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You are looking at what is perhaps one of the most famous – and infamous – buildings in the world. It’s the Texas School Book Depository, overlooking Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. For the better part of a decade, it was a physical representation of the mark of Cain on the city. It wasn’t until the one-two punch of Tom Landry and J.R. Ewing broke the automatic association of the word “Dallas” with the tragedy that happened one November afternoon in Dealey Plaza.

I re-visited The Sixth Floor Museum there today, and took my newly-minted teenage daughter with me to share the experience. If you are at all familiar with American culture, American history, and the American Presidency, you can’t help but know the story by heart – a famously young, handsome President and his stylish, cultured wife.

A lone gunman. The grassy knoll. Dealey Plaza. The Triple Underpass. The Texas Theatre. Lee Harvey Oswald. Jack Ruby. The Warren Commission. These are words and phrases that stir powerful emotions, even close to 50 years after the fact. Today was the first chance I had to experience the museum since I went from a know-nothing to experienced gun owner. And it was an eye-opening experience.

I was all of six years old in November of 1963. I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, a mere three hours away by car from Big D. My family visited there regularly. I had cousins there, and of course, Six Flags Over Texas was a huge draw. On our way from Dallas to Six Flags on the D/FW Turnpike, we’d pass by a place in then-rural Grand Prairie called Lion Country Safari.

It was the kind of place where you’re in the cage (or car, as it were) and all the animals were allowed to run (relatively) free. Lions, tigers, giraffes, monkeys – they’d all saunter up to the car, with you safely ensconced within. So you’ll understand that, as I sat at my desk in Mrs. McClelland’s first grade class at St. Mark’s Day School, why I was a bit confused upon hearing the news that President Kennedy had been shot.

My first thought was that he’d been on a hunting safari at Lion Country, and been injured by a hunting rifle. Hey – I was six. Not long after that first announcement came the second one, telling us that he’d died.

Time passed. Investigations happened. Some wounds healed. Some never did. I grew up, and for a time, moved to Dallas. Eventually, the city came to terms with that terrible legacy, and realized that the best way to deal with the scars and pain was to build a museum that would become both an educational experience for visitors, and a way to respect and honor the memory of a President, cut down by an assassin’s bullet.

They put a lot of work into this museum. It is no rubber-necker’s maudlin freak show. The information is factual. It’s presented in a very tasteful way. Preaching and myth-making is kept to a minimum. Most people treat the experience as you would if you were visiting a library, or even more accurately, a religious shrine. The tone is respectful. Reverent. Careful. If you have the opportunity to visit Dallas, it is an experience that is well worth your time.

So I mentioned I’d visited not long after the museum opened in 1989. The exhibits haven’t changed much, if memory serves. The guided tours have gone from cassette to digital – that’s about it. But my eyes have been opened through my conversion to “gun guy” and I went seeking some answers. Unfortunately (as is so often the case) I ended up with few answers, and even more questions.

I grew up in a conservative household. My family was no fan of the Kennedys. My father was an old Navy man, and he was appoplectic over the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis screw-ups. He was a letter-writer, and he was NOT amused, and let the President know it. (For a half-dozen years thereafter, his tax returns were flagged for audit EVERY YEAR. If they found anything, it was that he’d overpaid.)

On my first visit in ’89, I was what I’d now consider to be marginally anti-gun. I wasn’t in favor of a gun ban, I just felt like being armed was an invitation to making any bad situation worse. I was young. And ignorant. I remember thinking how, even though my family did not support Kennedy, how they mourned his loss. I remember the palpable feel of pain in almost everybody.

This time in the museum, it was different. I still felt the emotions, but I was much more interested in the ballistics, trajectories, weapons, et cetera. And of course, the central issue to the case: Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone?

You can watch the Zapruder film, re-enactments, and that wretched Oliver Stone film all you like, and you’ll find that nothing is anywhere close to standing at a window on the sixth floor, next to the sniper’s perch, and gazing down on Dealey Plaza. There are even “X”s that mark the position of the limousine when the two kill shots struck the President. In 89, I saw this through the eyes of a non-shooter, dealing with memories of the event as a six-year-old. Today, I saw the same scene and thought about the assassination in more clinical terms.

Do I believe Oswald shot the President? Yeah. Mostly. Do I believe he acted alone? Nope. Not a chance. Now I’ve read and seen much of what has been written by the many conspiracy theorists. I’ve always thought that stuff to be way too far-out for me to swallow. And I realize and acknowledge that it’s possible for someone to shoot a bolt-action rifle and get off three shots in the time that they occurred. But…

Here’s the part I don’t get. As the limo headed straight for him, they might as well have been in an abattoir. Oswald could have shot the President with the car coming at him, straight on, and had a much easier shot, not to mention, the limo would have been trapped. No trees to deal with, either. But no one fired a shot at the President, until they turned the corner.

If I wanted to assassinate someone, you’d be hard pressed to find a better setup than Dealey Plaza. A limo that had to slow to make a more-than 90º turn. And places for two other snipers perches that would allow for a classic triangulation. With two more shooters, you have a kill zone that would have been fatal, beyond any doubt. So were there more shooters?

I don’t know. I’ve NEVER believed in that “magic bullet” B.S. – there’s just no way for me to have enough willing suspension of disbelief to think that a bullet could pass through Kennedy, hit Governor Connely in the chest AND wrist, and end up, unscathed, on a stretcher. But if you believe that the magic bullet is just so much stagecraft, where did it come from? You’d have to have a fairly large conspiracy to plant a bullet of the right calibre that soon after an assassination.

If you look at the “right” way to stage an assassination, the Kennedy assassination looks like amateur hour. Sure it’s possible for a shooter to get off three shots that quickly. Sure it’s possible that he could have done it alone. And sure it’s possible for bullets to do unpredictable things. But it just doesn’t seem reasonable. And that’s where I’m of two minds on the subject.

On one hand, I acknowledge that Oswald COULD have acted alone, and it COULD have happened the way the Warren Commission claimed. On the other hand, the idea of co-conspirators explains a lot. And is a lot more plausible. And the idea of the kill shot coming from behind just doesn’t make sense to me. Not with the back of Kennedy’s head showing a huge exit wound. And the fact that no Dallas-based autopsy was ever performed.

But does the Keystone Cops-like pandemonium following the shooting (not to mention the suspect getting himself killed in the basement of the police building) mean that Oswald couldn’t have acted alone? Nope. So what’s the truth? I don’t know.

This much I do know. The experience of a visit to the Sixth Floor museum is, for me, anyway, a moving experience. There’s more I will write of that day, but I want to find a bit more perspective. Suffice it to say for now that I have a lot more thinking to do on the entire topic. More details as events warrant.

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  1. Jesse Ventura on his TV show tried to fire shots that fast, and I don’t recall if he was as fast, but he said there’s no way he could do it and be accurate. This reminds me of a great scene in a great movie:

    Old guy: “…That’s how a conspiracy works. Those other men on the grassy knoll were dead within three hours. They’re buried in unmarked graves in the desert.”
    Hero: “You know this for a fact?”
    Old guy: “Still got the shovel.”

  2. The democratic party died with Kennedy. It was replaced by cabal of closet Marxists, useful idiots, and America Haters. The end result is Obama.

    Hopefully, the Obama experience was the climax peak for the Marxists and our nation will return to its free market limited government roots.

    • I hope so too Mike but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The damage is deep, too much entrenched bureaucracy.

  3. I can recommend two books: “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters” by James W. Douglass and “An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King” by William F. Pepper. I found each helped me with perspective on events too complicated (still) for events that occurred when I was really naive. Now I’m just naive and cynical meaning I still don’t know what’s going on but am sure it ain’t exactly what we’re led/meant to believe. I do often find that people who are “certain” have made no effort to consider alternatives.

  4. I won’t opine on any of the possible conspiracies other than to say this: I know and know of plenty of people with no connection to Cuba, or the Mob, or communists (except in some cases the people were shot by VC or NVA, so there’s that connection) who experienced “magic bullet” type trajectories. I believe Ron Kovic of “Born on the 4th of July” fame was shot in his shoulder, the bullet traveled under his skin, severed his spinal cord and exited his rear end.

  5. I was fifteen when JFK was murdered. It was a Friday. I was in school when the first announcement came over the loudspeaker that the President had been shot. Classes were dismissed and we were sent home, but before we could leave the building the Principal announced that JFK was dead. I was numb, like almost everyone else. Two days later — two days –the NFL had its full schedule of games. I had season tickets, so I went to see the Giants play at Yankee Stadium. It didn’t seem right to go, but I was a robot, going on about my business in a haze. The flags at the stadium were at half-staff. The stands were full, but the atmosphere was more morgue than stadium. I don’t remember whether my beloved Giants won or lost. It just didn’t seem important then, or now. I just remember that it was so quiet, I could hear the signals being called and the sound of footfalls on the hard turf.

  6. I want to recommend the book “Mortal Error” by Bonar Menninger. Link here:
    He is a gun guy and was one of the “experts” the FBI brought in to duplicate the Oswald shots for the Warren Commission. He was the only one to get all three shots off in the time frame. He also researched the Kennedy shooting for years and concluded that the shot that hit the President’s head was NOT from Oswald, but an accidental discharge from an AR-15 in the Secret Service car behind the President. Read the book for the details.
    The “magic” bullet has been proven to be real by ballistics experts duplicating the shot with computer analysis and then making the shot into ballistic dummies. The show was on either Discovery Channel or History Channel. I’ve seen the show more than once so it is probably available on DVD. The actual jump seats in the car placed Connelly down and to the left of the President so the bullet trajectory would have gone through both men.
    I believe the Warren Commission got it mostly right.

    • O. K. guys I’ve had a chance to search for the Discovery Channel show I referenced above. It was from “Unsolved History” and the episode is titled “JFK ~ Beyond the Magic Bullet”. Link at Amazon here:

      They duplicated the shot and the bullet came out almost pristine, but less so than the real bullet. Their sharpshooter was off slightly so their bullet hit two of Connelly’s ribs instead of just one. That additional rib caused their bullet to deform slightly more and lose enough energy to not penetrate the simulated leg.

      I had forgotten about the computer simulation show, as I had seen it also. I guess modern technology has helped us solve some unsolved history?

      • I sure think so. For those who haven’t seen it, the computer animation is very impressive. All the hard points in Dealey Plaza, including the streets, buildings, fences, trees, etc, were fixed and modeled in three-dimensional perspective. Then, using the Zapruder and other film footage, the presidential limo was animated to travel through the plaza calibrated in real time. Then the Zapruder film was analyzed frame by frame to determine exactly when each shot occurred and where it struck. The animation allows all the known events to be examined not only from the POV of the Zapruder film, but from any point in space around Dealey Plaza and at any instant in time.

        The animation demonstrates, to a surprising degree of certainty, that all three shots came from the same 6th floor window of the Depository; also, that the second shot struck both Kennedy and Connally — in substantially identical manner to the finding of the Warren Report. The model also demonstrates that it is pretty damned difficult, if not impossible, for the shots to have come from anywhere else.

  7. Perhaps the most successful phony catch phrase in American popular culture is the so-called “magic bullet.” There was no “magic bullet,” only an ordinary bullet that did nothing the least bit remarkable or even unusual.

    If anyone has the slightest doubt about the shooting, they need only review the ABC documentary done in the early ’90s, “The Kennedy Assassination, Beyond Conspiracy,” especially the computer animation by Dale Meyers. The 3-D real-time reconstruction demonstrates that not only did all three shots come from the sixth-floor window of the Depository; it’s virtually impossible that they could have come from anywhere else. The video is available on YouTube and elsewhere on the net, and it is also broadcast several times a year on the various documentary cable channels.

  8. Another great post by Brad, and lucky for us all the Magoo is here to set us all straight on what really happened that sad day. JFK was one of the few presidents who was a member of the NRA, and he loved guns.

    • Just sayin’: look at all the facts, and then throw out all the Mark Lane and Oliver Stone made-up bullshit, and there is one supportable and pretty much air-tight explanation for what happened that day.

      You can make a big mystery out of it if you want to, but there really isn’t one. People want extraordinary and traumatic events to have extraordinary and complicated explanations. What they are really looking for is meaning. In truth, extraordinary events can have the most ordinary and boring causes. It wasn’t even that difficult: three shots in 8.8 seconds, maximum range for the final shot 88 yards. What did that take? Not much, really. Just some nut with a rifle.

      Years ago I was quite the JFK assassination buff, but at some point I recognized that all the conspiracy theories are far more complex and implausible and have far more and larger holes than the standard explanation. The Dale Meyers animation is pretty much the clincher. Instead of sharpshooting me, just watch it.

      • Magoo, I know this is gonna shock you, and possibly ruin your night…but I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. (!) At one point in my life, I did a lot of close-up magic. Close-up magic is only magical if you don’t know how the trick works. Things that seem impossible suddenly become a lot less magical when you can see the principles involved (and know where to look). The info on the seat elevation? That was the first I’d heard of it, (I’m far from a JFK or conspiracy buff), but it’s the first thing that makes that make sense. Still not sold on the pristine-ness of the pristine bullet…someone with far more knowledge of ballistics and the rifle/rounds used might be able to convince me that it’s within the realm of possibility, though. (I don’t concern myself with ‘probable.’)

        I think conspiracy theories are so attractive because they represent a way for people to deal with things that are too horrible to contemplate, and they want to look for an antagonist worthy of the act. Oswald was a nobody. A cipher. To think that he could pull off that kind of horrific act is almost too much to deal with.

        Having said that, I tend to look at this from a poker analogy. In order for Oswald to have planned and executed the assassination, his escape, etc., and to have done it all without help, is like drawing to a Royal flush. It can happen, but the odds are astronomical. And yet, there’s no magic behind it.

        I really wish the Secret Service had not spirited the body away before the Dallas Coroner’s office had an opportunity to perform a proper autopsy. I don’t know that it was a coverup, but they sure laid themselves open to that kind of charge.

        One thing I did notice that had changed at the museum. When they first opened, they were echoing the story that Mrs. Kennedy was “attempting to help the Secret Service agent into the car to assist the fallen President.” Since her death, they’ve edited the script to leave that out. I can’t think of anyone on this planet that would have reacted differently, once they saw their spouse’s brains spattering their clothing. Had I been in her position, “blind panic” would have been my standard operating procedure. I realize that the myth-makers were trying to spin it. I don’t see the need. She did what anyone would have done, under the same circumstances.

  9. I’m not a ballistics expert but I can simply repeat the well-known characteristics of 6.5x52mm “Italian” and similar ammo. Round-nose FMJ at over 2000 fps: high penetration, negligible expansion, extremely limited tumble. Can go through two bodies (or three, or four) with little to no deformation unless it hits heavy bone while still at high velocity. Known for its tight, straight channeling though tissue. In other words, this bullet did what these bullets do.

    So the “magic bullet” people are really talking about subtle matters of degree, and while they describe the bullet as “pristine,” its condition is far from that. It’s clearly bent, as well as flattened about 25 percent through its diameter.

    Yes, conspiracy theories work by assigning an impossibly high standard of proof to the conventional explanation, and then assigning no standard of proof to alternate theories.

    I’m curious as to why you regard Oswald’s shooting as a near-impossible feat. Personally, I don’t see it that way at all. To me, 1. Guy buys high-powered rifle. 2. Guy sticks rifle out 6th floor window where he works. 3. Guy shoots president, firing three shots from ~60 to ~8o yards. What’s so difficult about that? He only hit two out of three. For those who can’t believe how a zero like Oswald could be a crack International assassin, he wasn’t. He was just a yahoo with a rifle, but that was more than sufficient to kill the President of the United States.

    The only strange (if you will) or fated aspect is that Oswald happened to work at the Depository, and the motorcade happened to go right past it. Motive meets opportunity. But no conspiracy. We know how he got the job (through his wife’s friend, Ruth Paine) and that he got it before the motorcade route was planned or announced. Conspiracy theories also arise from the refusal to accept the probability of random events that happen all around us every day, usually with no discernible consequences.

    • Again, I agree. (This is getting scary.) My hesitation on the shot count comes from the working of the bolt. I don’t shoot a bolt action, so I’m unfamiliar with how long it takes to bring a rifle back to target after racking the bolt. Again, from the re-stagings I’ve seen on TV, this seems like it’s within the margin of possibility, but all the cards had to fall his way to make it work.

      The pristine bullet would fall into the same category in my book. Finding it on the stretcher is guess would be possible – but more than a little ‘lucky.’ I mean, wouldnt it be more likely to either find it in the Governor, or find it in the limo? I’m sure they must have immediately searched it for evidence. It’s just kind of weird.

      So since you obviously have done a lot of research on this (and admittedly far more than I have) perhaps you can resolve one final issue for me. The head shot. If Oswald did indeed hit two out of three, the Washington D.C. autopsy report shows a diagram where the bullet entered the skull from a point I’ll call (from looking above) West-Southwest and exited Southeast on an almost horizontal plane. (I’m not a doctor, either, nor do I play one on TV.) Given the stills from the various home movies I’ve seen, the President did not turn his body toward Jackie anywhere near enough to allow Oswald to make that shot. At least not from what I could see – and I was watching that sequence for exactly that. And Phillip’s comment above, regarding an AD from the Secret Service is the first time I’ve heard that theory advanced (which might have accounted for the eagerness to get the body out of Dallas and back to Washington). As I dimly recall, one of the attending physicians in Dallas made a fuss about how the D.C. autopsy diagrams did not jibe with his memory of the wounds. And I’d think those visuals would be something that would be kind of seared into your memory, if you know what I mean.

      • Brad,
        Go get the book “Mortal Error” and read it through to the end. The author actually tried to interview the retired Secret Service agent who possibly accidentally discharged the weapon. I’d get my copy, but in our recent move it was packed and I can’t get to it. Since the Cadillac convertible trail car with the agents in it was behind the President’s car, would account for the different angles of the skull entry wound. The convertible top was down and the agent was standing on the seat of the car with the weapon. When the Cadillac accelerated to keep up with the Lincoln, the agent lost his balance and the weapon accidentally discharged. Unsafe weapon handling violating at least two safety rules, safety off and finger on the trigger.

        One other point from the book. The author believes that Kennedy would have died from the Oswald inflicted wounds without the accidental head wound from the Secret Service’s AR-15.

        I don’t believe Mrs. Kennedy was trying to help the agent get onto the car. I think she was trying to retrieve the piece of her husband’s skull that was dislodged onto the trunk lid. All in all, I think she was the bravest person that day. Classy lady, wife and mother throughout her life.

  10. I put the discrepancies in the various autopsy and Warren Report drawings down to the normal margin of error in these matters. There were larger misunderstandings: for example, there was confusion in the autopsy as a result of the neck exit wound being obscured by the tracheotomy. This was resolved in a phone call between the DC and Dallas doctors, but meanwhile, you can see how conspiracy theorists would have a field day with it.

    However, the autopsy drawings and photographs, along with the Zapruder film, are now available on the net. (Warning: graphic.) People can view them and make up their own minds if there are any significant contradictions — which has pretty much let all the air out of the various switched coffin, plastic surgery autopsy, etc. theories.

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