Michael Beschloss: Regales audience with American tidbits

Historians in the News

He was invited by “Lady Bird” to meander through the halls of Lyndon B. Johnson's Texas home. He transcribed tapes of personal conversations recorded by the 36th president. And listened as the new president - just hours into his term - tried to comfort John F. Kennedy's mother over the phone as he prepared to run the country.

Michael Beschloss was no personal friend of Johnson's or his family. But for a while he became a little Johnson-like, as he recorded the bits and pieces of the life and times of the former president most people aren't familiar with in “Reaching for Glory: Lyndon Johnson's Secret White House Tapes, 1964-1965.”

Beschloss is a historian.

“Michael Beschloss reminds us that the art of the historian shouldn't be much different than the art of the fiction writer,” Dr. Tom Richardson, dean of Mississippi University for Women's College of Arts and Sciences and Eudora Welty Chair in Humanities, said Thursday night at the university's 2007 Welty Gala as he introduced Beschloss as the night's guest speaker.

Beschloss reminds everyone of what really matters, said Richardson noting the “whos” matter much more than the “whens” and “wheres.”

And Beschloss took a few moments to share about the whos, offering some tidbits of history he's learned during research.

Inspired by a James Bond film, Johnson bought an amphibicar, said Beschloss.

“One way he used it was, if you were a new member of the Johnson staff, he'd say ‘Let's take a ride in my car.' You wouldn't exactly say no,” he offered.

Johnson would head straight for Lake Lyndon B. Johnson.

“At which point, Johnson would invariably say, ‘The brakes have failed. We're going to die,'” Beschloss continued. It was a test, he said, to see if in crunch time the aides would try to save the president first or themselves; 100 percent of them tried to save themselves....
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