November 2013

The Strange Saga of the JFK Assassination Car

You may have assumed that the Presidential limosine that carried President Kennedy through Dallas on November 22, 1963 was taken out of service after the assassination... But that would be incorrect. Four more presidents used it afterwards. The photo above is from LBJ's term. (Photo source: Flickr user That Hartford Guy via Creative Commons license.)

On Oct. 5, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson joined a visiting head of state, Philippines President Diosdad Macapagal, in a 25-minute noontime parade through downtown Washington. In the annals of Presidential events, it was unremarkable, save for one odd and unsettling detail. LBJ and Macapagal rode thorugh the capital's streets in the same customized black 1961 Lincoln limousine in which, not quite a year before, President John F. Kennedy had been killed by a sniper as he rolled in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas. 

Lincoln's Codebreakers

In a previous post, we looked at how Abraham Lincoln utilized the telegraph during the Civil War to supervise his generals in the field and gather intelligence--sometimes by scanning telegrams intended for other Washington recipients. But in addition to working closely with Lincoln, the War Department's team of telegraph operators--who were based at the present-day location of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House--also were pressed into service to perform another critical function in the war effort. They also worked as cryptographers, encoding sensitive communications for the Union side, and as codebreakers, deciphering intercepted letters sent by Confederate officials and spies.

In an age when the federal government and the national security establishment was vastly smaller than it is today, David Homer Bates and three other operators--Thomas T. Eckert, Charles A. Tinker, and Albert B. Chandler--basically functioned as the 19th Century equivalent of the Fort Meade, Md.-based National Security Agency, which has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 employees and an arsenal of supercomputers and other gadgetry at its disposal.

Lincoln's Secret Weapon: The Telegraph

Today, we Washingtonians rely upon Twitter, smart phones, and 24-hour cable news channels to continually fill our craving for information. But a century and a half ago, during the Civil War, the only source of instantaneous news from far away was the telegraph, and in Washington, there was only one place to get it: The Department of War's headquarters building, which stood at the present site of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House. 

Before the war, amazingly, the government hadn't even possessed its own telegraph operation, instead relying upon the same commercial telegraph offices that civilians used.

Young JFK in Georgetown

When we think of President John F. Kennedy, we picture him living in the White House with Jackie, Caroline and John Jr.  But for most of the time he spent in Washington—the years from 1946 through 1960—he was a resident of the city’s Georgetown neighborhood.

When the Massachusetts native moved to Washington after being elected to Congress in 1946, he was just 29 years old and still single, and he followed the same pattern as so many other young people who’ve arrived here over the years in a quest for greatness. He settled into a group house, where after a long day at work he could hang out with his friends, leave his dirty laundry strewn all over the place and lead the carefree existence of a party-loving bachelor.

Jimi Hendrix performs at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival. (Photo Courtesy of © Ken Davidoff/Authentic Hendrix LLC)

Jimi Hendrix in DC

The American Masters documentary "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin," includes never-before-aired film footage of a live Hendrix performance at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival, as well as a poignant clip of his final performance in Germany in September 1970, just 12 days before his death at age 27.

Unlike the Miami show, rock music archivists have yet to discover any film record of the legendary guitarist's three performances in the Washington, D.C. area in 1967 and 1968, but those shows have become the stuff of local legend.