Junior High and High School

I attended eighth and ninth grades at T. W. Browne Junior High and tenth through twelfth grades at Justin F. Kimball High School, both in Oak Cliff. The schools were next to each other on the same campus located a few miles west of our house. I began carpooling to school with neighborhood schoolmates – our mothers at the wheel. I vividly recall sitting in the back seat of a car loaded with girls and listening to “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison on the radio. I also remember sitting in the car in front of Kimball H.S. waiting for all of the riders to come out for a ride home. Mother was driving. I referred to some guy walking by as a “stud.” Mother was very unhappy with my language and said, “That’s a terrible thing to say. You shouldn’t talk like that about someone.” I felt terrible. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s as bad as it got today?

In junior high, I began taking Spanish, which I continued into high school. I tried out for the Troyanns drill team in eighth grade and made the team for my ninth grade year.

 

I was in the eighth grade in November 1963 when my parents and I were eyewitness photographers at the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In November 2012, I self-published a short book about my experience, Tina Towner, My Story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination, available on Amazon.com. I also posted a four-part blog entry about it on this site in November 2016. ‘Teen magazine contacted me to write a first person article about my Kennedy experience, which was published in June 1968. The magazine sent a photographer to the house to take pictures of me for the article, which they originally wanted to do at school, but the school would not allow it.

 

1968 Teen photo
Photo taken by ‘Teen magazine in 1968 for article published in June 1968

I entered high school in the fall of 1965. My favorite school subjects were biology, physics, and math. I took honors math, English literature, Texas history, world history, social studies, civics, and (beginning in junior high) three years of Spanish. Some of my senior year classes were college level courses. I wish I had taken more government related classes in high school and college. It might have been useful today.

Much wasn’t offered to girls in the way of sports at that time. Girls played tennis but were not included in any other sports that I can think of  – at least not at Kimball. We had a natatorium, but I never saw the inside of that building, and I’m fairly certain there was not a girls swim team. Things began to change in that regard soon after I graduated.

I was a member of the Kimball High School concert choir, the National Honor Society, the Spanish Club, and the Troubadears drill team. I did not make the cut for the high school drill team when I first tried out but made alternate instead and was terribly upset about it. However, Ms. Mac (as we called Ms. McClintock, sponsor of the T. W. Browne Troyanns), put in a good word for me, and I was soon moved up to become an active member. The associated expenses of being in the drill team were an issue for me, but I fit into the captain’s original red uniform that she wore before she became captain, and I was able to purchase it at a discount. Drill teams today don’t seem to be the same as they were in the 1960s. Team members must now be good dancers, not just good marchers. It’s a safe bet that I would never have made the team by today’s standards.

 

Concert choir was a good thing for me. I can’t sing well but well enough to sing in the chorus. We performed at some school events (including senior prom) and at high school musical productions, such as “Bye Bye, Birdie.” It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I spent many hours of rehearsal for this after school and sometimes late into the evening. One of the props issued to each person in “The Telephone Hour” song was an old black telephone. I had a lot of things to load into the car to take to rehearsal one night, and I placed the telephone on top of the car. I forgot to put the phone in the car and drove away with it on roof of the car. Someone waved at me along the way to school yelling, “You have a telephone on top of your car!”

I made a lot of my own clothes in high school, but I was excited to find out that I was going to buy some new clothes for graduation! Mother’s good friend Marie, a former neighbor from our Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, worked at the Apparel Mart. The Apparel Mart was not a public place, but Marie invited Mother and me to shop there one day as a graduation gift. It was (and still is, I guess) an enormous facility near downtown Dallas on Stemmons Freeway at Oak Lawn. Mother bought me a couple of dresses. One was a coral, empire waist, sleeveless dress which I wore with new a new navy blue hat and gloves. The other dress was a yellow flower print skirt and jacket with a yellow ruffled blouse. I also bought a two-piece bathing suit (one piece bathing suits didn’t fit me), and a beautiful white rabbit car coat that I loved and wore for many years. That day of shopping was so much fun! I had never had a shopping day like that before, and I haven’t had one since. 

 

I did not attend senior prom, but the concert choir performed briefly at that event, so I went for that purpose and then left. Especially for that event, I made a long straight yellow dress with a turtle neck, cutout shoulders, and a yellow daisy chain belt. I guess it bothered me a little during the evening that I didn’t attend prom, but after that night, I really didn’t care.

I attended the all-night party with a group of friends, which was held in a hall on the Southern Methodist University campus in north Dallas. I enjoyed the event – friends, music, billiards, food, and drink (non-alcoholic, of course). I’m not sure if I was up “all night,” but I was at least up late.

Our actual high school graduation commencement ceremony was held at Memorial Auditorium in downtown Dallas. My class had over 600 graduates, and it was a long ceremony. For some reason, my avid photographer Daddy, did not get any photos of me in my cap and gown. 

[Another meaningful and important part of my late teen years was my three years in the Westminster Youth Choir of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church, which deserves a post dedicated to the subject.]

The Towners, Eyewitness Photographers at the JFK Assassination (Part 2)

As I continue to recognize the upcoming anniversary of the JFK assassination, the following is the second excerpt (of several) from my book, Tina Towner, My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination.

Excerpt from Chapter 2, 1963 President Kennedy Comes to Dallas:

In October, 1963, Daddy read an article in the local newspaper reporting President Kennedy’s scheduled trip to Dallas in November. I don’t know if Daddy voted for Kennedy, but he seemed to like him OK, and I think he would have wanted to see the presidential motorcade, regardless of who the president was. I knew nothing about politics and only read the newspaper when required to by a teacher as a school assignment, but I did know who President Kennedy was….

I probably wasn’t as enthused about the president’s visit as my parents would have liked me to be, but a week or two before the president’s scheduled trip to Dallas, Daddy asked me if I wanted to get out of school to go with him and Mother to see the presidential motorcade. I jumped at the chance….

Prior to the scheduled motorcade, a public announcement indicated that going to see the presidential motorcade would be an excused absence from public school….I was in the eighth grade. My mother wrote an excuse for me to give to the school’s attendance office, and my parents picked me up from school around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. I heard there were a few other students doing the same thing, but I didn’t know any of them by name….

Friday, November 22, 1963, was a pretty day. It was partly cloudy and cool. Some reports said it was a warm and sunny fall day, but it was cool enough for me to wear my blue sweater, which is visible in some photographs taken by other amateur photographers at the site. We drove from Oak Cliff across the Houston Street viaduct toward downtown Dallas, only six or seven miles from our house. Daddy had already decided where he wanted to go to watch the motorcade. He thought the best place would be at the end of the motorcade route, at or near the Elm and Houston intersection. He believed it would be less crowded there, parking would be free at the nearby Union Terminal, and we could walk to the site from our car. After turning the corner onto Elm from Houston and passing by the grassy knoll area, the motorcade would disappear under the triple underpass, enter Stemmons Freeway, and head toward its next stop at the Dallas Trade Mart for a luncheon where President Kennedy was scheduled to speak.

In 1963, Union Terminal was a very busy train terminal located where Union Station is today. We parked in a large parking lot on the west side of the terminal and walked through Union Terminal, which smelled heavily of exhaust fumes. We continued walking north on Houston to the corner of Houston and Elm. From our car, the walk through the parking lot and train terminal was at least a couple of blocks. It was then approximately another four blocks to Elm Street.

We arrived at our chosen spot early, around 11:00 a.m. The motorcade was scheduled to arrive around 12:30 p.m. Daddy said his first choice for a good vantage point was on Elm Street about halfway down the hill from Houston toward the triple underpass. He thought that location would allow us a clear view of Kennedy’s motorcade as it came down the hill from Houston, and he would have more time to focus the camera. However, I began to feel queasy standing in the sun, so we stayed up on the plaza where there was a little shade that Mother and I could sit in while we waited. We picked our spot on the corner; but Daddy still wanted to check out the area farther down the hill to make sure there wasn’t a better location for us. He decided we could stay where we were, and we planted ourselves on the southwest corner of Elm and Houston, directly across Elm from the Texas School Book Depository building. While we waited, Mother and I took turns sitting on a small, green, folding camping stool we brought with us for that purpose. Like most the men that day, Daddy was dressed in a suit and tie; Mother and I were each in a sweater and skirt, and I was wearing bobby sox and flats.

As we waited for the motorcade, I recall that Daddy looked up at the buildings on “our” corner and observed a number of people looking out of the windows. He commented that they really had birds’ eye views and specifically mentioned watching one woman lean out of the window in a building catercorner to the Texas School Book Depository building. In our oral history recorded by the Museum in March 1996, Daddy stated that most of the windows in the TSBD had the shades pulled down. He also stated, as he had stated several times over the years to family and friends, that he told a uniformed police officer standing next to him that he saw a man in a white coat standing in a sixth floor window. Several times over the decades, Daddy repeated that the police officer saw this person, too….

As the motorcade finally approached, Daddy, Mother, and I took positions next to each other on the corner around which the motorcade would turn. Daddy asked a uniformed police officer for permission to step off the curb (which has since been removed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act), and we stepped into the street….Standing to my left, almost elbow to elbow with me but a step behind, Daddy opened the viewfinder on the top of his Yashica camera, pushed the magnifier out of the way, held the camera up to his face, looked through the hole in the viewfinder, and captured one magnificent color photograph of the presidential limousine. At the same time, I took 8 mm movies with the Sears Tower Varizoom movie camera….I looked through the viewfinder, as Daddy taught me to do, and smoothly panned the camera in motion with the limousine, as it turned left onto Elm directly in front of and around me….

Because of the obtuse angle of the Houston and Elm corner, the presidential limo began to disappear down the hill into the crowd to my left. I continued filming until I could see only the back of the limousine. The meter on the movie camera was broken, which we were already aware of, and Daddy told me earlier that I would know when the film ran out when I heard the clicking sound of the film inside the camera. He knew before we left home that the reel of film in the movie camera was nearing the end; however, he was confident I would have plenty of film for what I needed. Under expected circumstances, this would have been true.

After the limo passed us by, bystanders on our corner began to move back up onto the curb, and many of them turned and started following the president’s limo down the hill. Both of my parents began to walk away from where I continued filming a few seconds longer….

I believe Daddy was about to head down the hill to get another photo, but there was not enough time before the first gunshot sounded – only a second or two, if that, after I stopped filming….

[My book is available at Amazon.com. The Towner Collection of film, photos, and cameras can be viewed on-line at Towner Collection at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.]

The Towners, Eyewitness Photographers at the JFK Assassination (Part 1)

In recognition of the upcoming anniversary of the JFK assassination, the following is the first of what will be several blog posts containing excerpts from my book, Tina Towner, My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination, which I began writing on December 26, 2009, and self-published in November 2012.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

On November 22, 1963, I was an eyewitness to the John F. Kennedy assassination. I stood with my parents James M. and Patricia D. Towner in Dealey Plaza on the southwest corner of Elm and Houston streets, directly across Elm Street from the Texas School Book Depository building. My parents were fifty years old. I was thirteen and, as far as I know, the youngest photographer at that tragic event.

At the site that day, my father took a total of four color transparencies using a Yashica 44 twin lens camera. At the same time he was photographing the presidential limousine, I was taking 8 mm color home movies with a Sears Tower Varizoom movie camera. Daddy taught me how to use the movie camera as soon as we got it, so I was experienced with handling it….The first of Daddy’s four photos is of the presidential limousine as it turned the corner around us. This remarkable historic photograph, originally a color image, is…prominently displayed in black and white in The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza….

In my presence, someone asked Gary Mack [deceased July 15, 2015], curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, what my story was, and he replied, “Tina’s story is that she doesn’t have one.” He put into words exactly how I felt….

In February 2015 I donated the Towner photographs, film, and both cameras to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Doing this was basically my hope since the museum opened its doors on Presidents Day in 1989. The late Gary Mack was the museum’s curator at the time of my donation; and he and the museum had been hoping quietly and patiently for years for me to make this decision, which I did only months before Gary died in 2015. The donation was finalized in February, and Gary was able to review, catalog, and make his Curator Notes on the Towner Collection before he passed away. The timing of how the donation process unfolded says to me that the donation was meant to be, and the materials are now where they were destined to be.

My book is available at Amazon.com, and the Towner Collection of film, photos, and cameras can be viewed on-line at Towner Collection at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.