The JFK visit that never happened


by TYLER SIESWERDA / KVUE News & Photojournalist MATT OLSEN

Posted on November 21, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 21 at 7:40 PM

AUSTIN -- "The President of the United States is dead."

Those words changed a nation in 1963 and delivered a hard blow to Austin. It was to be the President's next stop on his November swing through Texas.

"I remember driving downtown and seeing people in the streets actually crying. Adults, standing on the streets. People were just so upset, so shocked," said former Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes.

The politician was just 23 and a Texas representative hours away from helping host a fundraising dinner for President John F. Kennedy.

"I was at the 40 acres club with Frank Erwin, Bill Moyers and the phone rang, and it was the Secret Service asking Bill Moyers to immediately come to Dallas and join President Johnson. It was a terrible feeling. You lose all sense of being and purpose, it was just a tragedy," explained Barnes.

Not far from the University of Texas, legendary Longhorn football Coach Darrell Royal and his wife Edith were preparing to meet the president.  They were to be among a small group welcoming JFK at the airport.

"At noon he came home to put on a suit and tie, and he had it on and we were sort of waiting in the living room. They had called ahead and told us what gate to be at and wait for the president to get there with that group. And they said they had been teaching him how to do 'Hook 'em Horns' on the plane," Edith Royal told KVUE.

The Royals soon learned that meeting would never happen.

"We had an old black and white TV you know, back then. And it came on the news that he had been shot. Absolute shock. I guess everybody felt that way. It was just so shocking. We were also very concerned about our friend John Connally and Nellie. We had children the same age and they were real good friends of ours," said Mrs. Royal

A thousand people from all over Texas were in Austin for that evening’s fundraiser at the Palmer Auditorium.

"We came up with the idea to have a prayer service and a memorial service at the House chamber," said Barnes. "It was a very memorable service and it was good people got to see one another, and they got to exchange their grief and it was just an incredible night."

While the service helped bring some comfort, the magnitude of the day left lingering despair and uncertainty.

"I remember I had trouble going to sleep," Barnes explained. "I wanted to go to sleep because I wanted to wake up and think it was a bad dream. But reality set in. I realized that Governor Connally was in critical condition. President Johnson had an incredibly difficult job of trying to pull this country together. That the most unfortunate thing in the world had happened in my state."

Tune into KVUE from 1 to 3 p.m. on Friday for the original coverage of the assassination as it aired 50 years ago on our sister station, WFAA, in Dallas.

Go here for a slideshow of photos from our coverage in Dallas.

See our full Kennedy coverage here.


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