JFK trauma room locked away as secret

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by JASON WHITELY / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on May 24, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 7:47 PM

DALLAS -- On the ground floor of Parkland Hospital, inside the radiology waiting room, is the only evidence of what happened here almost fifty years ago.

"I started work at Parkland Hospital in 1972 as a bio-medical engineering technician," said former employee Don Pyeatt.

That's about the time Parkland was preparing to expand and demolish Trauma Room 1, where doctors treated countless patients, including President John F. Kennedy a decade earlier.

Pyeatt captured the only known images of the treatment room -- eight snapshots -- where history happened.

"It was just historically significant to me," he explained.

News 8 traveled to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, which holds some of the most extraordinary artifacts of JFK's assassination, including the rifle Oswald used to assassinate the president, Abraham Zapruder's 8-millimeter camera that captured it, plus, JFK's blood-stained shirt and his Christian Dior necktie, which were both cut-off by emergency room doctors at Parkland Hospital.

In addition, there is an interesting chain of private letters about the historic hospital room known as Trauma Room 1.


SEE ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS ABOUT TRAUMA ROOM 1


In 1971, the Dallas County Hospital District asked the Smithsonian Institute if it wanted to preserve Trauma Room 1 as the hospital prepared to demolish it as part of an expansion program.

As the government decided what to do, the JFK Library in Waltham, Mass. suggested the National Archives get everything.

"All of us feel that it is extremely important that any parts of it be kept out of the hands of anyone who might seek to use them in any inappropriate way," the library director wrote.

Dallas replied saying some Parkland Hospital employees expressed interest in buying the items and donating them to the archives.

The JFK library, hoping to keep the correspondence and the plan to acquire the items cloaked in secrecy, said: "If any reporters get on to the story, they should be told that the employees are donating the equipment to the Archives (NOT the JFK Library) ... Further, they should be told neither the Kennedy family nor the JFK library are involved."

Though it had been a decade since the president was treated in that trauma room, the Dallas County Hospital District matched serial numbers and were able to locate all of the items believed to be in the room on November 22, 1963.

The medical equipment in the room at the time of President Kennedy's death included a stretcher, a suction machine, an IBM electric clock, a large metal cabinet with four shelves, a double X-ray viewing box, an I.V. pole, an overhead spotlight, and miscellaneous other smaller items such as trays, tubes, bags, and bottles.

Parkland said it could not give the items away, since they were purchased with tax dollars. The hospital valued the contents of the room at $2,637.48. The employee plan to purchase and donate the items never materialized, so the government negotiated down the cost.

On October 1, 1973, the government issued U.S. Treasury Check 67191886 for $1,000 to purchase everything in the room.

"They came in with pick axes and hammers," Pyeatt said. "They chopped the room up into little pieces and put them in these barrels, packed all the equipment up and left with them."

Weeks earlier, as Dallas County Sheriff's deputies stood guard outside, the room had secretly been dismantled.

"Trauma Room No. 1 was demolished [...] August 17-18, 1973," according to a letter discovered in the National Archives. "The door, switches, outlets, lights, cabinets and ceramic wall tile were removed intact and moved to the Fort Worth Federal Archives and Records Center. All other building materials in the room were demolished and hauled away [...] where they could not be recovered."

For fifteen years, the items sat at the National Archives facility in Fort Worth near I-35W and I-20.

In 1988, the director of the Fort Worth's Archives facility wrote to Washington that, "Apparently the Kennedy and Johnson libraries do not want any part of [the Parkland objects]. I really do not believe that the material has the 'historical' value to warrant its retention."

Not to mention, Pyeatt said, the Fort Worth director told him no one really knew what was boxed up.

"He said, 'We don't have any idea what's in those crates. We looked in it. There's shards of tile, glass bottles and hospital stuff,'" Pyeatt remembered.

But the National Archives said the contents of Parkland's Trauma Room 1 are different. They were not purchased with federal funds, but rather donations to the General Services Administration.

"GSA, on behalf of the National Archives, acquired the Parkland Memorial Hospital materials, in order to keep them from becoming souvenirs on the open market," said Miriam Kleiman, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. National Archives. "They are not Federal records and have never been accessioned into the National Archives as archival records. The materials have never been treated as records of either the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and they are not considered assassination records under the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. For these reasons, the materials are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act or any other statutory right of access."

Since they are not federal records, they could essentially remain off-limits to the public -- perhaps forever.

Behind an eight-inch vault door at the National Archives former facility in Fort Worth is where Trauma Room 1 sat in crates for 34 years.

"I believe most of this was originally set in motion by the Kennedy family," said Farris Rookstool, a former FBI analyst.

Rookstool is among the few to see the items in storage during his days with the bureau.

"All it is is a room with used equipment," he explained. "There's nothing ghoulish about it. It is a disarticluated former hospital treatment facility."

Six years ago, the Archives moved from its south Fort Worth facility and sent the Parkland crates to underground storage in Lenexa, Kansas.

Dust and debris are all that remain on the floor in Fort Worth.

The aging hospital equipment is a state secret now - locked away without clear explanation - leaving Pyeatt's pictures and a small plaque as the only reminders of Parkland's efforts to save the president.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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