23 November 2017




I'll warn you: if you clicked on this article hoping to find out the absolute truth of who assassinated President John F. Kennedy (and why), you'll be sorely disappointed. I'm not writing this edition of Museum Mysteries with the intention of telling you everything, since I don't actually have the answers. Rather, I'm going to examine why we're morbidly obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and why I think we'll never let it rest.

On November 22, 1963, JFK was shot while riding in a presidential motorcade at Dealey Plaza, outside what was then the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas. He was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead that same afternoon.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy sits next to his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, in the presidential motorcade on November 22, 1963. Source.
Just last month, the release of documents from the U.S. National Archives reignited an interest that's been burning steadily since the assassination. It's been 54 years since that historic day in Dallas - yet many are still unsatisfied with the official conclusions of the Warren Commission Report:
  • That Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy;
  • That he acted alone in doing so;
  • And that Jack Ruby, a nightclub owner, also acted alone when he killed Oswald a mere 48 hours later. 
Nevertheless, Oswald denied having committed the murder and claimed he was a "patsy", fuelling conspiracy. He was killed so soon after Kennedy's death that he could neither be questioned in depth nor testify at a trial. Theories quickly emerged that Jack Ruby had been hired to "silence" him.

Truth buried with him: the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald only two days after the Kennedy assassination has helped perpetuate mystery, intrigue, and conspiracy. Source.
So if the 888-page report still doesn't convince legions of conspiracy theorists or even some casual followers of the case, what evidence will ultimately prove the truth, whatever that may be? And why does the obsession with countless conspiracy theories live on? 

Personally, I think it's because so many aspects of the assassination can be picked apart. Some details don't seem to line up, and unanswered questions persist. From an FBI cover-up, to a link between Oswald and the CIA, to possible mob involvement, to possible Russian involvement ... the proliferation of theories is so cumbersome that proving or disproving any one story (whether it's the "official" narrative or one of the conspiracies) becomes very difficult. Even attempting to narrow my own topic for this post was nearly impossible! 

Through Kennedy-related collections alone, we can observe a morbid fascination with the assassination that goes beyond a search for direct conclusions and lies instead with a feeling of awe. 

Recently, auction houses have sold artifacts of Lee Harvey Oswald's, including his wedding ring (purchased by the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in 2015) and a toe tag removed from his body at the morgue, with a lock of his hair attached (it sold for $56,000 this month).

Why do we seek these objects out? The Sixth Floor Museum's curator Nicola Longford rationalizes that owning Oswald's ring - and learning that he left it on his wife's nightstand with $170 on the morning of the assassination - helps enlighten us on his background and possible motives. These artifacts provide a nuanced understanding from a micro-historical perspective, but they don't offer concrete answers. Yet, we're still obsessed with viewing and collecting such fabled items.

The Historic Auto Attractions museum has the 1962 Ford Ambulance that transported Oswald to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same place where JFK had been taken just two days earlier. Do artifacts like these have a dark glamour about them that captivates visitors? Source.
Take Historic Auto Attractions, for instance. This Illinois museum has a Kennedy collection including upholstery from Kennedy's limousine, reportedly stained with his blood; Jack Ruby's jacket, hat and shoes he was wearing when he shot Oswald; and the window adjacent to the sniper's nest vantage point on the sixth floor. These artifacts are darkly captivating in the sense that viewing them transports us back in time to the horrific event - but what do they tell us?

Similarly, the Sixth Floor Museum has set up a Dealey Plaza EarthCam at the exact sixth floor window of the building where the sniper's nest was located. While I could likely write a whole other post discussing the ethics of such a chilling installation, I'll instead inquire as to what our interest in re-imagining the event using visual prompts says about us. Do we linger on this macabre narrative because of the mystery attached to it? Would our fascination diminish if all the Kennedy conspiracy theories were concretely debunked?

November 22, 2017 view of Dealey Plaza looking down from the sixth floor window of the former Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot President Kennedy from this window; the cars in the lanes above the trees to the right of the image are on the site of the assassination. Source.
So how do we handle historical narratives that are steeped in controversy? As the Sixth Floor Museum is located on the exact floor of the building from which Oswald was said to have fired the shot(s), they operate with a daunting challenge in front of them: overcoming sensationalism in favour of responsible interpretation. How do you retell a history that is so convoluted that it's hard to condense into a cohesive narrative? 

Much like the objects that enthrall people but don't always offer factual clarity, the museum doesn't necessarily need to provide answers. However, its staff have the painstaking responsibility to distill excessive information into exhibitions that provide the public with a thoughtful approach to a contested history.

Recreation of the sniper's nest at the Sixth Floor Museum (formerly the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository) in Dallas, TX. Photo courtesy of Google Maps. 
Even if we do receive some shocking new information from the still-unreleased files, I doubt the lid will be closed on the Kennedy mystery any time soon. There is too much dissent as to what happened, and too many skeptics who place the numerous and sometimes contradictory pieces of evidence under scrutiny. Many museum visitors approach the topic of the infamous Kennedy assassination with existing biases, and in the case that they're learning about it for the first time, the information overload is enough to confuse even the most lucid thinkers.

If we somehow learned the complete and unadulterated truth about the Kennedy assassination tomorrow, with tangible evidence to support each detail ... how many of us would believe it? 


  1. To read your Musings from the vantage point of having lived through the time of this event causes one to marvel at the gift of memory and imagination. Your excellent description returns one to
    the event, the way we were then and what we were doing on that day. As you say, our morbid curiosity and interest in conspiracy theories will no doubt continue.

    1. Thank you for your insight! It must have been shocking to have lived through that day, and I can only imagine what the news coverage would have been like to experience directly in the moment.