When it comes to questions surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, please put me down as fully convinced of Lee Harvey Oswald’s lone guilt. After years of speculation including a congressional inquiry that actually embraced a conspiracy theory (without naming the conspirators), I firmly believe modern investigatory techniques have put all the rumors to rest.
But the recent scandal involving Secret Service agents in Venezuela who are part of the presidential protection team struck a nerve in ye ole memory banks. Wasn’t there some kind of minor Secret Service scandal back in the 1960s that wound up being dismissed by the Warren Commission as irrelevant? Weren’t some Secret Service guys reportedly drinking at Jack Ruby’s strip joint in downtown Dallas on the night before the assassination?
A little time and patience online, taking due care to avoid potential viruses, and … voila! … pay dirt.
Yes, Secret Service Agents assigned to President Kennedy’s protection detail were accurately reported to have been drinking heavily into the wee hours of the morning on Thursday evening/Friday morning November 22/23, 1963. The President and the First Lady did not arrive in Dallas until the morning of Friday, November 23. The Secret Service agents in question were not those assigned directly to the presidential motorcade, but were, just like the agents in Venezuela last week, part of an advance team.
My trek into yesteryear revealed that the Secret Service agents out on the town that night in 1963 were actually not drinking at Jack Ruby’s club. Ruby’s club, a strip joint called “The Carousel,” was on the second floor of a downtown Dallas building conveniently located across the street from the huge Adolphus Hotel, which is still very much in operation today.
The Secret Service agents who were part of the advance team were drinking the night prior to JFK’s death all right, but they were drinking at a night club in Ft. Worth, not in Dallas. This club, called “The Cellar Door,” was one of those trendy cellar pubs that had sprung up all over the U.S. in the 1960s. It was not a strip joint like Ruby’s, but it did offer a certain similar flavor somewhat akin to the Playboy clubs of that era.
Bob Schieffer, the veteran CBS news reporter, was fresh out of TCU journalism school at that time (the school is now named after him) and was working as the night beat police reporter for the local newspaper, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. According to Schieffer’s later recollections, Pat Kirkwood, the owner of the Cellar Door, was friendly with Jack Ruby, and many of Ruby’s strippers worked also at the Ft. Worth club.
Although The Cellar Door was not an outright strip joint like The Carousel, Schieffer recalled that the waitresses worked “in their underwear,” and “patrons sat on cushions on the floor.” The Cellar Door was closed down by Ft. Worth police after only a few short years in existence.
The Warren Report did not mention anything about Secret Service agents drinking in Ft. Worth or anywhere else. The names of those agents, and any reports gathered by the government that might or might not have exonerated them from guilt appear to have vanished.
When the recent news hit the papers and the airwaves with reports of a scandal brewing in Venezuela in advance of the President’s visit there, it struck me that this incident might well have been just the tip of the iceberg. If the President’s advance team in 1963 was out all night at a club of questionable repute drinking, and the President’s advance team in 2012 was out all night at a club of questionable repute drinking, might rational Americans be within their rights to conclude that perhaps this kind of conduct had been standard operating procedure for 50 years?
The President’s Secret Service advance detail goes into a particular locale, scours the area, and makes it safe for the arrival of the entourage. Then, it’s party time. Nothing is ever said so long as nobody ever gets caught.
But alas, one fateful night in Cartagena (of all places), the Secret Service’s luck runs out. Boys will be boys, but not out in the open where everyone can see, gentlemen, if you please.
There arises a ton of interesting issues to ponder here, not the least of which is how many federal employees does the nation really need in a presidential entourage? Hint: Divide current total entourage by four, and you’ll be close.
While we’re at it, let’s explore just why the Secret Service itself now contains almost 4,000 agents. What’s so secret about that? What’s so elite about that?
And then there is the obvious issue of presidential personal safety.
But the biggest question … the overarching one … is the question of the safety of the nation. If the Secret Service can be compromised, then the very decision-making capacity of the federal government could be destroyed.
Money is one way to tempt a grown man into compromise.
Whiskey and women are two others.
Jeff M. David is publisher of the Livingston Parish News.