Briscoe Center & LBJ Library Remember Walter Cronkite In New Exhibit

As you step in, the familiar voice greets you, “Hello, I’m Walter Cronkite. You know, every hour of every day important headlines are being made around the world…”

And by the time you finish reading Cronkite’s wise words printed on the wall adjacent to a classic photo of him — “I had a pretty good seat at the parade. I was lucky enough to have been born at the right time to see most of this remarkable century” — you hear that famous line ushering you in, “And that’s the way it is.”

There’s no turning back after that.

The Briscoe Center for American History and the LBJ Library and Museum teamed up to present Cronkite: Eyewitness to a Century at the LBJ Library.

Opening Saturday and continuing through the year, the exhibit covers the development of the most trusted man in America — his childhood in Missouri and Houston, his college years here at UT, his time as a war correspondent, and then his broadcast career. Visitors can see his typewriters, the uniform he wore while reporting in WWII, his most meaningful Emmy, even an application he submitted to NASA to be the first journalist in space.

And since the sound of his words were more meaningful than anything, throughout the exhibit, televisions (built into fabulously vintage sets) play clips from 1997’s TV mini-series Cronkite Remembers, featuring actual clips of Cronkite’s reports and his commentary on them.

It’s one thing to read about Cronkite’s reaction to news of President Kennedy’s assassination. It’s another to see him choke up on the footage from his news report and then hear him discuss his reactions: wanting to get on the air immediately, feeling dismayed that cameras had to be warmed up, and not fully grasping the news until reading aloud the words “President Kennedy died.”

Cronkite was voted America’s most trusted man for a reason, and it wasn’t just his straight-shooting style of reading the news. His intelligence, intense preparation, and devotion to viewers came through in all his work. The Briscoe Center and the LBJ Library did a wonderful job of making these traits come through strongly in the exhibit as well, through telling quotes blown up on the walls, letters he wrote to his parents, notes he used to prepare to interview North Vietnamese leaders, and cards, cartoons, and telegrams sent upon his retirement from his adoring friends and fans.

Cronkite broadcasted almost every major news story of the last half of the 20th century. He interviewed every president from Truman to Reagan, he anchored each political convention for three decades, he traveled around the world covering wars, and he reported the first steps on the moon. Through Briscoe Center director and exhibit curator Don Carlton’s friendship with Cronkite and the Briscoe Center’s “Walter Cronkite Papers,” the Briscoe Center has exclusive stories and personal items from each.

As a young journalist who was born after Cronkite’s last night on the CBS Evening News, I can attest that the exhibit not only provides nostalgic pleasure for those who remember him, but also, to everyone, a clear picture of Cronkite’s impact on journalism and his viewers.

But if it weren’t enough — one final blown-up quote from President Obama, spoken after Cronkite’s death in 2009, sums it up, “Through all the events that came to define the 20th century, through all our moments of deepest hurt and brightest hope, Walter Cronkite was there.”


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