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LBJ Presses the Flesh in NYC, Much to Secret Service’s Chagrin

Feb. 6, 1964 - President Johnson, following a meeting at the New York Times building today with Arthur Hays Sulzberger and other Times executives, went handshaking in the rain. He was hatless and coatless. The temperature was 36 degrees, and there was a gusty northeast wind. A motherly looking woman warned him that he might catch cold. The crowds in West 43rd Street were thin, but some had waited without umbrellas for two hours. They were rewarded by close-up views and even a touch of a Presidential hand — right or left. Mr. Johnson (pictured in the lobby of the New York Times building) used both.

Efforts by Federal and city security personnel to keep Mr. Johnson remote from people were frustrated by the President’s tendency to mingle. His guardians learned that though you can keep the people away from the President, you can’t always keep the President away from the people.

Mr. Johnson emerged from the meeting at 3:06, and the door of his limousine was opened to receive him. It looked like an easy, routine departure. Suddenly, the applause of about 225 persons, standing behind barriers diagonally across 43rd Street at the rear of the Selwyn Theater, caught his attention. The tall Texan stood and waved. The applause turned to cheers. Catching everybody by surprise, Mr. Johnson strode across the street in the rain and began shaking hands. Twenty-five security men flew to his side. “Get back in the car; you’ll catch a cold, and we don’t have a Vice President,” a man called out. Others expressed concern for his safety. “What are you trying to do — scare everybody?” a woman asked. “Hi there, honey,” the President responded, taking her by the left wrist.

The beaming President then walked back toward his limousine, but a man in the crowd set up a loud demand for equal time — about one minute. The voice reached the President and drew him to this second throng on the north side of the street. When he saw Mr. Johnson coming, the man cried, “I called you first, Mr. President!” Mr. Johnson went straight to him and took his hand. “God bless you, sir. We are glad to see you,” said Francis Smart, 41 years old, of 226 St. James Place, Brooklyn. The President thanked them for standing out in the rain. Hands reached out to him from every angle. Using both hands, Mr. Johnson clasped or touched many. No one in those crowds had been checked by the police. Then the President got into his limousine and sped away. “You never know what to expect,” a security man said, expressing his relief at the departure.


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