From the Archives or… Down the Rabbit Hole

Wolfe, Frank. LBJ and Phyllis George. August 29, 1970. Denton Public Library.

Article Originally Published by City of Denton Library

We have recently had a lot of internal interest in former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s connection with Denton. One of our Library Assistants, Lara Elio, contacted the fine folks at the LBJ Presidential Library to inquire about a framed portrait of President Johnson talking to Phyllis George. They were able to tell us that the photo was taken by White House photographer Frank Wolfe at the dedication of the Visitor Center at LBJ State Park, August 29, 1970 when George held the title of Miss Texas. Of course, before being crowned Miss Texas, she held the titles of Miss Dallas and Miss Denton and would become Miss America the following year. Consequently, the Denton Municipal Archives houses the Miss Denton Pageant Collection, 1953-1981 within the Emily Fowler Central Library and is open for research!

Back to LBJ. I came across a 1963 letter from then Vice-President Johnson to Emily Fowler while processing the Denton Public Library Records, 1934-2019 (also open for research). Enclosed with that letter was another from J. George Stewart, Architect of the Capitol, verifying that a flag (presumably sent with these letters) was flown over the Capitol. The only United States flag I have been able to find in the library was in a box simply marked, “flag.” It is old enough to be the flag mentioned in these letters (in fact older, as it only has 48 stars), but the only identifying mark is a small tag sewn between the blue field and the stripes with the number 66 written on it. The manufacturers mark on the flag has long been worn away, but with what little information I did have I tried to contact the current Architect of the Capitol through their website to verify this as the flag from the letter. I received no response. So, I contacted the folks at the LBJ Presidential Library to see what information they might have, but they had no record of the letters at all. At an impasse, I began to wonder what other connections LBJ might have with Denton.

LBJ to Emily Fowler. Correspondence, General, 1934 – 1989. Denton Public Library Records. Denton Municipal Archives.

The request for the flag was made by Emily Fowler through a “mutual friend,” Gene Latimer. Latimer was a former high school student of Johnson’s in Houston and would later become his aide, but what did he have to do with Denton and how did he know Emily Fowler? The internet being what it is, I was able to find out that in 1952, Latimer resigned from Johnson’s Senate staff and took a job with the Federal Civil Defense Administration in Dallas which would later be moved to Denton and its duties absorbed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979. That put Latimer in Denton so I was able to search his name in back issues of the Denton Record-Chronicle through the library’s subscription to Newspaper Archives (free to use for anyone at any branch of the Denton Public Library).

The Latimers were quite involved in the community. Aside from his work with Civil Defense, Gene was a member of the Denton Toastmasters and the Friends of the Denton City-County Library, as the Denton Public Library was called then (which satisfied my curiosity about his connection with Emily Fowler). In fact, he was elected president of the Friends in 1966. Mrs. Latimer was a member of the Ariel Club, Altar Society and the Woman’s Shakespeare Club. Having verified their Denton-ness I thought there must be some other hidden mementos of Gene and LBJ hanging around town and immediately got in touch with FEMA to see what they had! They had a couple of photographs of LBJ visiting the “Nations First Federal Underground Center,” but nothing else.

At this point I remembered having seen another letter from LBJ, framed and hanging on the wall at the Water Production Plant while I was there accessioning materials for inclusion into the Water Utilities Records, 1947-2012 (yes, also open for research). I went back to see if Latimer had a hand in that letter as well. He did not. However, the content of this letter seemed familiar to me, so I went back to the library and back through the material I received from Water Production. In it is a file marked “McKenna Park Water Tower.” In that file is an unsigned copy of that LBJ letter to then Mayor Mark Hannah in February of 1951. But wait, that’s not all! There’s also a letter to Mayor Hannah from Senator Tom Connally and several from Congressman Ed Gossett all involving the same issue.

LBJ to Mayor Hannah. February 22, 1951. Water Production.

Apparently the City of Denton was having a hard time getting the promised steel for the construction of the water tower from the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Company, enough of a hard time that it required intervention on the part of both Texas Senators and the Congressman from the 13th District to have the National Production Authority look into the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Company’s purchases to determine that they had enough steel to provide what was promised.

Long story short, the water tower was eventually built, and I still have no idea where the flag came from. What I do know is, another Capitol flown flag was gifted to the Emily Fowler Library by the Elks Denton Lodge No. 2446 in 1981, but I have no idea about its whereabouts either. Perhaps the biggest take away from this search has been in discovering that no one orders custom pants like President Lyndon Johnson.

Matthew Davis
Archivist

Sources

  • Denton Public Library Records, 1934-2019.
  • LBJ Presidential Library
  • Denton Record-Chronicle, 1960-1967.

Source: City of Denton Library