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My day in Dealey Plaza

Sharing the perspectives of a conspiracy theorist

Posted: November 22, 2013 10:58 a.m.
Updated: November 22, 2013 10:58 a.m.

I have been to Dealey Plaza, the site of President Kennedy’s assassination. I didn’t go just as a regular tourist; I was taken on a personal conspiracy tour by one of the earliest Kennedy conspiracy theorists.

I was 7 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. I do remember that day. I was living in Kennedy’s home state of Massachusetts and was in second grade.

We were making Thanksgiving turkeys out of construction paper. They announced his death on the school intercom and said classes would be letting out early that Friday afternoon. My teacher led everybody to the buses in tears.

I went on with my life and in the ensuing years I would see that footage of President Kennedy riding in the motorcade through Dealey Plaza many times. It’s one of the most familiar filmed images in U.S. history. Everybody has seen it.

I didn’t really think it was a conspiracy but didn’t really discount it, either. But it was always fascinating to me for some reason: Young, vibrant president cut down in the prime of his life. He was beloved by many, which made it even more dramatic.

Our family was also connected to the Kennedys in a very strange way. JFK was assassinated on my nephew’s first birthday and my other nephew was born on the day Robert Kennedy was shot.

In 1979, early in my journalism career, I became editor of a small daily newspaper in Sweetwater, Texas, four hours west of Dallas. I was friends with a woman who knew a man named Penn Jones — a well-known conspiracy theorist at the time who wanted to meet me.

There are a lot of these theorists out there, I thought. This guy was no different — probably a wacko. But I was interested anyway. This guy had a national reputation in the conspiracy field. It might be kind of fun to see how he pieces the conspiracy together.

My friend said that Penn was interested in talking with me because I was a newspaper editor and I could get out the word about the conspiracy. He needed buy-in from people like me — even if the paper I worked for only had circulation in Nolan County, Texas.

Penn had been the editor of a tiny newspaper called the Midlothian Mirror in Midlothian, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and had been in Dallas the day of the assassination.

He believed that more people than just Lee Harvey Oswald were there to kill the president on Nov. 22, 1963. Penn further added fuel to the conspiracy theory by claiming dozens of witnesses to the shooting may have died under mysterious circumstances.

My friend told me that Penn wanted to meet me early on a Sunday morning. That seemed odd to me, but I did it and met him at his house in Midlothian, where he gave me an overview of his conspiracy theories.

Using a projector, he showed me the infamous Zapruder film — an account of the assassination filmed by an amateur on his personal camera.

For about an hour Penn talked about the mysterious deaths and the fact that there could have been gunmen stationed at the grassy knoll as well as in a manhole on the street.

Probably expecting I would be skeptical about all this, he said, “We’re going to Dallas and we’re going to see things up close and personal.”

So we got in the car, drove to Dallas and then took the exact route through city streets that the president’s motorcade took to the infamous Dealey Plaza.

This was 1979, 16 years after the assassination, so I figured things would look a little different at the site of the assassination by this point. But I was stunned as we drove slowly down the street directly in front of the Texas School

Book Depository building that things looked exactly like I had seen it on film — grassy knoll on the right, the creepy-looking depository building in the back, the curved street — all very, very close together.

It felt like a stage set to me because it looked exactly like you would expect it to look. Nothing out of place. Most famous sites you see in person don’t ever look like what you’ve seen on film.

As we drove slowly in front of the book depository, Penn shouted “RIGHT HERE,” indicating that we were passing over the exact spot where Kennedy was hit by the bullet. Seriously, it gave me chills.

We found a safe place to park the car. Dealey Plaza was very quiet — very few cars going by and, surprisingly, no tourists that I could see. It was a Sunday morning, the perfect time for Penn to take me on a personal tour.

We walked to the grassy knoll and he showed me why that was such a great vantage point to shoot Kennedy. And then he did something that I wasn’t expecting: He took off a manhole cover in the middle of Elm Street where Kennedy was shot and told me to get into the hole in the street so I could see how easy it was to shoot the president from that vantage point.

Penn assured me there wouldn’t be any cars coming by (apparently, the Dallas police knew Penn and his conspiracy tours. They liked the guy and just let him do his thing even to the point of re-routing cars for a few minutes as Penn opened the manhole cover).

I jumped into the manhole and his theory seemed plausible, but I also noticed how easy it was to shoot from the sixth floor of the book depository. A decent marksman could have done that. It wasn’t that far away.

As part of the personal tour, Penn also took me to the site of the Texas Theatre where Oswald was apprehended. I got the full Nov. 22 tour narrated by an expert.

I’ll never forget that morning in December 1979.

Jason Schaff is executive editor of The Signal and a Valencia resident.




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