In Pa., a girl in blue recalls day of JFK’s death
Jake Danna Stevens / The (Scranton) Times Tribune
Toni Glover, Ph.D., a University of Scranton professor, looks at video clips and photos of her in Dealey Plaza Nov. 22, 1963, at her home in Scranton last week.
Toni Glover stands in Dealey Plaza where, 50 years ago, she witnessed John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
The (Scranton) Times Tribune
Toni Glover, Ph.D., a University of Scranton professor, known as the Girl in Blue, was in Dealey Plaza the day John F. Kennedy was shot 50 years ago.
Jake Danna Stevens / The (Scranton) Times Tribune
SCRANTON – She is known as the Girl in Blue.
For years, the schoolgirl in the blue jacket who was perched atop a stone pedestal in Dealey Plaza in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963 – and documented in grainy photographs and film clips – tantalized historians researching the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Who was she? What did she see and hear? Could her answers help solve one the 20th century’s most enduring mysteries?
And for just as many years, Antoinette Gail Glover, already an emotionally scarred 11-year-old when she went to Dealey Plaza seeking a measure of self-affirmation, rarely spoke about the day she watched a beloved president die.
Not to her family. Not to her friends.
Now an associate professor of English at the University of Scranton, Toni Glover still struggles with the raw horror of what she witnessed.
“It was not an assassination. It was not a fatal shot,” Glover, 61, said in an interview at her Hill Section home. “It was a gory, gruesome murder that we all stood there and watched.”
Although there were hundreds of people in Dealey Plaza that day, most were on Elm Street and could no longer see the presidential limousine when the shots rang out. Glover said she would be astonished if there were more than 100 people with their eyes on Kennedy at that point.
She is one of possibly as few as 10 surviving witnesses of the deadly shot, she said.
“Fifty years later, there are not many of us left,” she said.
Toni Glover grew up the youngest of six children in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, coincidentally the same neighborhood where Lee Harvey Oswald lived in a rooming house.
When she learned the president and first lady would visit the city, and there would be a motorcade, the sixth-grader begged her mother to take her. Studying the route, they decided Dealey Plaza would have the fewest people and offer the best opportunity to see the president.
They arrived hours early, and Glover recalls excitedly scouting the plaza for the best vantage point. She settled on the corner of Houston and Elm, where she could stand on top of a roughly 4-foot-high stone pedestal, giving her a view of the motorcade as it approached on Houston and pulled away on Elm.
The Texas School Book Depository was directly across the street.
Glover said she did not have a good home life, describing her father as abusive. In her 11-year-old naiveté, she believed if she could get Kennedy to wave at her or even look at her, it would mean he “knew I existed and no one would hurt a kid that Kennedy knew.”
“I went there with this magical thinking that just a wave and a smile would change my life forever, and he did indeed look up and smile and wave and it took my breath away. I was just floating on air. I was in the ether somewhere, and I had tunnel vision on the car.
“So I just kept watching the car as it went down the street, and his head exploded.”
As a native Texan, Glover said she knows what a gunshot sounds like.
She is certain she heard two in Dealey Plaza. She can’t be sure about a third.
After Kennedy’s limo passed her perch and turned left onto Elm in front of the book depository, Glover said there was a noise people in the crowd acknowledged by turning their heads. It was a bang, she said, but it could have been a motorcycle or car backfiring.
She heard what she knows was a gunshot a moment later. At that point, her view of Kennedy’s car was blocked by a stone column. When it came back into view, Jacqueline Kennedy had leaned toward her husband, and it was apparent something odd was taking place.
“Then there was a gunshot,” Glover said, adding there was no mistaking it.
Although she tried to convince herself she had not seen what she had seen, she watched Mrs. Kennedy clamber onto the trunk of the limo and she knew.
“The second she jumped up was the second that everyone there knew something horrible had happened,” Glover said. “This was the most sophisticated woman in the world, and she was climbing out of the back seat in a skirt and she was sliding across the trunk. You couldn’t say, ‘OK, he’s dead,’ but you knew it was horrible. It was beyond unimaginable.”
She quickly gathered up her mother, who had turned away after the motorcade passed on Houston, and hurried home.
The Glover family lived four blocks from the Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald would be taken into custody later that afternoon.
“It was as if I couldn’t get away from it,” Glover said. “It followed us home to some extent.”
Around 1995, Glover mustered up her courage and went to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in the former book depository building, where Kennedy’s assassination and legacy are chronicled.
She explained she was a witness to the assassination and asked to speak to a historian.
At the time, Glover believed the well-known film by Abraham Zapruder was the only one shot in Dealey Plaza the day of the assassination. She was surprised to learn there were others.
Gary Mack, now the museum’s curator, offered to check to see if she appeared in any of the museum’s archival films or still photographs. He asked where she was standing and what she was wearing.
She told him about the pedestal and said she was “pretty sure” she was wearing a blue jacket.
She did not appear in the first film they looked at. Then Mr. Mack tried a film by F.M. “Mark” Bell, shot near Houston Street.
There she stood on the pedestal, back to the camera, in her knee socks, dark culottes and bright blue jacket.
“He pulled up that Bell film and I just started crying,” Glover said. “It’s like seeing a picture of yourself at Gettysburg. You can just hardly believe there is a picture right there of you at the corner of Elm.”
Glover later found a family photograph, taken in January 1964, that shows her wearing the same jacket.
The mysterious Girl in Blue finally had a name.
Glover recorded the first of her two oral histories for the Sixth Floor Museum in 1999, two years before she was hired by the University of Scranton and moved east.
Another 13 years passed before her identity became widely known after she started posting publicly on online JFK assassination forums in 2012.
A late bloomer who returned to college at age 40 to get her bachelor’s degree and who earned her Ph.D. at 50, Glover is writing a memoir, tentatively titled “Being There: The Girl in Blue.” It centers less on the assassination and more on its heavy emotional toll.
As part of her research, she has reviewed probably 100 oral histories at the museum, most by people who were in Dealey Plaza.
There have been many witnesses who, like her, waited years or even decades to come forward, she said. Some were just afraid to go public, but it seemed a surprising number arrived in Dealey Plaza with “flawed emotional landscapes” and had a difficult time assimilating the tragedy.
“I’m speaking only about myself,” Glover said of her memoir, “but I’m speaking for a lot of witnesses, a lot of witnesses who carried that trauma for a long time.”
For the record, while Glover says some of the conspiracy theorists have rational and even convincing arguments, she is also inclined to believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the president.
Glover is headed back to Dallas this week for the 50th anniversary of the assassination today.
Although she will not be an active participant, she plans to be in Dealey Plaza this morning for an observance to remember Kennedy.
She always approaches the anniversary with trepidation, but this year has been tougher than usual, with all of the television specials and the other reminders in the media.
“Most years, I don’t have this kind of emotional reaction,” she said. “In the last week or so, I just noticed that I’m kind of down and it is getting worse.”
Although it didn’t help when she realized she will probably meet face to face in Dallas with other people who witnessed the shot that killed the president – something she has never done before – she expects them to be of similar minds.
“Everyone there that was there will not be able to speak,” Glover said. “They will be wrecks. Man, woman, child – it doesn’t matter.”