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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Photograph of Ruby killing Oswald defined a career

    Bob Jackson, shown on Thursday, February 10, 2010, won a Pulitzer prize for his photograph of the slaying of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Jackson, now 75, is the subject of a Sixth Floor Museum special exhibit in Dallas, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)
    Bob Jackson, shown on Thursday, February 10, 2010, won a Pulitzer prize for his photograph of the slaying of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Jackson, now 75, is the subject of a Sixth Floor Museum special exhibit in Dallas, Texas. (Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)


    FORT WORTH, Texas — During a visit to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a 3-year-old gazed up from her stroller at a black-and-white photograph picturing a dark-haired man in his late 20s. The portrait was taken almost a half-century ago, but the child recognized that face instantly.

    “”Grandpa!””Marianne Jacksoncried.

    Her gray-haired grandfather smiled in delighted surprise.

    Yes,Bob Jacksonsaid, that’s me.

    Through a child’s eyes, the 75-year-old former newspaper photographer was reminded of the magic of the camera — the power of a lens and the click of a shutter to freeze time and preserve it forever.

    Jackson’s award-winning career was defined in one captured fraction of a second.

    The moment arrived on a Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963.

    It was 11:21 a.m.

    “”Here he comes!”” a voice called out.

    Jackson looked through his raised camera, pre-focused on a spot about 10 feet away. And there he was, flanked by detectives, a slender figure dressed in a dark sweater, walking toward him in the basement of Dallas police headquarters, his pale, tight-lipped face washed in bright lights.

    The man accused of assassinating the president.

    Here cameLee Harvey Oswald.


    Two days earlier,Bob Jacksonof the Dallas Times Herald was assigned to cover the arrival ofJohn F. Kennedyand his wife at Love Field, then follow the presidential entourage through downtown Dallas en route to a luncheon at the Trade Mart.

    The 29-year-old Highland Park High School graduate had photographed JFK two years earlier, first when the president visited ailing Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn in a Dallas hospital and a month later at Rayburn’s graveside service in Bonham.

    On Nov. 22, 1963, Jackson sat perched on the back of the eighth car of the presidential motorcade. He snapped pictures of the cheering crowds lining the parade route. As planned, Jackson unloaded his camera, placed the film in an envelope and tossed it to Times Herald reporterJim Featherston, who was standing nearby.

    A sudden gust of wind caught the envelope in flight.

    Jackson laughed as he watched the reporter comically chase after it.

    After the motorcade turned from Houston onto Elm, a shot rang out.

    Jackson heard two more quick bursts.

    Instinctively he turned his eyes upward, in the direction of the sound, and spotted two black men leaning out an upper window of the Texas School Book Depository. The men, he recalled, were looking directly above them.

    Following their gaze, Jackson glimpsed a rifle being drawn in from a sixth-floor window. He didn’t have time to reload his camera.

    “”I said, ‘There is the gun,’ “” he later testified before the Warren Commission. “”Somebody said, ‘Where?’ and I said, ‘It came from that window’ and I pointed to that window.””

    Jackson recalled seeing a motorcycle officer wheel onto the grassy knoll, jump off his vehicle and enter the seven-story building with another officer.

    “”I thought whoever was shooting would never get out of there, and probably not alive. I knew they weren’t going to parade that person in front of me, so I wasn’t going to have a chance to shoot his picture. So I stayed in the car.””

    At the moment Jackson didn’t know whether anyone had been hit by gunfire.

    Then he saw it — the horror etched on faces of parade-goers. Jackson asked the driver to pull over. The photographer ran back to the grassy knoll.

    “”I should have been shooting (photos) of everything I saw, but I didn’t even think about it,”” Jackson said.

    He later flagged down a motorist who took him to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

    While standing outside, amid the crackling of police radio, he learned the news.

    The president was dead.


    That Sunday morning, Jackson received word that the transfer of Oswald from police headquarters to the county jail had been delayed. The newspaper’s city desk wanted the photographer to leave the basement and head for Parkland, whereNellie Connallywas to make her first public appearance since her husband, Gov.John Connally, had been critically wounded in the motorcade two days before.

    Bob Jacksonsaid no — he wasn’t leaving.

    “”I wanted to see this guy (Oswald) and have a shot at him,”” Jackson said.

    “”So didJack Ruby.””

    The photographer knew of the Dallas nightclub operator but doesn’t remember noticing him in the huddle of newsmen and law officers gathered in the Police Department garage.

    Jackson checked and rechecked his Nikon S3, equipped with a 35 mm lens.

    “”Here he comes … “”

    As Oswald appeared, a figure in a dark hat, standing to Jackson’s right, suddenly took two lunging steps forward.Jack Beers, a Dallas Morning News photographer, snapped a remarkable picture of the assailant, right arm extended, a .38-caliber revolver aimed point-blank at Oswald’s abdomen.

    Jackson clicked his camera — six-tenths of a second later.

    “”One more step, and he (Ruby) would have blocked my shot,”” Jackson said.

    He thought he had a good picture but wasn’t sure.

    Jackson said Beers’ photo had already hit the news wires when he returned to the Times Herald office that afternoon and headed for the darkroom to develop his film.

    Moments later Jackson let out a joyous whoop.

    He and chief photographerJohn Mazziottacarried the print into the newsroom.

    His black-and-white image, taken just as Ruby squeezed the trigger, shows Oswald’s painful grimace and the captivating facial expressions and body language of others pictured in what has become one of the most recognizable images of the 20th century.

    “”We knew then,”” Jackson said, “”we had beaten the Dallas News.””

    Jackson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for news photography in 1964.

    His newspaper gave him a $25-a-week raise and the lucrative reprint rights to the photo; the negative is locked in a bank safety deposit box.

    Jackson’s old camera and an enlargement of the iconic photo are on display at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The exhibit, “”A Photographer’s Story —Bob Jacksonand the Kennedy Assassination,”” runs through Oct. 17.

    After leaving the Times Herald in 1968, Jackson moved to Colorado, where he worked 19 years at the Gazette in Colorado Springs. He retired in 1999. While home is Manitou Springs, Colo., Jackson often returns to Dallas to visit relatives and friends and to speak at the museum, which since its opening in 1989 has welcomed more than 6 million visitors.

    People still wonder. They still ask …

    What really happened on Nov. 22, 1963?

    “”I think Oswald acted alone, and Ruby just snapped,”” Jackson tells them. “”He had the type of personality that would do something like that.””

    How about the photo?

    “”I couldn’t have planned it any better,”” Marianne’s grandpa said with a smile. “”It was meant to be, I guess.””



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