I found an error in Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power.
It’s in the section on JFK’s fatal trip to Texas in November, 1963. On page 300, Caro states, “The President was set to land at San Antonio’s Bergstrom Air Force Base at 1:30 on Thursday afternoon.” Then he says, “…the Johnsons left the ranch in their Beechcraft Bonanza for the short flight to Bergstrom, where they would greet the President….” The following paragraph says, “The President’s arrival at Bergstrom brought with it more trouble for Lyndon Johnson….” Then, on page 301, Caro describes Kennedy aide Ken O’Donnell being angry about John Connally and the Texas political situation and exiting Air Force One and “…[coming] down onto the Bergstrom tarmac….”
Okay. Bergstrom Air Force was in Austin, not San Antonio. (Bergstrom closed in 1993, was repurposed, and is now the site of Austin Bergstrom International Airport).
When I read this I thought Caro might have gotten the city wrong, that he might be saying that Kennedy landed at Bergstrom in Austin, then drove to San Antonio for his visit to the medical center and the motorcade, etc. Even though that would be totally impractical. But Caro says the motorcade to the hospital was 16 miles. Driving from Bergstrom would be 90 or so miles.
So I did a bit of poking around and found a map of the Kennedy visit to San Antonio on November 21, 1963.
Caro’s placing the landing at Bergstrom is a small error—an error of fact-checking or research. Caro’s notes are unclear on his sourcing—he says the bit about O’Donnell’s “rage” toward Connally comes from his book, "Johnny We hardly Knew Ye": Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Maybe O’Donnell had the arrival details wrong, and Caro didn’t bother to check? Don’t know. I don’t think the errors imperil Caro’s argument about the character of Lyndon Johnson, or his narrative about the assassination of Kennedy, or his overall picture of life in mid-20th century America. But I can’t help but wonder if other errors snuck in somehow….
At any rate, I really love this brilliant series of books. I’m on the downhill side of The Passage of Power now, and I am going to be sorry when it’s over.
May 19.... UPDATE!
On page 503, the first page of Chapter 21:
“From Bergstrom Air Force Base, outside Austin, three big olive-green Army helicopters lifted off and wheeled west.”
Caro has the base in the correct city now. And, apparently, he’s using different sources: “Much of the description of these two weeks on the ranch comes from the many hours of newsreel footage, including outtakes, taken at these events” (683). For the description of the flight from Bergstrom to the LBJ Ranch, he is also using a book by Frank Cormier, LBJ: The Way He Was.