallas Police Station that Mr. Jackson photographed Jack Ruby shooting Mr. Oswald as he was being transferred from the city jail to the county jail.
Also in Mr. Jackson’s famous photograph and in attendance at The Sixth Floor Museum was Dallas Police Detective Jim Leavelle, who was handcuffed to Mr. Oswald during the transfer. Det. Leavelle still lives in the Dallas area and has recently celebrated his 90th birthday. The introduction of Det. Leavelle received a warm round of applause.
The reset of the Meet the Museum event discussed Mr. Ruby and his trial, which Mr. Jackson was involved with both as a photographer and a witness. Mr. Fagin asked Mr. Jackson about Mr. Ruby, but he referred to Det. Leavelle as someone who would know Mr. Ruby better.
Det. Leavelle said from his seat in the front row, “You didn’t have to bring that up.” And the audience chuckled.
During the question and answer segment of the event an audience member asked how Jack Ruby got into the basement at the Dallas Police Station with a gun. Det. Leavelle answered that question.
“Jack Ruby got into the basement through about a five second laps in security,” said Det. Leavelle.
Det. Leavelle went on to explain there was only one guard on the ramp down to the basement and there were about a dozen guards on the other side of the building keeping tabs on fifty to one hundred people. As the Dallas Police changed from using an armored vehicle to a smaller vehicle, the officer guarding the ramp left his post to stop traffic for the vehicle exchange. It was at that point Mr. Ruby slipped into the basement.
Det. Leavelle talked about first seeing the gun in Mr. Ruby’s hand as the Dallas Police escorted Mr. Oswald in front of the press for the transfer.
“When I saw the gun in [Jack Ruby’s] hand I knew exactly what was happening. I tried to pull Oswald behind me. I jerked on him but all I did was turn his body. So instead of the bullet hitting him dead center it hit him about four inches to the left of the navel. It went through the stomach, cut the vena cava in the back, took a chunk out of the liver, came over and cut a main artery on this side and then hit the end of the seventh rib on this side. In fact the rib saved me. If it had gone on through it would have hit me somewhere over here,” stated Det. Leavelle.
And the rest is history.
The Sixth Floor Museum really put on a great program with Mr. Jackson and Det. Leavelle. Both men hung around to meet the audience; taking pictures and signing autographs.
Anyone interested in the Kennedy assassination or Dallas history should check out future Meet the Museum programs.
- October 8, 2010 – Q&A with Curator Gary Mack
- November 19, 2010 – The Parkland Experience, November 1963
- December 10, 2010 – Kennedy Scrapbooks: Insights from the Collections Manager
Dallas Art News would like to give special thanks to Liza Denton, Public Relations Manager for The Sixth Floor Museum, for allowing us access to both Mr. Jackson and Det. Leavelle.