Dallas: 50 years on

The car screeches. The driver reaches for the horn. The car in front has just suddenly ground to a barely kinetic dawdle, and the passenger is leaning out of the window to take a photo

By David Whitley
Published 19 Nov 2013, 10:00 GMT, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 15:02 BST

A few minutes later, another car is forced into similar evasive action. This time, pedestrians are just ambling out for a good gawk. For Dallas drivers, this spot must forever be the Nightmare on Elm Street.

Two white crosses mark Elm Street under the three lanes of one-way, freeway-bound traffic. They're the best estimates of where President John F Kennedy's car was when the bullets hit on November 22nd, 1963.

Fifty years on, the fascination with the Kennedy assassination shows no signs of abating. Dallas would prefer visitors went to its expensively-collated art museums, or tried to pretend they are having a good time in the city's sprawling, broadly interchangeable and car-dominated neighbourhoods.

But at noon on a Monday morning, there's a massive queue outside the Sixth Floor Museum, waiting for it to open. Waiting to see the window of the former Texas School Book Depository that Lee Harvey Oswald may or may not have shot from.

The Kennedy assassination has come to represent far more than the untimely death of a president. It's an eternal talking point, and a moment that represents whatever people want it to.

The museum gives a good indication as to why. Its seemingly dry descriptions build up the drama, introducing characters and plot points that will come back later in the tale. Mentions are made of the Justice Department's war on organised crime — mob bosses hated Kennedy, and would later become some of the key conspiracy suspects — and his removal of Major General Edwin A Walker from office. Hard right leader Walker, we discover, was the target of an assassination attempt by Oswald earlier in 1963.

But despite all the witness photos and stills from the infamous Zapruder film, the moment that really strikes home is a voice announcing the shooting. Reports hit Dallas radio eight minutes after the assassination, and national TV two minutes after that. More to the point, the reporting continued. The era of rolling news coverage had begun — to the point where, when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby in the Dallas Police Headquarters, the incident was broadcast live on television.

Interestingly, there's no attempt to stick to the official version of events — largely because there is no single official version. The Warren Commission's findings that Oswald acted alone were discredited in a later House of Representatives Select Committee investigation. That stated there was almost certainly a conspiracy, but couldn't find conclusive evidence as to the identity of Oswald's accomplices. Later scientific studies have shown the acoustic evidence of a shot from the grassy knoll that led the House Select Committee to its findings was flawed.

No one leaves with answers, just a groaning sack of further questions. And the people to answer them can be found outside, trying to sell books, pamphlets and reprinted newspapers on the grassy knoll. Some are just hustlers, others are cranks, others have spent years studying the Kennedy assassination and have unshakeable convictions about the labyrinthine conspiracies behind it.

But then again, maybe the CIA and the Russians are just paying them to say that…


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