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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.

UPI teleprint from November 22, 1963.

UPI teleprint from November 22, 1963.

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.

UPI teleprint on zig-zag exhibit cradle.

UPI teleprint on zig-zag exhibit cradle.

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.

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For several months, TSLAC Conservation has been preparing for TSLAC’s upcoming exhibit, “Texas Investigates: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally.”  This exhibit will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, TX.  The exhibit’s centerpiece, on display for the first time since 1964, is the suit worn by Texas Governor John Connally in the Kennedy motorcade.  Connally was non-fatally wounded by gunfire that day, and his suit bears silent testimony to the tragic event.

Careful support and cushioning are required in the display of historical clothing so that fragile garments are not damaged by their own weight.  In July, conservator Sarah Norris began the process of customizing the dress forms on which the Connally suit and shirt will be displayed.  Shoulder supports and stomach padding were created to fit the exact measurements of the clothing.  Arm and leg supports were also added.  Though the shoulder supports are highly structured, the arm supports are very pliable so that the figure can be dressed with minimal stress to the garment.   A slick, spun polyester fabric allows the shirt to slip easily over the arm supports and onto the customized dress form.

Exhibit dress forms

Dress forms before and during customization. All supports are made with archival materials and sewn by hand to fit the measurements of the shirt and suit.

The French cuffs on Governor Connally’s shirt posed a special challenge.  These cuffs must be exhibited folded in the manner they were worn to allow logical display of the bullet holes in that region.  Cufflinks were originally used to maintain this fold, but the Governor’s cufflinks were not included when the suit was donated to TSLAC.  To solve this problem, Norris constructed two small stays made of linen thread, museum board, and cotton muslin.  The stays function like the original cufflinks, but their color and texture blends with the shirt without drawing visual attention to non-original items.

Exhibit cuff stays

The small size and neutral cotton fabric of the cuff stays allow them to blend sympathetically with the shirt.

“Texas Investigates: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Wounding of Governor John B. Connally” opens October 22.  In addition to the Connally suit, the exhibit will spotlight Texas state investigations of the assassination, including those conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety.  TSLAC Conservation welcomes the opportunity to prepare these meaningful items for public observation and commemoration.

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Several items are in the lab this month in preparation for TSLAC’s Civil War exhibit this fall.  At many institutions, exhibit materials compose their own workflow for conservation.  This month’s items represent the strengthening integration of conservation with our growing exhibits program here at TSLAC.

Conservation work for exhibit usually combines item stabilization with aesthetic improvements and display planning.  The goal is to have the item looking its best and displayed in a non-damaging way.  Just what kind of work might this generate?  I’m glad you asked!

Military Board Blotter

Military Board Blotter for exhibit, before treatment.

The loose paper covering on this 1860s military board blotter will be re-adhered to decrease the risk of further tearing and to improve the volume’s aesthetics.  The paper tabs at the book’s head contain significant information; rather than being removed, they will be tucked down into the volume.  Most importantly, the book’s opening will be chosen from among the pages most relevant to the exhibit, with preservation in mind.  The selected opening will create as little stress on the binding as possible over several months of display.  The book will also be fitted with a cradle to further minimize stress at that opening.

Harper's Weekly Engraving

Harper’s Weekly hand-colored engraving of the Battle of Galveston for exhibit, before treatment.

This 1863 hand-colored engraving from Harper’s Weekly illustrates both the Battle of Galveston and the effects of tape repairs.  Treatment will attempt to reduce the staining left behind by this previously applied tape.  Stain reduction is a case-by-case effort dependent upon many unknown variables, such as the materials in the paper, the materials in the tape’s adhesive, and how those materials have aged and interacted in varying conditions over time.  Here, the age and condition of these stains may limit the treatment’s effectiveness; the tape’s plastic carrier and adhesive are long gone, leaving the stain to set for many years.  Special care will also be taken not to disturb the hand-coloring with solvents.

Regimental Return

Regimental Return for exhibit, before treatment.

Several items, such as this 1862 regimental return document, simply require flattening and basic mends.  This will improve exhibit appearance and also stabilize the documents to guard against further damage during handling and storage.  There are many items in this condition at TSLAC and other libraries and archives.  For them, exhibit serves as an additional selection method to bring them into the lab.

You can see these items and others on display in TSLAC’s lobby starting September 24.   Also unique to this exhibit will be a display devoted just to conservation – stay tuned for more.

 

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