The place where John F. Kennedy was shot and killed has both a gloomy and festive air on the eve of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of a shocking crime that most Americans regard as unsolved.
The crime scene is being scrubbed.
The weather is foggy, warm and humid. Temporary seating has been erected and the loudspeakers occasionally play the music that will be played at the one-hour ceremony scheduled to take place tomorrow around 12:30 pm, the time when the 35th president died in a hail of gunfire. Everywhere people huddle in conversation, point and debate, talking about the fatal gunfire and the causes of Kennedy’s death.
But this conversation takes place outside the barricades that surround the grounds of the official ceremony.
Erasing the evidence
The white “X” painted on Elm Street marking the place where Kennedy’s limousine was passing when he suffered a massive gunshot wound to the head has been removed.
The speaker’s platform has been situated so that the Texas School Book Depository where accused assassin Lee Oswald allegedly fired three shots at the presidential motorcade will not be visible to camera crews from around the world. The sight lines have been constructed to capture Dallas’ gleaming corporate towers and not the infamous grassy knoll, where more than 30 people (including 21 law enforcement officers) thought the fatal gunshot originated,
The admirers of Kennedy who have gathered on this spot every November 22 since the 1960s have been systematically spurned by a civic committee whose leaders have said they hope to hold an “uplifting” event about a murder in broad daylight.
A man slightly injured by a missed gunshot that day, James Tague, has been denied a ticket to the event.
The program will make no reference to the vitriolic hatred of Kennedy that pervaded the civic and political leadership of Dallas in November 1963.
Historian David McCullough, biographer of Harry Truman, will speak. Exactly a month after JFK died, Truman published a piece in the Washington Post calling for the abolition of CIA. But McCullough will not talk about that remarkable response to JFK’s murder. McCullough will read excerpts from Kennedy’s speeches.
Of course JFK should be remembered with the solemnity due to a fallen statesman, and dignity and controversy are incompatible. But to hold a ceremony in the place where he died and deny the evidence of his death speaks to the deep ambivalence and enduring denial that still surrounds the most painful day in American history between Pearl Harbor and September 11. LIke the continuing secrecy around the CIA’s records related to JFK’s assassination, the dressing up of Dealey Plaza betrays an impulse to exclude the painful reality of the JFK story from public discourse.
The weirdest thing
“Spectacle is likely to trump substance,” wrote Dallas native James McCauley in the New York Times. “Not one word will be said at this event about what exactly the city was in 1963, when the president arrived in what he called, just moments before his death, ‘nut country.'”
“It’s just the weirdest thing,” Deb Conway, whose group, JFK Lancer, puts on one of the largest conferences of researchers around the anniversary of his assassination, told the National Journal. “It’s like if you went to a funeral but no one talked about the person who was dead.”
Jim Schutze, columnist for the Dallas Observer weekly, who has written some of the sharpest commentary on this impenting ritual of forgetting, used the same analogy.
“Its like going to your parent’s funeral and your brothers and sister say ‘We’re not going to funeral or say the word ‘death.” If that happened you would say, ‘You need to see a shrink.’ Not in Dallas. Its the way we deal with things. Is it the culture? Or is it mind control?”