Monday, September 7, 2009

Irving buys Paine House, made infamous by Lee Harvey Oswald

by BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News

Autry Lewis stood in front of his Irving home on a November morning waiting for a ride. The man who sometimes stayed at Ruth Paine's house across the street was waiting for his ride, too.

Lewis didn't see what the man grabbed from Paine's garage before he hopped into a friend's car that Friday morning. But Lewis learned from television broadcasts hours later that the man's name was Lee Harvey Oswald.

By then, President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit were dead, and the nation was mourning. Oswald was in custody, and the house across the street, at 2515 W. Fifth St., was inextricably linked to one of the most infamous moments in American history.

"Many people aren't aware of all of that," Irving Mayor Herbert Gears said Wednesday, one day before the City Council unanimously agreed to spend $175,000 to buy what's now commonly called the Paine House.

Marina Oswald

Ruth Paine, described as a kindly Quaker woman, took Oswald's estranged wife Marina and their daughter into her house two months before the assassination. The relationship between Paine and the Oswalds was the subject of a Thomas Mallon book, Mrs. Paine's Garage and the Murder of John F. Kennedy.

Paine, who lived in California as late as 2007, could not be reached for comment last week.

Marina Oswald, who has since remarried, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Shortly after the assassination, Paine told The Dallas Morning News that she invited Marina Oswald to live with her after learning the woman was pregnant with her second child.

"I was sympathetic," Paine told The News. "There was nobody to help her, and I felt she shouldn't be alone. So I invited her, one woman to another, to stay with me."

Lewis and his wife, Priscilla, moved onto the street in 1963, months before the assassination. They met Paine when they first moved in but rarely interacted with her. They typically saw the Oswalds but didn't know their names.

Lee Harvey Oswald spent weeknights in Oak Cliff but typically showed up to the Paine House on Fridays and spent weekends there, visiting his wife and their daughters.

The Oswalds had argued in the days leading up to the assassination.

Marina Oswald told the Warren Commission investigating the assassination that she didn't really suspect anything out of the ordinary when her husband showed up at the Paine House on Nov. 21, 1963 – a Thursday.

They argued again that night when Lee Harvey Oswald begged his wife to move back in with him. She reportedly refused.

Lewis said he sat at his dining room table that night and looked out his home's front windows. He said he could see Oswald fiddling with something in the Paine House garage. But he couldn't see what exactly.

"Had I had a pair of binoculars ..." Lewis said.

And when Oswald grabbed something wrapped in shipping paper from the garage the next morning, Lewis didn't think much of it. Until later that day.

Priscilla Lewis was working at a law firm in Dallas in 1963. She was at lunch with a friend when the waitress came over and told them the president had been shot.

When Priscilla Lewis returned to work, she got a phone call about something happening at the Paine House.

"The neighborhood was crawling with police officers and detectives as soon as it happened," Autry Lewis said.

Out to the garage

When the police showed up at the Paine House and asked Marina Oswald whether her husband had a rifle, she showed them to the garage where he had kept one wrapped in a blanket.

"They opened the blanket, but there was no rifle there," she told the Warren Commission. "Then, of course, I already knew it was Lee."

Marina Oswald and Paine were later fully cleared of any complicity and were considered to be cooperative in the ensuing investigations.

Irving officials said they've been interested in buying the house for about a decade. So when current owner Kimberly Short finally became ready to sell, the city jumped at the opportunity to secure what many see as a historic site – even if its significance is born from tragedy and infamy.

"As unfortunate as that incident was, it's still a very historical moment in the region of Dallas-Fort Worth," said Paul Gooch, Irving's community services director.

Interest remains

Under the agreement, Short is allowed to remain in the house for up to one year. She did not return phone calls seeking comment last week.

In a 2006 interview with The News, Short said she didn't mind the interest that passers-by had in her house. Just as long as they weren't sly about it.

"I know what you're doing," she said at the time. "It doesn't bother me. But don't be sneaky."

The $175,000 price tag the city agreed to pay is well above the $84,000 in value assigned by the Dallas Central Appraisal District. But Gears said $175,000 is a steal even if the city is just now exploring what they want to do with the house.

"Of course, DCAD is not going to include the historical significance of the property," he said.

As Autry Lewis sat on his front porch looking across West Fifth Street last week, he said he wasn't surprised the city made the move. While Dallas' Sixth Floor Museum is a point of national interest, Autry Lewis said the Paine House also still draws its fair share of visitors. Not that he minds too much.

"If I'm out here, I'll talk to them," he said.

Source: Dallas Morning News

1 comment:

Luis Hidalgo said...

I can't help thinking that that relationship between Marina and Ruth is the Rosetta Stone of the Kennedy assassination. Mallon's book is the best I've read about the President's murder.
By the way, Mr. Meyer your explanation on the magic bullet is absolutely flawless. Congratulations.