The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Top News

August 18, 2013

Capturing few seconds of history

GREENVILLE — Fifty years ago, Tina Towner was a teenager in Dallas, who missed school one November morning to join her parents downtown and watch the motorcade carrying President John F. Kennedy.

Towner stood just a few feet away from the presidential limousine and was making a home movie as it drove past.

But the few seconds of film that day stopped just short of capturing one of the most tragic and controversial events in American history.

“I heard the first gunshot right after I quit taking the film,” Towner said, as she appeared last week before the Greenville Kiwanis Club.

Towner, who now goes by Tina Towner Pender, has written a book about her experience, “My story as the youngest photographer at the Kennedy assassination”, which was released in November of last year.

Towner was 13 on Nov. 22, 1963.

“My dad and mother took me downtown to see the motorcade,” Towner recalled. The three arrived an hour early and stood in the street, just off the curb at the corner of Houston and Elm Streets. “We were right across the street from the Texas School Book Depository.”

She said the motorcade passed surprisingly close to them.

“I remember Jackie Kennedy seemed to be looking right at the camera,” Towner said.

The footage, about 24 seconds in all, was played repeatedly for the Kiwanis Club, who met for their weekly lunch meeting Tuesday inside the Buffet Palace restaurant. The film showed the Kennedys, with the President waving to the crowd and the First Lady smiling. Towner’s father, James M. Towner, stood next to her, taking still photos.

She said she heard the first shots “about two seconds” after she stopped filming.

“Some stranger pulled me down to the ground,” Towner said. At first she thought it was fireworks. “My dad said, ‘Somebody just shot the president.’”

Towner insists she heard three shots that day and described the chaotic scene which followed.

“People were running around, sirens were going off,” Towner said.

The family walked to their car, parked a few blocks away at Union Station and drove from the scene, listening to the radio.

“But we didn’t know he had been killed,” she said. “We drove home. I ate lunch and then I got to school.”

Towner said it was probably not a good idea to have tried to get to school that day. By then the news had broken that Kennedy was dead. Classes were suspended as the nation tried to comprehend what had happened.

“I didn’t know what to say about anything,” she said. “It was very awkward.”

In the days following the assassination, Dallas newspapers and radio stations asked anyone who may have captured the events to submit their movies or photos. The Towners provided their photos and Tina’s as yet undeveloped footage, which was at the end of a reel of home movies. They didn’t get it back for a while.

“I think it was maybe at least a couple months, maybe six,” Towner said. “We had no idea what was on that film, really.”

Towner said they were surprised by what they found when they first watched it.

“There is a jump in the film,” she said of the split second hiccup in the footage, which is only noticeable when the film is repeated several times. “Right before the motorcade gets before the School Book Depository, there is a jump in the film.”

Towner said the family has no idea where the jump, which appears to be a splice in the footage, came from.

“Daddy didn’t do it, we know that,” she said.

And that was where the story takes a pause. It was years before the Towners started to be connected to the assassination legacy. The family was captured, standing on that corner, in photographs taken by another bystander.

“In 1967, Life Magazine found us,” Towner said, noting it was the first time the family had been contacted by anybody about the assassination. “In that issue, the editors wrote about us and how they found us.”

In 1968, Towner was 18 and submitted a story about her experience to Teen Magazine, which ran another feature on her.

The footage and photos, and the cameras which took them, are among the exhibits in the Sixth Floor Museum. But Towner said she never became a celebrity, because no one sought out her story.

“My whole life, since I was 13 years old, I haven’t had anything to say, until a few years ago, when I started writing my book,” Towner explained.

Since that time, Towner has appeared on programs about the assassination, produced by National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, as well as a 2011 documentary.

She’s met other witnesses during events at the Sixth Floor Museum and has conducted a few interviews about her film. Occasionally the discussions can be awkward.

“People who weren’t there, people who weren’t even born yet, will tell me, ‘That’s not what you saw,’” Towner said.

She doesn’t have a particular theory regarding the assassination. She recalled her father saw a man with a white coat standing in one of the windows of the Texas School Book Depository.

“I don’t think the Warren Report was completely accurate,” Towner offers, but also admits. “I don’t think we know what happened.”

1
Text Only
Top News
  • GEUS Operations Center.jpg Saying thanks to police

    The board of the local electric utility system intends to take time tonight to thank officers with the Greenville Police Department for catching suspects who allegedly broke into the company’s headquarters last month.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Field.jpg GISD trustees approve replacing track, turf

    When the Greenville High School football team takes the field in August, they will be marching out onto new turf.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Royce Tawater.jpg Guilty pleas expected in July 2013 shootings

    A  Greenville man, sentenced to state prison earlier this year on a weapons charge, is scheduled to plead guilty today to multiple counts involving two different shootings in July 2013.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • GPD stock photo.jpg Guilty plea given in child injury case

    A local woman has pleaded guilty to seriously injuring a child in Greenville in February of last year.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jefferies.jpg Bond issue questions asked, answered

    If the proposed $72.275 million Greenville Independent School District bond passes, the district will move from the third-lowest school district tax rate in Hunt County to sixth out of 11 school districts in tax rates.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Start of mall project getting closer

    Something new has been added to the property on which rests Crossroads Mall in Greenville, but it is not another store or restaurant.

    April 15, 2014

  • Painting_With_a_Twist_feature_(1).1.jpg "it gets easier and easier'

    Diagnosed with terminal cancer, with only about a month left to live, Quinlan resident Mike Loftin needed a spiritual lift, something fun and entertaining to keep his mind off of his illness.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hall votes against Ryan’s budget

    On April 10, the House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget, a plan that includes $5.1 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years without changing the tax code.

    April 15, 2014

  • Reward offered in burned cat case

    April 15, 2014

  • A&M-Commerce to host Korean Consul-General

    Texas A&M University-Commerce will host a distinguished international politician today as former ambassador and Consul-General of the Republic of Korea Suk-Bum Park visits the campus.

    April 15, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads
Poll

What's your favorite spring high school sport?

Swimming and diving
Wrestling
Basketball
Soccer
Tennis
Golf
Track and Field
Softball
Baseball
     View Results
Facebook
AP Video
Disbanding Muslim Surveillance Draws Praise Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Boston Bomb Scare Defendant Appears in Court Pistorius Trial: Adjourned Until May 5 Diaz Gets Physical for New Comedy Raw: Ferry Sinks Off South Korean Coast Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast Freeze Leaves Florida Panhandle With Dead Trees At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict? Raw: Fatal Ferry Boat Accident Suspicious Bags Found Near Marathon Finish Line Boston Marks the 1st Anniversary of Bombing NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program 8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Sex Offenders Arrested in Slayings of CA Women India's Transgenders Celebrate Historic Ruling Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Real Estate News