Sunday, December 8, 2013

“Ready for Occupancy”: The Greenbrier Bunker

LBJ Letter Heading_Lo

Just a couple of weeks before the Cuban missile crisis, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson updated President John F. Kennedy on the status of Project CASPER - the top secret program to provide Congress with a five star emergency relocation facility under the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The massive facility, in short, was “ready for occupancy.”

Food Rotation_Lo

It is hard to imagine JFK being too concerned with the “rotation of food stocks” and the “stockage of office supplies,” but we were delighted to find that such minutiae were included in the Vice President’s report.

Greenbrier Rations

Though he is not named,  the “project coordinator,” mentioned in the letter is Fred C. Hicks, Jr. (1920-1971) pictured below. We will be presenting a biography of Mr. Hicks soon.        

Cigarette_Lo Res

Read the full letter below.

LBJ Casper Status Report: 10/2/62


Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
National Security File, Files of C.V. Clifton
Box No. 2
Folder: Project Casper
Document: Vice President Johnson to President Kennedy, October 2, 1962

Thursday, December 5, 2013

UNDELIVERED: The LBJ Austin Speech, 11-22-63

Speech Header copy

Last month, as the fervor over the fiftieth anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination built and then peaked on November 22nd, there were fleeting references to a speech that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson never got to deliver.[1] The tantalizing story goes that if the campaign stop in Dallas, Texas had simply been an uneventful visit instead of a national tragedy, LBJ would have introduced the President at a banquet hall in Austin that evening. The shocking punch line to this anecdote is that Johnson supposedly included a joke at the expense of Big D in his prepared remarks. Specifically, the published accounts of this undelivered speech state that LBJ was to have said, “And thank God, Mr. President, you came out of Dallas alive.”[2] We were intrigued by this line because it sounds entirely too good to be true. So we looked into the matter and the following is what we discovered.

Austin Hall_LBJ Library

There was, indeed, a fundraising event planned for the evening of November 22nd at Austin’s Municipal Auditorium.[3] And there was a speech that the Vice President was scheduled to deliver. When we telephoned and asked an archivist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library if she had ever heard of the supposed Dallas joke, she answered no and then consulted with a colleague. The colleague stated that the remark in question is not in the prepared Austin speech for that day.[4] We promptly requested a copy of the text.

We have now confirmed, to our deep disappointment, that the speech contains no deliciously ironic jabs at Dallas. It does, however, feature shout-outs to the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University, the Aggies of Texas A & M and, of course, a nod to the beloved University of Texas Longhorns. It is, in short, boilerplate Vice Presidential patter barely passable for what was, after all, a $100-a-plate function.

Horned Frog Mascot_1965

How did this apocryphal story become an entrenched footnote in JFK assassination lore? Apparently, it started with Stanley Marcus’s (of Neiman Marcus fame) 1974 memoir Minding the Store. On page 255 of this book, Marcus, who was a Dallas native and celebrity, offered a slightly different version of events. He stated that the dinner for the Kennedy campaign was to be held on November 23rd, not the fateful day of the 22nd. He then wrote that Johnson “reportedly ended his proposed but canceled speech with, ‘And thank God, Mr. President, that you came out of Dallas alive.”[5] It is this passage that is used as one of the sources for the recently published book Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis.[6]

Garrett M. Graff uses the “Dallas alive” quote as the dramatic opening to his November Washingtonian magazine article “Angel Is Airborne,” but adds the detail “The joke was prepared, the words typed, ready to place on the Vice President’s lectern in Austin, Texas, later that evening.”[7]


The macabre-in-retrospect Dallas gag is a lot more interesting than a hat tip to the Horned Frogs of TCU, but a fictional story presented as historical fact has to stop somewhere. Below is the complete speech for the benefit of future historians.[8]

Undelivered LBJ Austin Speech November 22 1963

[1] Two of the most recent accounts of the alleged Dallas joke contained in the LBJ Austin speech are from the following sources:

Garrett M. Graff, “Angel Is Airborne”
Washingtonian, Volume 49, Number 2
November 2013, p. 81

Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
Dallas 1963
(Twelve, 2013), p. 262

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rebecca Onion, “In Austin, ‘The Welcome JFK!’ Banquet That Never Happened”, The Vault
November 20, 2013

[4] Telephone conversation with LBJ Library archivist Barbara Cline on November 22, 2013.

[5] Stanley Marcus
Minding the Store: A Memoir
(Little, Brown, 1974), p. 255

For Marcus’s status in Dallas see Eric Pace, “Stanley Marcus, the Retailer From Dallas, Is Dead at 96,”
New York Times, January 23, 2002

[6] Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis
Dallas 1963
(Twelve, 2013), p. 262, footnote 29

[7] Garrett M. Graff, “Angel Is Airborne”
Washingtonian, Volume 49, Number 2
November 2013, p. 81

[8] Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
Collection: Statements of Lyndon B. Johnson
Box Number 89
11/22/63 Remarks by Vice President, Austin, Texas [Undelivered]