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UNT Insider | November 2009 Issue | Kennedy photos now available on UNT's Portal to Texas History

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Kennedy assassination photos from Dallas PD now available on UNT's Portal to Texas History

From a UNT News Service press release

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A paperback copy of the novel 1984 was probably not an uncommon item in households in 1963, including the white, two-story home at 214 Neely St. in Dallas.

But because that home was the boarding house of Lee Harvey Oswald, George Orwell's 1949 cautionary tale against totalitarianism was seized by Dallas Police Department officers as evidence on Nov. 22, 1963 — along with other items belonging to Oswald.

For the first time, photographs of these items and many other Dallas Police Department photos related to the investigation of President John F. Kennedy's assassination are now available for public viewing via a search engine, thanks to UNT Libraries' Portal to Texas History and the Dallas Municipal Archives.

The UNT Libraries' Digital Projects Unit, which manages the portal, recently received a Rescuing Texas History grant from the Summerlee Foundation to digitize 404 images taken by the Dallas Police Department during the week following Kennedy's assassination. The Dallas Municipal Archives, a division of the City of Dallas City Secretary's Office, possesses all of the original investigation files except for those that have been transferred permanently to the federal investigation collection held at the National Archives.

"We are delighted to be working with the Portal to Texas History to make the collections of the Dallas Municipal Archives more accessible, and look forward to a long relationship," says City of Dallas City Secretary Deborah Watkins.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert noted that the images "document a tragic but historic moment in Dallas and American history."

"It's critical that these important photographs not only be preserved, but be available to all for study and scholarship," he says.

The black and white photographs are easily searchable. They include the "sniper's nest" in downtown Dallas' Texas School Book Depository Building, where Oswald allegedly fired on Kennedy's motorcade; the back and front yards of the boarding house at 214 Neely St.; Dealey Plaza; the intersection at Tenth Street and Patton Avenue where Oswald allegedly fatally shot Dallas patrolman J.D. Tippit; interiors of the Texas Theater, where Oswald was arrested by Dallas police; and the basement of Dallas City Hall, where Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963.

Dreanna Belden, coordinator of grants and development for the UNT Libraries, says that beginning in 2010, the documents that accompany the photos and the Dallas Police Department's investigation will also be placed on the Portal to Texas History. These documents include homicide reports, newspaper clippings and correspondence, affidavits and witness statements.

"We hope to raise money to cover the completion of this project," says Belden, who says that placing the photos and documents on the Portal to Texas History will provide the general public to the widest possible access to them.

Martin Halbert, dean of UNT Libraries called the Kennedy assassination "a critical moment in our collective cultural memory." "This tragic event still deeply resounds across our nation, and we at UNT are delighted to be providing public access to these important historical materials," he says.

The photos were previously digitized in 1992 by Wang Laboratories in Lowell, Mass., after the Dallas City Council passed a resolution ordering the release all files, documents, papers, films, audio or any other evidence held by the Dallas Police Department or any city department or agency regarding the Kennedy assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby to the public and the media. The resolution, which also ordered that these materials be preserved, was largely in response to public interest following the December 1991 premiere of the film JFK.

Belden says that although the photos were placed online by the Dallas Municipal Archives after they were digitized by Wang Laboratories, "there was no way to search through them using a search engine, and the image quality was very poor, due to the equipment available at the time."

"Major changes in technology have occurred in the past 17 years, and the difference in quality is astounding," she says.

Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.

Read other stories in this issue:

November 2009

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