The JFK Trauma Room is a State Secret Stored in Kansas? Huh.

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Somewhere in Kansas there are boxes of stuff that used to be the trauma room President John F. Kennedy was brought to after that infamous drive through downtown Dallas. And the public isn't allowed to see what those boxes hold.

The shots rang out in Dealey Plaza and President John F. Kennedy crumpled in his convertible and Jackie Kennedy scrambled, she later said, to try and get her husbands brains back into the car. It was Nov. 22, 1963 and the motorcade roared off to get Kennedy to Parkland Memorial Hospital to try and save the president, wheeling his body into Trauma Room 1 where every doctor on hand was there, ready to work on him.

Kennedy was pronounced dead and his body was taken back to Washington D.C. And that was the end of it. Well, the end of Kennedy, at least. The JFK assassination marked the end of the man's life and the beginning of all of the mysteries, conspiracy theories and general fascination with how and why the president was assassinated.

Even one of the doctors who worked on Kennedy - and Oswald, coincidentally - has his own theories about the assassination. Almost everything imaginable from that day, from JFK's blood-stained shirt and Christian Dior tie to Jackie's famous pink suit and pillbox hat, was preserved. Even the trauma room where Kennedy was taken after the shooting, according to Dallas TV station WFAA.

In 1973, the room was secretly demolished, boxed up and stored in a National Archives facility in Fort Worth. And there it sat for years - the LBJ Library folks didn't want it and the JFK Library declined to take the boxes either, oddly enough. Now, because of how the room was purchased by the federal government - it may never see the light of day again. (Okay conspiracy theorists: Ready. Set. Go!)

Parkland didn't retire the room directly after that day. In fact, countless patients got their injuries worked on in the same room where a president was pronounced dead, and probably had no idea that was where they were.

But in 1971, Parkland scheduled the room for renovation and asked the Smithsonian Institute if they were interested in preserving the room. While the government was considering what to do, the JFK Library suggested the National Archives get the stuff (though the JFK Library officials tried to keep out of the whole thing, officially, suggesting in letters that the idea to donate to the National Archive totally came from Parkland employees, not the JFK Library. They were just making a suggestion)

Eventually the government worked out a deal with hospital to purchase all the stuff present in trauma room 1, circa Nov. 22, 1963, for $1,000. Of course, by this time years had passed but they were able to track down the things in the room the day Kennedy was wheeled in, including a stretcher, a suction machine, an I.V. Pole, an overhead surgical light, a double x-ray viewing box, an IBM electric clock and all the trays, tubes and bottles that you would have found in an emergency room in early 1960s America, WFAA reports.

The trick in this little transaction is that the bits and pieces of the room were purchased through a donation to the General Services Administration, specifically to keep them off the market and out of the hands of the kinds of souvenir hunters who probably wanted a piece of the railway station where President James Garfield was shot or would plunk down some dough for a bit of the chair Lincoln was sitting in that last night in Ford's Theater. Which is most likely exactly why these particular souvenir items will never see the light of day ( Because that's how the Kennedy family wants it.)

Which all makes some kind of sense - this is a part of history that has people obsessing over details and artifacts to a level that would get a person labeled cuckoo if it all wasn't related to the JFK assassination. His death was so bloody and public, it's sort of understandable that people want to grab hold of every single bit of the puzzle and try and figure out if this next one will tell them exactly what happened and why it happened in the middle of downtown Dallas to this particular president.

But people who want to take a gander at the actual medical gear used on Kennedy may have to learn to live with disappointment. (If you're disappointed about not seeing the medical stuff, now is as good a time as any to tell you, the National Archives aren't releasing documents related to the assassination until 2017.)

Because the the trauma room innards were purchased with a donation to the GSA, and aren't federal records, they aren't covered by Freedom of Information. The government likely has no legal obligation - and from the looks of it, less than zero interest - in opening up those boxes to the public. How do we know they aren't interested? Well, because the boxes are sitting in storage in Lenexa, Kansas, the place you send all things you aren't much interested in.

One of the National Archive guys told WFAA he once looked in the boxes and only saw a bunch of broken glass and tile. As the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaches, the interest in all things Dealey Plaza should only get stronger, so of course it makes us wonder, just the tiniest bit, what else might have been in those cartons. (Wouldn't it be nice if it turned out to be proof that it was a JFK robot who got shot that day and the man himself has been happily living his life, hanging out with Elvis Presley and killing zombies, just like in Bubba Ho-Tep? That would be cool.)

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.