Archive for the 'JFK' Category

The JFK Assassination: Size Matters

21 November, 2013
Pic 1: The Book Depository looms over the Parkway

Pic 1: The Book Depository looms over Elm St.

Earlier this year I spent a morning at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. It was an early spring day with just enough crispness in the air to make the sunlight pop. As I strolled around, I was struck by the familiarity of my surrounds. Images, from the Zapruder film to the myriad iconic pictures of the day, have seared the scenes of November 22, 1963 into my brain.

Standing next to Elm St, the road taken by the presidential limo, everything around me was familiar yet also surprising. Everywhere I looked, I just kept thinking It’s small!

Pic 2: New grass for the Grassy Knoll, just across the Parkway

Pic 2: New grass for the Grassy Knoll; X marks the spot of a shot.

From the south side of the street I looked over to the grassy knoll and it was simply right there! Not off in the distance, where a second, third or fourth gunman or a Cuban or a Mafia hit man, a deranged Republican or equally improbable character could have plugged away with impunity, but rather just a few yards beyond the three-lane road. To talk to the tourists gazing out from tree-shaded knoll, I wouldn’t have had to shout, just project my voice a little.

In fact, Dealey Plaza and Elm St, the stage where the killing of Kennedy played out, is like a lot of stages: small. From the top of Elm St to the places where John F Kennedy was shot isn’t much larger than an midrange suburban lawn. It’s like when I toured The Tonight Show studio at NBC in Burbank when I was a kid and discovered that what seemed sprawling on TV wasn’t any larger than a two-car garage.

Pic 3: The view from the Grassy Knoll

Pic 3: The view from the Grassy Knoll.

Typical camera lenses have wide angles and looking at my own photos, I see how my images make the views broad, the distances long. But when I stood behind the fence on the grassy knoll, looking at where the bullets hit JFK (conveniently marked with X’s painted on the pavement), I was almost on top of Elm St, which was lined with bystanders that day. Where Abraham Zapruder filmed with his 8mm camera was just a few feet away. Yet, in the minutes after the gunfire, dozens of people pointed at the open window of the Texas School Book Depository while almost no one pointed at the much closer grassy knoll.

The view from above, courtesy of Apple Maps

Dealey Plaza from above.   ©Apple Maps

Later, I visited the highly worthwhile Sixth Floor Museum in the eerily familiar red brick former book depository. (Walking in, I couldn’t help but shiver as I entered that place.) Crouching down just behind where Lee Harvey Oswald aimed out the window I was again struck by the lack of distance. Elm St is right below Oswald’s perch and the two painted X’s are close. Rather than a marksman, it seems that even the most casual of weekend warriors hoping to rid America’s woods of dangerous deer could make the shots. His field of fire was, yes, small. [The museum forbids photos from the window, which means you can purchase images of the view from the gift shop.]

I am convinced that had others been shooting at JFK 50 years ago, people would have both heard and seen them. Even the click of a lighter behind the grassy knoll is audible across Elm St. As an American, I may be predisposed to believe in conspiracy theories (you get one guess as to where most of the world’s UFO reports originate) and my years as a reporter taught me that nothing is too bizarre or improbable to be true, but in this case I’m not buying it. Wishing for some cinematic sweep of intrigue doesn’t make JFK conspiracy theories any more true than the tantalizing prospect that scores of MIAs have been kept hidden in the jungles of Vietnam for decades.

And if you only read two pieces of 50th anniversary coverage, try these two:

  • In a concise and cogent essay, Slate’s Fred Kaplan debunks a wide-range of conspiracy theories.
  • November 22, 1963 was that era’s “Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed/the World Trade Center was destroyed?” moment. Edward Cohen of The Atlantic has clips of the initially breathless TV bulletins and weaves them together with context and thoughtful commentary.

Finally, although I had only just turned three, I have vivid memories of the news that Kennedy was killed. My mother and sister sat weeping in front of our big old black and white TV, which stayed on – with me in front of it – for the next several days.