And Conspiracy Theories
Standing at the window of the Sixth Floor Museum in the infamous Book Depository Building in Dallas, Texas, I realized that I was looking out over Dealey Plaza on a view similar to the one Lee Harvey Oswald must have seen on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot. My mind can't help but wander back to the moment I first heard the news. Like most people in my generation, that day is indelibly etched in my mind.
In my case, I was sitting in my high school sophomore English class, and my teacher was annoyed because the intercom kept being turned on and off from the office, screeching loudly. Within a few minutes, they began broadcasting a local radio station's announcement that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. We all sat in stunned silence. Within an hour or two, more details were released, and we found out that our handsome young president was dead. Our country went into mourning.
Living in a tiny Missouri village at the time, far from any major city, I never dreamed that I would ever be able to stand in the same spot where Lee Harvey Oswald must have stood that day, gazing out a window just a few feet from the one where he shot at the President.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas
Today, the sixth and seventh floors of the former Texas School Book Depository (now the Dallas County Administration Building) have been converted to a museum dedicated to chronicling the legacy of President Kennedy, as well as his assassination. The museum is a tribute to his life and accomplishments. As you walk through the various exhibits, you take a journey through his life. You see photos and short documentary films of his days as a Senator, the Kennedy presidential campaign, and the tumultuous years of his presidency. You learn about the Bay of Pigs, and the frightening week in American history when Kennedy stood up to the Soviet Union and forced them to remove their missiles from Cuba.
The gift shop at the Sixth Floor Museum is an excellent place to get books on Kennedy's life, legacy and death. If you con't have the opportunity to buy them there, you can also purchase books about Kennedy using this Amazon link.
However, no one who enters the museum can keep from thinking about that fateful day when gunshots rang out through Dealey Plaza, and this energetic man was fatally shot in the prime of his life. As you stroll through the museum, you can listen to an audio guide which explains the various exhibits. It also contains excerpts of the historic radio broadcasts and the voices of reporters, police officers and witnesses to the assassination. The museum contains areas depicting some of the evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald, as well as eyewitness accounts. For a small fee, you can also purchase a map and cell phone walking tour of historic Dealey Plaza and the surrounding area, while listening to commentary on your cell phone.
These tours, as well as John F Kennedy memorabilia, can be purchased at the museum store on the first floor of the building, before or after taking the elevator up to the Sixth Floor Museum.
Kennedy Conspiracy Theories
I have walked around Dealey Plaza and visited the Sixth Floor Museum many times, and I still often wonder what happened that day? There are, of course, many theories. Conspiracy theorists still lurk on the streets of Dallas, near the Kennedy Museum, and they will be happy to give you a private tour of the grassy knoll, for a few dollars, of course. However, it is not necessary for me to take their tour. I lived in Dallas for more than a quarter of a century, and read several books on the assassination. I have stood on the grassy knoll, walked behind the fence at the top of the knoll, and strolled across the parking lot behind the fence. I have also stood at the windows of the Sixth Floor Museum. I know that either the grassy knoll or the window would have provided someone with an excellent vantage point for shooting at the presidential motorcade that day. I have listened to friends who swear that the shots came from the grassy knoll and others who scoff at the idea that anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald was involved.
Among the conspiracy theories that have been discussed over the years are that the mafia sent hit men to kill Kennedy, the Cubans sent assassins, anti-Castro Cubans living in the United States planned the murder because of the failed Bay of Pigs attack, and even that President Johnson, the FBI or a rogue group of CIA agents were behind his death. To this day, there are people who believe that Oswald did not commit the murder and that he was only a "patsy," as he always claimed.
According to the "earwitness" accounts of people who were there that day, 54% thought all the shots came from the Texas School Book Depository, 31% thought the shots came from the grassy knoll, 9% thought the shots came from an entirely different direction, and the remaining people thought the shots had come from two different directions. All these conflicting reports by people who were actually there continues to add fuel to the conspiracy theories. Perhaps someday we'll know … although it becomes less likely with each passing decade.
The John F. Kennedy Assassination
What do we actually know about the assassination? Whether or not Oswald was a lone shooter, or was assisted by someone else, there are many details that are accepted as fact, and are mentioned in the Warren Commission Report. Here is a brief rundown of some of the more interesting details.
Although most people are aware of Kennedy's assassination, he was not the only one shot that day. John and Jacqueline Kennedy were riding in an open limousine with Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie Connally. Governor Connally was also shot, as was James Tague, who was standing nearby watching the motorcade pass. Kennedy was the only one to die from his injuries. Governor Connally was seriously injured, but recovered. James Tague, the spectator, was struck in the cheek by a bullet fragment, and was not seriously injured.
The president's motorcade was not being filmed by news reporters or many individuals that day. However, one person there, Abraham Zapruder, was using silent 8 mm film and happened to tape the 26.6 seconds before, during and just after the president's death. Because of this Zapruder film, historians are able to analyze every action that occurred in the limousine as the shots rang out. Although there is no sound on the film, most spectators reported hearing three shots, although there has been some speculation that there could have been four shots.
The two couples in the limousine were chatting amicably just before the shots rang out. Mrs. Connally had just finished saying, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you," in response to the large turnout for his visit. When the shooting began, it is possible to see on the Zapruder film all the chaotic movements taking place in the limo. It is believed that both Kennedy and Connally were shot by the same bullet, although the odd direction that it would have had to take lends credence to the idea of a fourth shot being fired. After President Kennedy was shot in the head, and the limousine took off for the hospital, Mrs. Kennedy repeatedly moaned, "They have killed my husband. I have his brains in my hand." The film shows Jackie Kennedy's first reaction was to reach back onto the trunk of the car, as though trying to retrieve something; a few minutes later she was riding with her arms clutching her husband as they headed to the hospital.
Within seconds of realizing that the president had been shot, the car left Dealey Plaza, entered the onramp for the nearby freeway, and took the president to the trauma center at Parkland Memorial Hospital, just a few minutes away.
The day still affects most people who were alive at the time. Nearly everyone can remember the exact moment when they heard that the President had been shot. The intensity of feelings is reflected in the large number of Amazon books about John F. Kennedy that are available on their website.
The Hunt for Kennedy's Killer
While the limousine was rushing President Kennedy, Governor Connally, and their wives to the hospital, the police immediately began searching for the shooter. Since some witnesses indicated that they believed shots had come from behind the fence at the top of the grassy knoll, one of the motorcycle officers, Clyde Haygood, ran to the grassy knoll to investigate. He found no one there, and no one who appeared to be fleeing.
Within ten to twenty minutes, entrances to the Texas School Book Depository were sealed off, and police began to search the building. However, Lee Harvey Oswald had left by then. His supervisor informed the police that Oswald was missing. An hour and twenty minutes after the assassination, police officer J.D. Tippit spotted Oswald walking down a sidewalk in Oak Cliff, a residential area just south of downtown. Tippit called in the sighting, and a few minutes later he, too, was shot and killed. When other officers arrived on the scene, Oswald was seen entering a nearby movie theater, without purchasing a ticket, and the police officers entered and attempted to arrest him. They succeeded only after Oswald allegedly attempted to shoot the arresting officer, M.N. McDonald. Until his death, Oswald denied that he had shot anyone. Two days later he was murdered, on national television, by Dallas nightclub owner, Jack Ruby.
Kennedy is Declared Dead
As soon as Kennedy arrived at Parkland Hospital, he was declared "moribund," which means that he had no chance of survival. Kennedy had been shot at 12:30 p.m., and was declared dead at 1:00 by his personal physician, who had also been rushed to the hospital. A priest administered the last rites.
Governor Connally was taken into surgery, and underwent two operations that day to repair the damage caused by the bullet that entered his body.
At approximately 2:00, Kennedy's body was placed in a casket and taken to Air Force One, for the return trip to Washington. In just an hour and a half after the shooting, Oswald had been captured, Kennedy had been declared dead, and his body was already beginning the trip back to Washington, D.C. At 2:38 p.m., Vice President Johnson took the oath of office on board Air Force One, just before it took off from the Dallas Love Field airport. The new widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, stood beside him, in her blood stained clothing, as he was sworn in.
The Nation Watched
Shortly after Kennedy was shot, my high school, like many around the United States, closed for the day. Students went home and Americans watched every news story possible on their televisions. Televisions had only been commercially available for about 15 years at that time, and shows were still broadcast in black and white. There were very few channels available, and all of them exclusively reported information about the assassination, the young President's life and death, and what was happening regarding the arrest of the shooter. We hung on every word spoken about the president, his family, and his legacy. We watched Oswald as he was paraded through police headquarters, declaring that he was a "patsy." We sat in our living rooms and witnessed the funeral. The next few days were traumatic for adults and children, alike.
John F. Kennedy's Funeral
Although his Dallas motorcade had not been televised, President Kennedy's funeral was. His closed casket was placed in the East Room of the White House for 24 hours, although the casket was opened briefly for viewing by the family and close friends. On the Sunday after the assassination, his flag-draped, closed casket was placed in the Capitol for viewing by the public. Hundreds of thousands of people lined up to walk past the casket. Millions more, like me, watched on TV.
The funeral at Arlington National Cemetery was held on November 25, the third birthday of his son, John Kennedy, Jr. Who can forget the heart-rending picture of tiny John-John, as he was affectionately known throughout the world, as he stood bravely saluting the casket of his dead father?
The Aftermath of John Kennedy's Death
In the years since Kennedy's death, there have been a number of investigations, as well as books and movies made about the assassination. The most famous of these is the Warren Commission report. Despite the exhaustive number of individuals and policemen who were interviewed, and the assurances in the report that Kennedy was shot by Oswald, alone, many people continue to believe that his death was the result of an assassination plot that involved others, as well. Not only do people believe that there was a conspiracy, but that there has also been a systematic cover-up since that time.
Perhaps we will never know the truth, or perhaps we already know the truth, but refuse to accept that a lone gunman was capable of pulling off something so shocking. Many amateurs and professional investigators have studied the Warren Commission Report and other evidence, and drawn their own conclusions. Others, like me, are content with our own memories of the day that Kennedy was shot.
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