In addition to displaying Texas Governor John Connally’s suit, TSLAC’s exhibit “Texas Investigates: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally” highlights archival records of the Kennedy assassination, which took place 50 years ago this November. Among these holdings is a teleprint from United Press International (UPI), the first news wire service that reported the assassination story as it developed on November 22, 1963.
In a time before personal computers and the internet, UPI transmitted news bulletins across wires to Teletype machines, which continuously printed updates on a paper scroll. Publishers and broadcasters could then communicate the news to their audiences. On November 22, 1963, UPI teleprinters rattled frantically, and the events of the day unfurled on long sheets of canary yellow paper in newsrooms across the country. Numerous misspellings and factual corrections emphasize the haste and intensity of the moment. Walter Cronkite’s famous on-air announcement of Kennedy’s death was based on a UPI teleprint just like the one in TSLAC’s exhibit.
TSLAC’s teleprint is over seven feet long and folded into eight panels for flat storage. The document is fully digitized in our online exhibit (1, 2, 3, 4), but the physical teleprint itself also tells a powerful story. Accordingly, TSLAC conservator Sarah Norris designed and built a custom exhibit cradle to display the physical object and safely maximize its visual impact.
To support this unique item, the exhibit cradle has a zig-zag shape that conforms to the teleprint’s exact measurements and contours. The cradle is built from archival, acid-free corrugated board, whose lightweight strength allows an overall cradle height of 31 inches. A five-inch-tall model illustrated construction details, including ideal angle measurements for internal supports. Light monitoring is periodically conducted to ensure that the paper’s yellow dye is not adversely affected by exhibit conditions.
As exhibited, the teleprint encourages visitors to consider past communication technologies and to appreciate the impact of physical archival objects. Visitors can imagine themselves standing before the Teletype machine in a busy newsroom as events unfolded on November 22, 1963. Along with Governor Connally’s suit, the teleprint helps convey the immediacy and urgency of the day.