Posted: Oct 15, 2013 2:12 PM
Updated: Oct 15, 2013 2:13 PM
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Your eyes instinctively seek the holes in the vintage 1960s black wool men's business suit. The white cotton dress shirt with a now-faded blood stain more vividly illustrates the horror of a half century ago.
Emergency room staff at Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital removed the clothing from seriously wounded Texas Gov. John Connally, in the rush to save his life from the same burst of gunfire that also had left President John Kennedy mortally wounded.
Texas state archivists now have readied the suit and shirt worn by Connally that day as the centerpiece of an exhibit to mark next month's 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.
It will be the first public display since 1964 for the clothing Connally wore Nov. 22, 1963, during Kennedy's visit. Connally and his wife gave the clothing to the state archives.
"It makes an impact, it's pretty dramatic and it kind of gives you pause," Sarah Norris, conservator at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library where the exhibit opens next week, said Tuesday. "It creates the sense of immediacy about what happened that day, with the benefit of hindsight."
"Even for people who just casually care about history, I think it's a really big deal," said John Anderson, preservation officer at the archives. "For Texans, this is something that maybe gets forgotten by some of the rest of the world, that Gov. Connally was shot at the same time.
"We know he survived. That's how the story turned out. But he had what's classically called a sucking chest wound and he very easily could have died on the way to the hospital."
Connally's wife, Nellie, later would say she instinctively pulled her wounded husband tight to her lap, unknowingly but likely saving his life.
"The first thing that jumps out at you is the damage," said Norris, who has been assembling the exhibit for several months. "The most dramatic is the shirt."
The white Arrow brand shirt, size 16 with a 35-inch sleeve, has faded to ivory over the years and the now-brown blood stains and spatters cover nearly all of it. There are bullet holes in the shirt's right front chest area, back right shoulder area and right cuff. Three buttons are missing, presumably due to emergency medical responders ripping the garment away to reach Connelly's chest wound.
The damage to the three-button suit, from Oxford Clothiers in Fort Worth, is less pronounced.
Nellie Connally had it cleaned before it was presented to the state archives, Anderson said, so there's no evidence of blood. But the coat has bullet holes that match those on the shirt, plus a hole on the left leg just above and toward the inside of the knee.
Norris had custom-made mannequins made for each piece to safely display the garments.
"The concern when you display it is you don't want the weight of the clothing to further damage it," she said.
The items will be displayed through Feb. 14 in the library lobby in a glass case that will allow visitors to see them from all sides.
Connally and his wife were in the jump seat of the open convertible limousine, Kennedy and wife Jacqueline were in the back seat. Connally died in 1993. He was 75. His wife died in 2006 at age 87.
Arguably the most famous clothing from that infamous day is the blood-stained pink suit worn by Jacqueline Kennedy, who died in 1994. It's with the National Archives in Maryland and never has been displayed.