No Conspiracy For The Conspiracy Theorists

The Zola System On The Road

The city of Dallas, Texas has taken great pains to leave Dealey Plaza in the same condition it was on November 22, 1963. Trees have grown, paint jobs have been touched up and pavement replaced. Otherwise the citizenry of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex have done a remarkable job of keeping time at bay. The corner of Houston and Elm Streets do look almost exactly the same as when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s motorcade took a left turn into history.

Unfortunately, time can only be held at arms length for so long. The infrastructure and landscaping remain but forty-seven years after the event, American Popular Culture has created a vibrant John F. Kennedy bazzar.

The G has turned the Texas Schoolbook Depository where Oswald supposedly fired his fatal shots into the excellent 6th Floor Museum, a place filled with the appropriate gravitas. It’s only $12 to enter and the Sniper’s Nest, where Oswald or whomever set up to shoot at JFK, remains in tact. The guided tour, an extremely balanced overview of the timbre of the times, the actual events of 22 November 1963 along with the confusing days following the assassination, the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald at the hands of Jack Ruby and the Warren Commission. Toward the end of the tour there is even an exhibit on various conspiracy theories. The green and black asphalt grounds of Dealey have a different feel.

Walking down Elm Street you are accosted by tourists with digital cameras, homeless men giving tours and conspiracy nuts taking notes while discussing what happened on a certain inch of earth beneath their feet. The fence surrounding the infamous Grassy Knoll, just a few feet from the Three Way Overpass, has been completely renovated. The pieces fence post missing on that horrible day in November have been replaced and the whole thing has been repainted. Small pink swabs at the tip of two fence posts mark the spot where the supposed ‘other’ shooters stood. There’s even an X in the middle of Elm Street where the headshot hit its mark. People run out in between green lights to have their picture taken on the spot where the President of the United States was murdered.

TC and I wandered around Dealey on a hot, humid mid September afternoon watching the commerce and action all around. I took deep breaths as I attempted to allow the white noise of pop culture to wash over me. After ten or so minutes of wandering around, TC pushed me in the direction of a conspiracy freak hocking his wears. “He helped write JFK,” she said. “Go talk to him.”

Indeed, Robert J. Groden is one of the men who forced Congress to re-open the investigation into the Kennedy Assassination in 1975 (The House Select Committee on Assassinations). He has written five books on JFK and his murder, as well as serving as a consultant to Oliver Stone on his film JFK. The homeless men all around him were giving tours to groups of visitors for $10 a pop and here he was, one of the true historians of the assassination itself as well as the various conspiracy theories which have sprung up in it’s aftermath. For some reason he seemed so out of place, an historian of sorts, a serious man with gravitas seeping out of his blue stripped shirt sleeves, selling autographed copies of his books for $20 among all this commerce.

He seemed like the man I needed to talk to; I had a theory I wanted to run by him – the location of the ‘third shooter.’ James Tague was standing near the overpass and was stuck in the left cheek by a ricochet. I believed the shot must have been fired from the Dallas Criminal Courts Building at the corner of Main and Elm Streets at the top of Dealey Plaza.

“No. Impossible,” Groden told me. “The police found a bullet on the roof of the County Records Building (diagonally across the corner of Houston and Elm from the Schoolbook Depository). Besides, the tree in front would have cut down on the line of sight for the shooter.”

I began to protest. Surely a man whose career is based on conspiracy, questioning each and every fact presented by the establishment, wouldn’t blindly believe a detail like a bullet casing government investigators claimed to have found at an important location twelve years after the fact? Then there is the matter of the trees in front of the courts building which were significantly smaller in 1963. However, I decided against picking a fight.

Maybe he agreed with me or perhaps he was simply too tired from fighting the man all these years. Whatever the case, Robert Groden had the unenviable task of being a serious scholar in the midst mavens hustling for a dollar – one of the hardest gigs I can imagine.

So, I swallowed my urge to tear into what I viewed as his hypocrisy and bought a book. Groden even signed it for me.

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