In the hotel suite, the frazzled [Lyndon and Lady Bird] Johnson try to assess what the hell just happened to them in downtown Dallas. The campaign has been brutally intense, the rhetoric even more polarizing in the last week. Everyone is on edge, but this mob anger from Dallas's leading citizens is surreal.
Johnson and his aides review the logistics: He is scheduled to go across the street to give a speech at the equally famous and plush Hotel Adolphus in fifteen minutes. Everyone knows that he will have to brave a gauntlet to get there. Should he even go? No one has to remind Johnson of the obvious. There is no choice.
There is a knock at the door. Johnson's old friend Stanley Marcus walks in, visibly flustered. The well-dressed Marcus had walked excitedly over from Neiman Marcus to personally greet the Johnsons — but then he witnessed the sudden ambush.
Normally unflappable, Marcus is shaking. He has been very quietly supporting the Kennedy-Johnson ticket — and walking a fine line between his political inclinations and avoiding antagonizing his most prized customers. Yet he's just seen his best customers, women who are personal friends, or daughters of good friends, many wearing mink coats that he has personally sold to them, and they all have come completely unhinged and are screaming at their senator... maybe the next vice president of the United States.
As Marcus tries to calm himself, there is another knock on the hotel suite. A Dallas policeman enters and quickly outlines the situation: The ranks of the protesters are swelling, and Commerce Street is now crammed full of people waiting for the Johnsons. The women have been joined by dozens of businessmen on their lunch hour, drawn by the spectacle they can see from their office windows. All eyes turn to Lady Bird as she says she is not going to cross that street; she is staying in the room. The policeman suggests a plan. He and other officers can sneak the Johnsons out a side door of the Baker and into the Adolphus through a back door. Johnson doesn't like the idea: "We will walk straight through the shouting crowd. We will contrast their boorishness with our civility. And I do not want a police escort." Then Johnson turns to the cop: "If it has come to the point in America where a citizen cannot walk across a public street with his lady without being accosted, then I want to know it."
With Lady Bird on his arm, Johnson steps grandly out of the suite, followed by his campaign aides and Stanley Marcus. A thunderstorm of boos erupts as the elevator doors open to reveal the Johnsons. Hecklers fall in behind them, jeering as the Johnsons stolidly walk out the front door and onto Commerce Street.
Once the Johnsons appear, it is as if an electric current snakes through the streets. Alger's women are bustling, waving signs, yelling louder. The crowd seems to be getting bigger, angrier. If John F. Kennedy's triumphant motorcade a few weeks earlier summoned Dallas's sunny side, Lyndon Johnson is now running into a full-fledged thunderstorm.
Catcalls cascade over the street. Some hear curses. The placards are being stabbed in the air: texas traitor. judas johnson: turncoat texan. let's beat judas.
Alger stands a head taller than everyone around him. His sign reads: lbj sold out to yankee socialists.
The crowd forms a rolling circle around the Johnsons. Someone swings a sign in close to Lady Bird's head, brushing against her hat. The reddened faces are closing in. LBJ clutches his wife.
Another voice shouts: "Judas!"
Alger can be heard yelling: "We're gonna show Johnson he's not wanted in Dallas."
One of Johnson's party pushes desperately through the crowd, aiming for Alger: "It's out of line for a U.S. Congressman to take part in this. Put a stop to this."
Alger responds loud enough for his supporters to hear him: "I don't think it's rude to show a socialist and traitor what you think of him."
Off to the side, Stanley Marcus watches in horror. He is devastated. He feels like every shout of traitor or Judas is aimed at him as well.
Marcus always had a vision for Dallas — a place of taste, culture, and refinement in the heart of Texas. A place where reason, art, and insight were the outgrowths of so much money pooling in one place on the planet. It would be a sort of beau ideal, a place where people relish and celebrate and share the finest things humankind can create.
In the background are the second-floor dives where $2 would earn you admission to one of nightclub owner Jack Ruby's "exotic dance" joints. Down the block you could see the faint curl of the polluted Trinity River — and beyond it what some say are the worst inner-city slums in America.
Perhaps the gallant veneer Marcus has cultivated so assiduously for Dallas is dissolving right before his eyes, right here on Commerce Street. Right now he knows what is happening: Longtime customers are spotting him and they are already deciding to close their charge accounts at his store.
Inside the Adolphus, the swanky Beaux-Arts hotel built by the founders of Anheuser-Busch, the gleaming wood-and-brass lobby is packed with sign-waving protesters. It is another gauntlet. There is shoving, jockeying, and elbows are flying. Some people are pulling off their Nixon buttons and using the pins to stab at the handful of pro-LBJ supporters. Two women from the Kennedy-Johnson campaign are clutching their faces, pressing their hands to their broken noses. Other people are limping, being helped outside and to hospitals.
Reporters and photographers push in to get a better view. The local NBCTV affiliate, tipped off to Alger's protest, has already set up a camera to capture the melee.
At six feet, four inches, Johnson towers over most of the throng in the normally hushed lobby. He can see the flashbulbs popping. He can see the eye of the television camera taking everything in. In an instant, just as the storm seems its darkest, his political instincts kick in. Johnson understands political theater. Suddenly, he orders the police to stand aside and waves at his aides and bodyguards to get out of the way.
A woman holding a let's ground lady bird sign jabs at Mrs. Johnson's face.
Some are spitting. Johnson looks at the contorted faces and Lady Bird flinches. Suddenly, she loses composure and begins shouting back at the crowd, but her husband quickly presses his smothering hand over her face. He leans close to her ear.
"Let's just let them do all the hollering," he says.
With his arm securely around his wife, Lyndon Johnson assumes a pious look of supreme martyrdom as the couple inch forward, toward the elevator that will take them to the second-floor ballroom.
Lady Bird realizes what is happening. Her husband is purposely slowing down, allowing the crowd to press in on them. He's a big man and he could force his way through if he wanted to.
Johnson knows what the television images will show: the helpless vice presidential candidate and his demure wife trapped by an angry horde of hissing and spitting protesters.
As the mob closes in and the cameras click and whir, Johnson thinks of how the images will play on the television screens at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. No one can blame him now for losing Texas — not when they see just how crazed some of the people in his home state really are.
One of LBJ's aides is a young Baptist minister named Bill Moyers. He understands exactly what Johnson is doing: "If he could have thought this up, he would have thought it up. Tried to invent it."
From the book DALLAS 1963. Copyright 2013 by Bill Minutaglio & Steven L. Davis, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.