Dallas history, tonight! Bob Reitz at Half Price Books

December 28, 2017

History teachers, and parents of students — and students (why shouldn’t you direct your own learning?) — note this event TONIGHT.

Dallas historian Bob Reitz presents “Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s and 60s,” at Half Price Books’ mothership at 5803 E Northwest Hwy (just off the Dallas Parkway).

Reitz is an old friend, curator of Circle 10 Council, BSA’s Harbin Scout Museum, housed at Camp Wisdom on Redbird Lane — a greater resource since the National Scout Museum decamped from Irving in September. He’s a homegrown Dallas boy, loaded with history of the tumultuous two decades from 1950 to 1970

Half Price Books’s blog featured an interview with Bob, which I crib here for your convenience (and to preserve it!):

For the December presentation in our monthly Collectible Conversations series at the HPB Flagship in Dallas, we welcome Dallas historian Bob Reitz. Reitz will discuss his growing up in Dallas in the 50s and 60s using books as his reference points. Bob gave an earlier Collectible Conversations talk specifically about his life in bookstores and his 37 books about bookstores from his collection.

Coll Conv 8 31 3

We asked Bob to give us a little preview of his upcoming talk.

When did you first feel that Dallas in the 50s and 60s was a special place and time?
In January of 1954, my father’s insurance company transferred him to Dallas from upstate New York. We had a new house built in the Casa View section of northeast Dallas. Cotton fields were being plowed under to create homes for newly returned servicemen beginning to start families after World War II. I started first grade and finished high school living in the same house. I still have a small group of friends from these times. Growing up, it seemed normal to have new movie houses, drive-ins, libraries, swimming pools and a thriving downtown. I never realized as a kid what we had in these unique and special times.

I’ve always thought that besides your family, your neighborhood makes the biggest difference in your life. I didn’t grow up smelling salt water from the ocean or seeing snow-covered mountains on the horizon. I grew up on the rolling blackland prairies in a large urban city straddling the Trinity River.

I know you own many books on the subject. Is there one that may best encapsulate the era for, say, a 20-year-old reader from Milwaukee?
Probably the most thoughtful book about this era in Dallas is by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright (who graduated from Dallas’s Woodrow Wilson High School). The cover of his book In the New World:  Growing Up with America from the Sixties to the Eighties (1989) reads: “It’s both a story of one man’s coming of age in 1960s Dallas and a provocative account of the end of American innocence, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights era.”

Were there any particular events of the 50s or 60s that made the biggest impression on you?
One significant event took place in August of 1960 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Five thousand Scouts camped on a hill overlooking White Rock Lake. I had never seen so many Scouts in one place at one time—lines of tents covered the sloping hill in the middle of the city. Today, there is a sign on the slope designating the location as Scout Hill.

The rest of the world probably thinks of President Kennedy’s assassination as the most important event that occurred in Dallas in the 60s. Are many of your books primarily or partially about that event?
I was a junior in high school on that fateful November 22, 1963. I was finishing lunch when a student ran in and said, “The president has been shot, the president has been shot!” They moved us into the auditorium and by 2 p.m. they dismissed classes for the day.

We stayed glued to the television for the next week, witnessing the supposed ineptness of the Dallas Police play out on national TV, including the on-air killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by night club operator Jack Ruby. In the end, the police did pretty well. They caught Oswald within two hours, but Dallas became the laughing stock of the whole nation.

The Kennedy assassination spawned a couple of excellent novels of the era: Libra by Don DeLillo (1998) and November 22 by Bryan Woolley (2013). Author Norman Mailer wrote a telling non-fiction book, Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery (1995), covering the early life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Also in my collection is the book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (2007). He concludes that Oswald was the lone gunman and destroys every one of the conspiracy theories.

Another book that agrees Oswald was the lone gunman also asserts that the darkest days of Dallas were caused by local ultraconservatives, such as oilman H.L. Hunt, former Army general Edwin Walker and national congressman, Bruce Alger. That book is Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, by Edward H. Miller (2015).

In your previous Collectibles Conversation presentation, you referred to many Dallas bookstores in whose aisles you lost yourself. How big a role did its bookstores play in your understanding of Dallas history?
Dallas bookstores and libraries have been important throughout all my life. When I was small my dad drove my sister and me to the Lakewood Theater on Saturdays to watch a double feature movie and the cartoons. Afterwards we walked across the street to the Lakewood Library, which allowed us to call home (in the pre-cell phone era). While waiting for dad to come, we checked out lots of books.

Closer to home, I was part of the opening of the Casa View Library, which in 1964 set a national record of checking out over 9,000 books in a single day! In appreciation of the library’s influence in my life, I have put together twenty exhibits at the downtown Dallas Library on a wide variety of subjects, all from my personal book collection.

As a young teenager, I could visit Harper’s Used Books in the Deep Ellum section of downtown Dallas. My primary goal was to collect old Boy Scout Handbooks. What I found was so much more. A college student visited the same bookstore a couple of years before me. He became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove fame. McMurtry wrote about the changes that occurred as Texas changed from a rural to a mostly urban economy.

My experiences in bookstores have enriched my life and broadened my perspective on how I grew up in Dallas and what I can give back to the cultural life of the city.

Want to hear more from Bob about life in Dallas in the 50s and 60s?  Join us at the HPB Flagship in Dallas for Collectible Conversations: 1950s and 60s Dallas Through Books on Thursday December 28 at 6 p.m.!

Steve is the”Buy Guy” at Half Price Books Corporate.

via Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s & 60s Through Books


Parkland Hospital weathered the crises – November 27, 1963

November 27, 2012

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins* wrote a piece for the Dallas Morning News, published November 25, 2012, describing the qualities he hopes the search committee will find in a new leader for Dallas County’s massive medical care institution, Parkland Hospital“Parkland needs an inspiring servant leader.”

Parkland Hospital, Dallas - Dallas Business Journal image

Parkland Hospital, Dallas – Dallas Business Journal image

For more than a decade the hospital has been hammered by a massive load of charity cases, including tens of thousands of people forced to used the emergency room for primary care because they cannot get into the health care system in other ways.  Such crowds, such budget pressures, such pressures on staff, force mistakes.  Parkland has not been immune.

Parkland emergency room wait times for non-critical care are legendary.  I’ve had students miss most of a week waiting for care there.  At the same time, I’ve had students return to class in what I considered record time after being patched up from problematic baby deliveries, auto accidents, and gunshot wounds.

Problems in billing and record keeping for Medicaid and Medicare forced the resignation of a long-time hospital director.  Much of the past two years have been crisis mode for the hospital, laboring frantically not to lose its federal funding (Dallas County underfunds the hospital as a matter of tax-restraint policy).

Friends tell me morale is not great.

I stumbled into this letter at a great site for historical items, Letter of Note.  In times of crisis, those appointed or anointed to lead may do several things to rally workers to do their best, to carry an institution through the tough times.

I wager this letter, in 1963, did more to build Parkland Hospital as a quality institution than all the audits, investigations, and exhortations to abide by federal policy and stop losing money, in the past decade.  What do you think?

November 27, 1963, was less than a week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who died in a Parkland operating room, the wounding of Texas Gov. John Connally, who was operated on in another operating room, and the shooting of presumed assassin Lee H. Oswald, who also got care at Parkland at his death.

We were not found wanting, thank you letter to employees of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Nov. 27, 1963

We were not found wanting, thank you letter to employees of Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Nov. 27, 1963; (Source: Dallas Observer; Image via Wired.) (Click for larger image)

Transcript, from the Dallas Observer, via Wired, via Letters of Note:

Transcript [links added here]

DALLAS COUNTY HOSPITAL DISTRICT
Office Memorandum
November 27, 1963

To: All Employees

At 12:38 p.m., Friday, November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy and Texas’ Governor John Connally were brought to the Emergency Room of Parkland Memorial Hospital after being struck down by the bullets of an assassin.

At 1:07 p.m., Sunday, November 24, 1963, Lee. H. Oswald, accused assassin of the late president, died in an operating room of Parkland Memorial Hospital after being shot by a bystander in the basement of Dallas’ City Hall. In the intervening 48 hours and 31 minutes Parkland Memorial Hospital had:

1. Become the temporary seat of the government of the United States.

2. Become the temporary seat of the government of the State of Texas.

3. Become the site of the death of the 35th President.

4. Become the site of the ascendency of the 36th President.

5. Become site of the death of President Kennedy’s accused assassin.

6. Twice become the center of the attention of the world.

7. Continued to function at close to normal pace as a large charity hospital.

What is it that enables an institution to take in stride such a series of history jolting events? Spirit? Dedication? Preparedness? Certainly, all of these are important, but the underlying factor is people. People whose education and training is sound. People whose judgement is calm and perceptive. People whose actions are deliberate and definitive. Our pride is not that we were swept up by the whirlwind of tragic history, but that when we were, we were not found wanting.

(Signed)

C. J. Price
Administrator

The people of Parkland Hospital in 2012 will bring it through the current, slower series of jolting events, I predict.

When that happens, will the administrator think to thank them?

More:

_____________

* In Texas, the lead commissioner in the county commissions is called “judge.”  To distinguish between this executive branch judge and court judges, judges of courts are usually identified by the court in which they preside.  Clay Jenkins is the leader of the Dallas County Commission.


6th Floor Museum, Dallas — go see it

November 23, 2011

The 6th Floor Museum in Dallas presents in-depth studies of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on November 22, 1963.

There’s a lot more to such a study than you might think.  It’s a relatively quick tour — you can view the museum’s displays and films in about two hours, comfortably, stopping to read exhibit cards and really analyze objects on display.  A couple of the films present a great deal of history quickly and well (Walter Cronkite narrates one).

One cannot avoid a great deal of history of the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War, and the start of the Vietnam conflict.  Kennedy’s administration covered only three years, but a very active and important three years in the 20th century.

Increasingly the 6th Floor Museum is a stop for researchers and scholars.  The recent addition of a good reading room for scholars is a great asset.

Curator Gary Mack offers a quick introduction in this video:

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Plan to spend three or four hours.  You’ll find the place very interesting.  After the museum, most likely you’ll want to spend some time exploring Dealey Plaza, the road where Kennedy’s car was when he was shot, and the famous grassy knoll.  It’s a part of downtown that is almost always filled with people in daylight in all but the absolute worst weather.  (Check out the EarthCam at Dealey Plaza.)

Old Red, the old Dallas County Courthouse, with its own museum, is just a half block away.


Teaching with original documents, at the 6th Floor Museum

July 29, 2011

6th Floor Museum Seminar - teachers in the Dallas Police Station, at Oswald's interrogation room

Teachers inspect the Dallas Police station, where accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was held. The door at left opens on the room where Oswald was interrogated by police. Panorama photo by Ed Darrell, use encouraged, with attribution; click for larger version

It’s been a good week of finding sources, for history issues across the spectrum, not just about the Kennedy assassination in Dallas.

Certainly one of the highlights was a bus tour that carried us from Dallas’s Love Field airport, along the route of Kennedy’s motorcade, to Parkland Hospital, and then through Oak Cliff along the route accused assassin Lee Oswald is believed to have traveled after the assassination to his capture at the much restored Texas Theatre on Jefferson Boulevard.

In the photo above we discuss the actions of Dallas Police after Oswald’s capture.  This room is in the old homicide division of the old Dallas Police Station, a building still in use for municipal offices and being renovated after the police department moved to a newer building a few years ago.  The door at the left leads to the room where Oswald was questioned about his actions and his knowledge of the day’s events.

Oswald's interrogation room in the old Dallas Police Department - photo by Ed Darrell, 6th Floor Museum teachers seminar

Cops and their desks departed years ago, but Oswald's interrogation room holds a fascinating, film noir atmosphere; view from inside the room, as teachers discuss events of November 22, 1963, in the larger office outside. Photo by Ed Darrell; click for larger view


Oswald’s Ghost appears in Texas Theatre, 44 years later

November 22, 2007

President John F. Kennedy died 44 years ago today. Five year anniversaries tend to get more attention.

High school U.S. history students have been alive less than half the time since the assassination. To them it is ancient history, even more than the Vietnam War. Teachers need to find ways to make the history stick even in years that are not multiples of 5.

President Kennedy greeting a crowd in Ft. Worth, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963

A new film offers some aid.Oswald’s Ghost” had it’s world premiere at the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff, the place where Lee Oswald was arrested. Restoration of the theater is not complete, but it is far enough along to host events.

The movie is in severely limited release prior to a January 14, 2008 premier on PBS stations. Director Robert Stone places the assassination in history and tells some of the effects on America, rather than dwelling on facts or controversies around the shooting. The movie got a good review from the Dallas Morning News:

“Nobody had stepped back and told the story of the debate itself,” he says.

“How did these ideas come about? Who propagated them and why were they so widely believed? And what had they done to this country? Seventy percent of Americans still believe the government was involved in the Kennedy assassination or has worked to cover it up. And that’s had a huge impact.”

In the end, a seemingly disparate chorus of voices – including the late Norman Mailer – accomplish the filmmaker’s objective.

As he says, Oswald’s Ghost is “a way of explaining the ’60s. We’re not arguing anymore about what happened in Dealey Plaza. It’s an argument about explaining what came after … and how did everything go so wrong.”

With luck, it will be on DVD for classroom use by early February.

Dallas’s PBS outlet, KERA, is showing another locally-produced film this week that I have found useful in the classroom, focusing on the news coverage that day, JFK: Breaking the News. For slightly more adult teachers, there is the fun of finding news people in their infant careers, people like Robert McNeil then of NBC, Peter Jennings, and then-local Dallas reporters Jim Lehrer and Dan Rather, and Fort Worth reporter Bob Schieffer. Few other one-day events have produced such a stable of news greats — the Kennedy assassination spurred the careers of more new people than any other event with the possible exception of World War II. Jane Pauley narrates the story.

The Baltimore Sun’s Frank James offers serious thought on the historical influence of the day in a blog post, “The Big ‘What If?‘”

There is a webcam view of Dealey Plaza from the Texas Book Depository Building — the cam claims to be from the 6th floor window from which Oswald shot, but it looks like the top of the building to me.

The Kennedy assassination kicked the wind out of America. In many ways it was the event that triggered 1968, perhaps the worst single year in American history.

44 years, and we still don’t know the full set of ramifications of the events of that day. Historians keep chipping away.


JFK assassination, 43 years on

November 24, 2006

Texas history teachers got either a reprieve or a roadblock, depending on their view, when most schools scheduled vacation during the week of the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. Generally news outlets highlight the anniversary, and it becomes a good time to discuss the events in history classes.

Classroom discussion openings are available for a broad range of topics in social studies: general government, presidential succession, politics and history of the 1960s, Vietnam, Cuba, the Cold War, U.S. international relations, Lyndon Baines Johnson, racism, civil rights, etc., etc. I have not yet been able to arrange a field trip to the 6th Floor Museum during the week, but I still hope to do that some time.

The assassination and the rumors of conspiracies that have swirled for years offer a good opportunity to discuss the methods and tools of historians, and just how we know what we claim to know about history. It’s a good opportunity to discuss how science can be used to increase our knowledge of history, and it’s a great way to introduce kids to the sort of skepticism that keeps all academic inquiry honest.

How is the day commemorated in Dealey Plaza, the site of the attack? Generally there are no formal activities, though often a wreath is placed there or at the JFK memorial a block away. Tourists come. Vendors try to sell them stuff.

One of the oddest sets of vendors for any historical site, I think, is the “newspaper” hawkers who sell tabloids touting favorite conspiracy ideas. The Dallas Morning News featured a page 1 story on this strange business, on the Sunday prior to the anniversary. Vendors dodge cops because they are unlicensed — which also means that technically they cannot sell the papers, but must ask for donations.

Another key milestone is close to passing: Only one member of the Dallas Police Department remains who was on duty that day. Again, The Dallas Morning News carried the story. Sgt. Graham H. Pierce is not yet retired, but with 43 years on the force, he will be retiring soon.

History sources pass continually. Who will capture their stories for posterity? A class might make a year-long project of interviewing such a man, preparing a document to give him at retirement, to reside in local libraries, and to provide the grist for future historians looking into whatever wild conspiracy claims might be made in the next decade, or century.


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