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  • Writer's pictureNeal Spelce

The Inspiration for a Book Title from Long Ago

It was 51 years ago, actually May 22, 1971, when the title of my current memoir, “With The Bark Off,” was first uttered publicly, and on national television at that. It happened at an event unlike any other at the time, or since then, in Austin’s history. And the occasion has been rarely duplicated anywhere else in the US for that matter during the ensuing half century.

Let me explain. The occasion was the official opening and dedication ceremony of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of the University of Texas. President Johnson and UT System Chair of the Board of Regents Frank Erwin had retained me six months prior to chair and manage the mammoth undertaking. (The university built the facility on UT land before turning it over to the National Archives to operate.)

These were the words uttered by LBJ describing what was included in the Library and Museum:

“It’s all here: the story of our time – with the bark off….I do not know how this period will be regarded in years to come. But that is not the point. This library will show the facts – not just the joy and triumphs, but the sorrow and failures, too.”

So, decades later, as I wrote my memoir (that included fun and interesting facts about that event) it only seemed fitting to name the book, With The Bark Off, A Journalist’s Memories of LBJ and a Life in the News Media. Because I share true tidbits, including some embarrassing moments:

--like when LBJ chewed my butt out

--like when Chairman Erwin broke a state law by surprisingly serving mid-day alcoholic drinks to the guests (that he may have paid for personally or hid somewhere in the UT budget)

--like when I lied to President Nixon

--like when a miscalculation led to the VIP guests getting sprayed with a mist of water when we turned on the towering fountain.

You get the picture. Speaking of pictures, let me share a picture of historical significance.

The ceremony took place on an open platform outside during a time of Vietnam War protests. Four out of the top five officials in line to become president in case something happened to the president were side-by-side on the platform. Talk about security concerns! Look closely at this photo.

The Dedication of the LBJ Library May 22, 1971

With demonstrations being held nearby, in addition to President Nixon, “P”, four of the five presidential successors stood in the open on the platform. “1” first in line is Vice President Spiro Agnew (partially obscured by LBJ), “2” is Speaker of the House Carl Albert, “4” is Secretary of State William Rogers, and “5” is Treasury Secretary former Texas governor John Connally. The President Pro Tem of the Senate, #3 in succession, (not pictured) because he stayed in Washington.

Luckily protests were peaceful and safely away from the stage. But we had national guard troops hidden beneath the stadium, and a cadre of Secret Service and ATF agents were out of sight in the nearby law school building, just in case.

Oh yeah, one final example of how we really do share these memories "with the bark off" in our memoir: I recount how LBJ asked me to follow along as he read his dedication remarks to me. He led me into the men’s room, reading aloud, holding his speech in one hand and guiding his stream with the other.

This Super-8 home movie of the dedication was filmed by HR Haldeman and Dwight Chapin via Jeff Kreines YouTube

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