Right now I’m looking at the inside of John F Kennedy’s head, blood and brains have cascaded out, his ears are full of congealed blood. This isn’t how I usually start a clear summer’s day I hasten to assure you.
But the announcement there is new film of that final and fatal last ride -- albeit film shot about 90 seconds before the bullets exploded JFK’s head and tore through his body -- had me pulling out some magazines I bought when I was in Dallas a couple of years ago and went to the site of his murder. As you do.
The magazine I am looking at was the “40th anniversary memorial edition” of “JFK, The Case For Conspiracy” by Robert J Groden who is described as the photographic consultant to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and a technical advisor to Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.
It is quite some glossy, I can tell you: pages of fuzzy photos of the motorcade, a window in the Texas Book Depository building circled, route maps, black’n’white pix of people running, photos of the room from which Lee Harvey Oswald is alleged to have shot from, and of course diagrams of bullet trajectories, Oswald getting his from Jack Ruby, stills from the Zapruder film and . . .
You can guess the rest. Although page after page of Kennedy’s exploded head on a slab might come as a surprise.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there are ample questions raised (and unanswered maybe after 40 years) that I was vaguely curious when I saw those new images of JFK and how his jacket was bunched up at the back: such detail is crucial to CT people.
I have another magazine that I bought while Megan went off to loll on the "grassy knoll" : it is much the same but also reproduces the front page of the Fort Worth Press the day after the killing (home edition five cents!), and also a “Wanted for Treason” flier about Kennedy which had been pasted on telegraph poles along the motorcade route. Weirdness abounds.
Frankly I don’t know who did Kennedy in and, like many people at this great remove of time, do I much care anymore. But it is interesting that all these decades later new film should get the theorists and chatrooms buzzing again. Will Anna Nicole enjoy the same enduring interest?
That said, I offer here a piece that I wrote for the Herald -- for the Travel section no less -- about my day in Dallas.
It was better than JFK’s I have to say.
……. A simple wrong turn and the pressure of traffic forced us to carry on down the road, looking for an exit. But then, through a set of traffic lights, we were there.
“This it,” I shouted. “Look, this is it.”
I drove on as slowly as the urgent traffic would allow but we looked around at the slow dip and curve of the road, so recognisable from that famous piece of footage we have been seeing for fortysomething years.
This was the place. So I hooked a left, circled around for a couple of blocks and cautiously made our way back. We pulled over and got out of the car. There it was, the Texas School Book Depository, the famous “grassy knoll”, Dealey Plaza . . .
As much by chance as intent I have been to any number of slightly ghoulish places.
I have seen where River Phoenix died outside the Viper Room in LA (they’ve taken away the plaque now) and stood at Elvis’ grave a couple of times.
I have been to the modest plaque over Buddy Holly in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas; stumbled on Jim Morrison’s graffiti-covered grave in Pere La Chaise in Paris; and have been to Jimi Hendrix’s last resting place outside Seattle twice, the first when it was a simple grave which allowed for quiet contemplation, the second after they moved him and built a hideous memorial.
But there is something unique about the place in Dallas where John F Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.
It is that it is so familiar from those endless -- and endlessly, sickly fascinating -- replays of the grainy 8mm footage shot by Abraham Zapruder. And that the jury of popular opinion is still out on just who shot Kennedy, and from where.
The Texas School Book Depository -- and who knew Texas needed such a huge building in which to store old books? -- is on the corner of Elm and Houston Streets in downtown Dallas. It is a magnet for curious tourists, nutcases, historians, the sceptical and the slightly Kennedy-obsessed, and any number of conspiracy theorists.
For the latter there is more research to be undertaken at the Conspiracy Museum about a two blocks away. I guess if you think Lyndon Baines Johnson had Kennedy killed so he could become president then you are just as likely to believe that Nazis killed the Lindberg baby.
Around the “grassy knoll” men with blazing eyes sell magazines which trace bullet trajectories and have graphic autopsy photographs of Kennedy’s shattered brain.
But if you are in Dallas it is impossible not to feel the attraction of the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository because there you can hear about Kennedy’s life -- lots of promises but little achieved seems a fair verdict on his short presidency -- and consider the angle of fire that Lee Harvey Oswald would have needed to get off those rapid shots at a moving motorcade below.
You can’t actually stand where Oswald stood -- that area is sealed off by glass panels -- but you can stand in a window nearby. And you look down. And you look back at where Oswald stood and think of the angle. And you look again at the road below, and back to where Oswald would have stood . . .
I don’t know.
All I know is that if Oswald did it, then he was an exceptionally fine marksman.
And that’s pretty much what the guy next to me thought too, although the other guy who laughed and said, “Awwa man, no way” seemed to be more certain of his opinion.
It’s a place where you have to make up your own mind.
It might not be the most pleasant day out, but in the gift shop below you can buy Sixth Floor Museum t-shirts, postcards and kitschy Kennedy memorabilia.
I’ve got the museum ballpoint pen next to the plaster bust of Ho Chi Minh that I bought in Hanoi after going to see his mummified corpse.
But that’s another story ………..