THE ONE WITH THE HAT
November 23, 2012, afternoon, Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas
eteam: Can you state your name please.
Ernest Brandt: My name is Ernest Carl Brandt I am a native Dallasite, I’ve been here since 140 years. I was an eyewitness to the Kennedy assassination. I stood 15 feet from Kennedy when the first shot was fired. And I saw him raise his arms up in this manner, that’s exactly what you see in the Zapruder film when he comes out from behind the highway sign.
The guy who was with me yesterday was my costumer. We’ve been to lunch and decided to come down here on the spur of the moment.
eteam: So you hadn’t plan to come here.
E.B.: No, we hadn’t. We really hadn’t. We made the decision while we were eating lunch.
eteam: In which way did this decision affect your life?
E.B.: Well, it’s made me sort of semi-famous, because see, here I am being interviewed by you and if I would not be a witness to the Kennedy assassination we would not be doing this. So I had a lot of newspaper articles written about me, there is one in today’s morning news, I understand. I met a guy over here, 5, 6 years ago who was from Philadelphia and he had me come all the way to Philadelphia and paid all my expenses to talk to his history class.
eteam: Was this the first time you witnessed someone dying?
E.B.: Oh, I’ve witnessed my family, when my family died, but this man…
eteam: How would you compare this death to another death you’ve witnessed?
E.B.: Oh, my other deaths have just been relatives lying on a bed taking their last breath. But this is altogether different. This is the world’s most terrible tragedy that ever occurred in this country. Other than the 9/11.
eteam: And how has it affected you personally?
E.B.: Well, it hadn’t affected me greatly. When I get a chance to do an interview like with you, I get a feeling of relation, being, well, I am being a little bit imparted, that’s all.
eteam: How often have you told your story? You’ve said, you’ve been here a 100 times already.
E.B.: Oh yes. I started coming down here in 1993, when it was declared a National Historic landmark by the federal government and my costumer and I both came down here, every year. It just became a habit and I guess if I live to be a hundred years old, I still will be coming down here.
eteam: Yesterday, after you showed me the still from the Zapruder film, I looked at the names of the people who were standing close by the curb, and then I looked for these names in the Warren Commission report which is available online. You weren’t testifying at the time.
E.B.: Oh no. See, my costumer and I didn’t tell anybody we were here. The actual shooting of Kennedy occurred at 12:30 sharp, that day. And after John and I had discussed it a little bit, I said: "John, we better tell somebody, we better tell the police, somebody we were here, they may want to talk to us." But he looked at his watch and it was past 12:30 and he was supposed to be back at work at 12:30pm. So he said, I don’t want to get wrapped up with somebody. My boss is a stickler for punctuality, so you better take me back to work. So he left. If we would have told somebody, we would have been official eye-witnesses.
eteam: Did you tell your family about being here? Or was it like, you were here and then you forgot about it? How was the time after the assassination? What was the reason you didn’t go to the police the next day, for example?
E.B.: I guess, I just didn’t care to get involved. I had a job that was not very secure and I got to thinking about it and I thought they might get me wrapped up and want me to go to Washington, DC to testify before the Warren commission and I said, it might cost me to loose my job. So that’s one reason I didn’t get involved.
eteam: And all the other people, do you think they had similar reasons? I looked up the people who were standing next to you, none of them did testify. Do you think they had similar reasons?
E.B.: It’s hard to say. Let me tell you this about the lady who was standing on my right in a very pretty blue dress. When Kenndy’s Limousin rounded the corner from Houston onto Elm street, she nudged me with her elbow and she said: Oh boy, it sure would be a great day to rob a bank in the suburbs, wouldn’t it? And I said: Well, may be so lady, but that is not what I care to do today. She must have thought that every police man in the county was near the motorcade. And I haven’t seen her since. I don’t know who she is.
eteam: Yesterday when I came down here and I saw all the different people being interested in this whole story, I thought a little bit of this as a collective public chess game. Everyone comes and moves the different pieces around and has an opinion of what is the best strategy to figure out this story. What is your part in this scenario? Are you a piece of the puzzle or are you rather a player who is moving around the pieces?
E.B.: I am just another piece of the puzzle. That’s all.
eteam: I don’t know if you look at the Internet...I looked yesterday and I found out that people are speculating about you and your position.
E.B.: Oh, really?
eteam: Have you known about this?
E.B.: No, I don’t have a computer at home. I don’t have Internet.
eteam: When you go online and you google your name there comes up a lot of information. You’ve been kind of a media fixture.
eteam: Yes, lot’s of pictures come up, reporters tell your story, but there are also people who argue that you haven’t been here, that you are an imposter. What would you tell the people who say: How can he prove that he was here on that day?
E.B.: Well, I had a lot of people say, how do I know that’s you in the film? How do I know that’s you, there is no proof and I just tell them, well, look, you either have to take my word for it, or not, that’s all. It really doesn’t matter to me if they believe me or not, cause I know I was here with John.
Let’s take a break. I parked in a bad spot. I got to move my car.
walks to the car
OK I am back
Shows newspaper clippings.
E.B.: You see this man here? He was the man who was handcuffed to Oswald when Jack Ruby stepped up and shot him. His name is James La velle. He was a detective at that time. He came and told his story to my last class. He is quite a man. He is in 90’s now in a nursing home.
This picture was taken by a man who was standing right over here, where we are. You see Kennedy’s limousine here, secret service agent limo here, police men here we are on the other side. Now, I want you to look very carefully. See where all these men are looking? These men are looking back toward the building, and these two are looking at president Kennedy. These two police men are looking at president Kennedy, and these guys are looking at Kennedy. And the reason is, look right here at the windshield what do you see there? You see a white gloved hand? That’s Misses Kennedy’s hand. She got her hand up under his arm, cause he has just been hit in the neck by shot number one. And he did like this, so she got her hand up under his arm. That is a very important photograph, very few people know about that one.
eteam: Where did you get it from?
E.B.: I don’t know. I just found it in some memorabilia. I wish I would have gotten a lot.
All right. Where were we?
eteam: … I’ve read that you said in an interview when the second shot was fired you got scared and ran up the hill and took cover behind a tree,
E.B.: Yes, that’s exactly right. You see, when the first shot was fired, nobody was expecting shooting. Nobody, including me and John. So, I thought the first shot was a motorcycle backfire, so did John, so did a lot of other people. But about 2 and a half, 3 seconds later was a second shot. Then everybody realized, somebody was shooting from somewhere and I didn’t know where, I thought the shots were may be coming from across the plaza from over there, from the South Side. But I got scared, and you see that tree and I ran behind the tree that was right behind me and I hid behind that tree and when I was running for the tree I heard shot number 3. But John stayed right there on the curb and he saw that 3rd shot hit Kennedy’s head and he saw Kennedy’s head explode. But I didn’t see that.
eteam: What’s different between John and you? Why did he stay and why did you run away?
E.B.: I ran away because I was scared. My heart started pounding real fast. I wouldn’t be good in battle, I tell you, because I would crawl on the ground and dig a hole for myself but John, he told me later… he said: “I guess I was frozen in place.” That’s the way he sees it. I guess we have to take him on his word.
eteam: So he was in shock?
E.B.: I think so.
eteam: Afterwards, were you relieved about that? Did you think, well, my instinct kicked in and I ran? You missed what John has seen, I don’t know if you wanted to see it or not...were you relieved that you ran, are you relived you did not see it?
E.B.: Well, it wasn’t instinct. It was fear. It was absolute fear, cause my heart started pounding and my adrenaline began to flow really fast, you know… I was scared, cause I thought the shots were coming from across the plaza, and if so, we were right in the line of fire.
eteam: You probably replayed the whole scene a Million times in your head...
E.B.: It was strictly fear, that as all I can tell you. And when I got to that tree, I was standing behind it and I felt very secure then, because as I said, I thought the shots were coming from across the plaza and then I glanced down toward the triple underpass and I saw the limousine down there and the taillights were lit, so that told me that the driver had his foot on the break. And I don’t think they stopped completely but he was slowing down and while the secret service climbed up on the back of the trunk and pushed Misses Kennedy back into the car. And do you know why she was on the trunk of the car?
eteam: please tell me...
E.B.: She saw a piece of Kennedy’s skull on the trunk of the car and she leaned on her left hand and reached out with her right hand, picked up that piece of Kennedy’s skull took it all the way to the hospital and gave it to the doctor’s in the trauma room 1, to see if they could patch his skull. But there was a hole in his skull as big as my fist. Some of the doctors later said, the minute they saw that hole in his head they knew they couldn’t save him anymore.
eteam: Have you met other witnesses, spent time with them and talked about the experience?
E.B.: No, I haven’t, because there are only 2 or 3 of us left now. And down through the years…. I wanted to form a group of witnesses but I couldn’t get people to attend. Nobody wanted to come and talk about it.
E.B.: I don’t know. First of all I did not know of how to get in touch with a lot of them. I didn’t know their names or anything. I wish I had. I wish I could have gotten a group together so we could have discussed it between us. The only other witnesses I have talked to is Bill and Gail Newman. They were the couple that was lying on their kids over there. I remember seeing them lying on their two children to keep them from being shot. Those were the only two I have ever talked to.
eteam: And was it different talking to them...? Did you feel a connection?
E.B.: Bill and his wife were very withdrawn. They don’t want the publicity, they weren’t even here yesterday, I don’t think. They don’t come down like John and I. So, they were reluctant to talk to anybody about this. They may come to the museum and have a meeting with people there, but the museum probably pays them some money that’s why they come down.
eteam: That’s another question I had. I see some of the people who are involved in this are selling DVD’s and books and magazines and artifacts, evidence – have you ever thought, well, I could have capitalized on my story as well?
E.B.: I could have. As a matter of fact, 10 or 12 years ago I started writing my book about my experience. But I lost interest and quit, so I haven’t finished it, but I might trying to finish it this winter when the weather gets cold and I can’t get outside.
eteam: What is the book about? What is the bigger story you are telling?
E.B.: It’s my experience as an eyewitness plus all the evidence that I have accumulated from 49 years of studying. See, I have studied this off and on for 49 years
eteam: But you only came out as an eyewitness 30 years after the shooting, right? Do you remember the moment that drove you to go out, tell everybody that you were there?E.B.: That was the 30th anniversary when they declared this a National Historic Landmark. And John called me on the phone about a week before and he said: Ernie, we never have been down to the Plaza, let’s go this time. So he talked me into it and we came down on the 30th anniversary and that was the first time that I really did anything in the open.
eteam: And how did this feel?
E.B.: Oh, listen, we were mobbed for our autographs. I tell you. Well, we were yesterday too, to some degree, but on the 30th anniversary I was surrounded by 20 people and they all wanted my autograph, papers were coming over my shoulder and from the side and front and back, I felt like Michael Jackson.
eteam: Was it also like a personal relief that is was out, because I imagine that you carried this around….well, I don’t know… did you carry it around …?
E.B.: I had a three year old son and a six months old son and my wife preferred to stay home and take care of the kids so I had to concentrate on making a living, so I just forgot about the Kennedy assassination details until the 30th anniversary.
eteam: And now, is it anything else besides the interaction with other people that drives you to tell your story? Is it important to you, to get your point of view out to feed into some final conclusion of how many shots were fired and where they came from, if this was a conspiracy or not? Are the facts as important to you as just talking to people?
E.B.: Well, I love to talk to people. You could tell yesterday, I am sure. But I also like to discuss it with people who believe in a conspiracy, because I don’t. I know with my heart and in my mind, there was no conspiracy. It was Oswald all alone. And when I run into somebody who believes that there were shots from behind the picket fence or somewhere I try to convince them that they are wrong. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. People are very stubborn, you know. And a lot of them have not done their homework, like I have. And that’s what I tell them. I say: Look, you put in 49 years of study like I have and then you will know that there was nobody else involved.
eteam: Do you think there is like a universal truth to this or will it always be subjective?
E.B.: The universal truth is something people seem to be vaguely interested in, like the group here today. If you sit down with some of them and talk about the details they are probably not that interested in the details. They’ve got their own lives to live, work, play, school or whatever, and so they are not interested in the details and that’s why so many of them continue to believe in a conspiracy, because they don’t want to study the details. It is very complex, really. Did you know for instance, that after Oswald shot Kennedy he started to leave the building and he went down the stairs on the North West corner of the building and he got to the second floor and a policeman, who was with Oswald’s boss, Mr. Truly, they passed the second floor in a coffee room just off the stairs and the police man glanced in there and he saw a man getting a coke. He didn’t know that Oswald was the assassin, but he marched into that coffee room and pulled his pistol out of his holster and was holding it on Oswald like that, but he din’t know that it was Oswald, he didn’t know that Oswald had pulled the triggers and he started questioning Oswald. About that time Mr. Truly came into the room and the police man said: What about this man here? Does he work here? Mr. Truly says: Yes, he works here for me. So the policeman said: OK. He put his pistol in his holster and let Oswald go, he went out the building and went to Northern Oakcliff and killed a police man. All because Mr. Truly said that he worked in the building.
eteam: …which was true
E.B.: Yes. But they didn’t go any further. The first thing that the police did that was wrong, or that they should have done, immediately after the shooting they should have blocked all the entrances and exits to the building and not let anybody in or out. And they failed to do that. So this way he was able to slip out of the building and go to his room and get his pistol. Terrible, terrible. Lot’s of mistakes were made.
When he shot the police man, officer Tippet, they had a description of Oswald on police radio just 15 minutes after Kennedy was shot, because one man, named Howard Brenner was sitting on that semi-wall across from Oswald’s window and he saw Oswald in the window before Oswald pulled the trigger. So after the shooting he went up to a police man and said: look I saw that man in the window, I give you a description of him, so he did and they had that description on police radio and officer Tippit was cruising over in Oakcliff and he saw Oswald walking down the sidewalk. He thought he looked like the guy in the description on the radio, so he stopped his car, he asked Oswald to come over to the side window and he questioned Oswald for a few minutes and then apparently he got suspicious and got out of his cruiser and started to walk around the front of his cruiser, and when he got in front of the car, Oswald pulled his pistol and shot him three times. And there were a number of eyewitnesses to this.
eteam: At one point there will be no more eyewitnesses left. How do you think the story should be kept alive? And do you think anybody will remember you?
E.B.: No, nobody will remember me. If they see me on the Internet or something they will say, well that guy, he was there, but so what. The only people who are really interested in this are older people who were alive at the time Kennedy was shot. The younger people don’t have much interest I found.
eteam: Why do you think that is?
E.B.: That’s something that happened almost 50 years ago. They got their own lives to live, but the older people they remember the day, they may even know some details of their own.
eteam: Do you have any regrets? Do you think sometimes, oh, I should have told someone earlier, I should have testified before the Warren commission, it might have been an interesting experience. Have you have thought about that?
E.B.: Oh, I wish very much now that John and I would have told the police that we were here, so we could have given them a statement and we would have been listed as official eyewitnesses, which we are not. That’s why so many people say, well how do I know you were here. But it doesn’t matter now. I am 86 years old, a few more years and I will be 6 feet under and it will be over for me. But it is an interesting thing for me and it kind of keeps me busy. I still work on my memorabilia quite a bit and study a little bit here and there. Whenever I find something new that I don’t have, I try to save it and put it in my book.
eteam: One last question: What means the hat to you? The hat became this kind of symbol I guess.
E.B.: The hat of course is the only thing that I have that was actually with me at the time of the shooting. And the hat is the only thing that helps me stand out in the Zapruder Film. Because the whole line of people where we were standing were all ladies, except me and John. And when I look at that and I see that hat I know that’s me. And other people when I show it to them and they say, where are you I say: See the hat? That’s me. The one with the hat.
The museum has asked for it but my son said not to give it to them. They got enough stuff to exhibit anyhow, they don’t need more.
eteam: So he wants to get the hat from you eventually and keep it?
E.B.: Yes, my son wants to keep it. Sure. I don’t know what he will do with it when he gets old.