Taken on Air Force One just hours after JFK’s assassination by Kennedy’s official white house photographer, Cecil W. Stoughton, the photo showed the large void JFK left behind in the intimacy of Air Force One. Stoughton was the only photographer on board. He switched the color film in his Hasselblad camera for a roll of black and white as the wire services could not handle color.
Lyndon B. Johnson was the first southern president since Andrew Johnson of Tennessee took over from Abraham Lincoln in the wake of another assassination. Although the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson in his 6’4″ frame was the focus of the swearing-in ceremony, grief-stricken Jackie seemed to be the focal point of the picture that was widely seen. The former First Lady joined the ceremony last-minute and still had her husband’s blood stains on her skirt. Stoughton adjusted the frame to cut the stains out. The photo was released to the public very quickly to reassure the public that Johnson was in control of the situation. The actual assassination photos would not be published for a few more days.
Army photographer Stoughton was one of the first in-house White House photographers. On Jan. 20, 1961, he was assigned to cover Kennedy’s inauguration and the president enjoyed the photos and asked him to be assigned to the White House full time. He was traveling in the Kennedy motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas.
Outside Parkland Hospital where Kennedy died, Stoughton saw Vice President Johnson and his wife being escorted away. He asked an official where they were going. “The President is going to Washington,” he was told. “So am I,” he replied.
He hitched a ride with a state trooper and made it to Love Field before Air Force One took off. He learned later that police officers on the tarmac, seeing his car hurtling toward the plane and fearing another attack, nearly fired on him. In the car with Stoughton were Jack Valenti, a Johnson aide; Lem Johns, a Secret Service agent; and Cliff Carter, a close advisor of Johnson.
“Where do you want us, Cecil?” Johnson asked as he was about to be sworn in. Twenty-seven people had crowd into the stateroom of Air Force One. Ninety-eight minutes had passed since Kennedy died. Stoughton climbed up on a couch, and pressed himself against a wall. He had a semi-wide lens but he still had trouble keeping everyone in the shot. “You’re going to have to back off just a little bit if I’m going to get you all in,” he said.
Judge Sarah Hughes, a federal district court judge for the Northern District of Texas, which includes Dallas, administered the oath, but most could not hear her over the whine of the engines coming to life. Huges was one of three (out of 412) federal judges who were women back then, and in 1970, she would be part of the three-judge district court panel that ruled that Texas’ abortion ban violated the rights of a woman known as “Jane Roe”, the case that would go onto the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed in Roe v. Wade (1973) that it was unconstitutional to prohibit abortions.
There was much scrumbling over dictaphones and Bibles. A ‘Catholic Bible’ was handed over to the judge, but no one noticed that it wasn’t one — it was a St. Joseph Sunday Missal, a prayer book the Catholics used for the annual cycle of Masses.
Stoughton took 23 photos during the oath and quickly left the plane, carrying his camera in one hand and the Dictaphone tape which recorded the oath in the other. He headed to the Dallas Morning News, where he would develop and distribute his photos.
Much was made of the fact that none of the Kennedy aides were visible in the photo that was released — fueling rumors that they were pushed aside by the Johnson team. Stoughton’s other photos however included at least six Kennedy aides: Admiral Dr. George Burkley, General Clifton, Malcolm Kilduff , O’Brien, O’Donnell, and Powers, plus three women: Gallagher, Evelyn Lincoln (JFK’s Secretary), and Pamela Turnure (Jackie’s Press Secretary).
Other people in the photos were Lady Bird Johnson, the new First Lady; Valenti, Congressman Albert Richard Thomas of Dallas (in bowtie), Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry, Congressman Homer Thornberry, Roy Kellerman and Lem Johns (Secret Service agents), Congressman Jack Brooks, Bill Moyers (Peace Corps deputy director).
Stoughton went on to serve a further two years as White House photographer under Johnson. Then after retiring from the Army as a major, he transferred as the chief still photographer to the National Park Service in 1967.