Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Crowd marks John F. Kennedy’s assassination with moment of silence at Dallas’ Dealey Plaza

by MARC RAMIREZ, Staff Writer / Dallas Morning News

Maria Ortiz (front) was joined by her children, Jose Ortiz and Teresa Guerrero, during a moment of silence Tuesday at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas to commemorate the 48th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon, Staff Photographer / Dallas Morning News.

To Dealey Plaza they came, the young and old, marking the 48th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination — mourners, tourists, conspiracy theorists and the simply curious.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, as dictated by tradition and history, many bowed their heads in silent remembrance, a small crowd of three or four dozen wrapped in jackets and hoodies against a November day that fought against the warmth.

It was a far cry from the event’s 30th anniversary, when more than 4,000 people showed.
But lurking beneath the surface of the proceedings was the wee specter of Penn Jones Jr., the diminutive former publisher and editor of the Midlothian Mirror who made it his life’s mission to crusade against lone-gunman explanations of the assassination.

It was Jones, some say, who launched the annual moment of silence, and while its origins remain officially unclear, it lives on in Jones’ absence.

“He’s definitely the one who started the tradition,” said John Judge, co-founder of the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA), one of two research groups that continue to hold annual conferences in Dallas, similarly dissatisfied with the Warren Commission’s conclusions.

While the city of Dallas and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza have traditionally steered clear of any kind of official ceremony commemorating the assassination, Jones and others who question whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone have carried on the tradition — not only to honor a fallen president but to stoke the fires of conspiracy theory.

“We’ve tried to hold it every year regardless of the conditions around us,” Judge said. “We don’t feel that holding up a banner and asking questions is a carnival or circus atmosphere.”

Sixth Floor officials won’t confirm either the tradition’s origins or whether Jones had any part in it.

“We can’t document it well enough that the museum is comfortable with it,” said Gary Mack, the museum’s curator. “We’ve seen it referred to in several places, but the sources seem to be people who did not know him.”

Jones died in 1998 at age 83.

Judge said Jones asked him to continue the tradition as he fell increasingly ill with Alzheimer’s, and since 1994 — the year Judge founded the coalition — he has done so as part of the group’s annual meeting.

Jones was what conspiracy-minded groups call a first-generation researcher, someone who hit the ground running in the wake of Kennedy’s killing, whose newsletters on his findings and skepticism were published with the aid of a manual typewriter.

“I have all the issues of his magazine except for one,” said Debra Conway of JFK Lancer, another research group that, like COPA, holds its annual meeting around the anniversary of the assassination.

Jones, a World War II veteran who found success in real estate, eventually purchased the Midlothian Mirror, where he earned a reputation as a feisty researcher unafraid to buck the area’s conservative leanings.

The assassination — and his interpretation of events — would change his life forever, starting with the release of the Warren Commission’s report in 1964.

“He really spent time reading that whole thing,” said his son, Michael Jones of Dallas. “It was just so unsatisfactory to him. It helped give him the evidence he needed to conclude it was a conspiracy.”

While official findings attributed Kennedy’s murder to Oswald, Jones spent the latter part of his life pursuing a Sisyphean mission to convince the world otherwise.

Among his contributions to conspiracy lore is the “storm drain theory,” which holds that one of numerous gunmen hid in an Elm Street manhole, then escaped through a drain that once connected to the basement of an old jail. The drain has been since sealed with concrete.

Jones would espouse such theories on the anniversary of the assassination, energetically acting them out for anyone who was interested.

“He was a tiny little guy,” Conway said. “He’d stand up there on the [Dealey Plaza] pedestal where [Abraham] Zapruder had filmed so people could hear and see him, for no other reason except that he was 5-foot-3.”

As far as she knows, Jones was the person behind the moment of silence. “If someone did it before him, I don’t know about it,” she said.

Though the gesture was meant to honor Kennedy’s passing, Jones’ son Michael said it was also about his father’s growing disillusionment as he began to question the government’s findings.

“He saw it as a coup d’etat,” Jones said. “He felt the government had been taken away from the people. So the moment was kind of a protest to make that statement and get it back somehow.”

Among Tuesday’s crowd were Greg and Sandra Lewis, who had driven in from Lubbock for a family reunion. As Greg walked around taking photographs, Sandra waited with their terrier in the chill of the November day.

“It seems wrong to celebrate such a horrid thing,” she said.

“It used to be just a gathering,” Greg said. “Now it’s a tourist attraction.”

Nonetheless, the crowd had begun accumulating on the grounds near the foot of the former Texas School Book Depository — where Oswald had hidden on the sixth floor — recalling where they were on Nov. 22, 1963, or pointing out notable landmarks to their children.

Afterward, they continued to remember, wandering the grassy knoll or, like Susan Lazarow and Jessica Baxter of Boca Raton, Fla., snapping photos of the painted X on Elm Street, thought to be the approximate spot where Kennedy was hit.

“I think it’s neat to know,” Baxter said. “I’m going to put that on my Facebook page.”
“It’s a little eerie,” Lazarow said. “I don’t want to make light of it.”

But it was speeches like the one given by Judge of the political assassination coalition that drew most gawkers.

“We don’t know the truth about our own history,” Judge said, his jabbing finger and booming delivery drawing a growing crowd and eventual applause.

He then called for the moment of silence in keeping with Jones’ tradition.

With the city and The Sixth Floor Museum beginning to plan 50th anniversary proceedings for 2013, someone asked whether Judge and his group planned to return next year.

“We’ll be here,” he said. “We may have to crawl through the sewer system and pop our heads up where the assassin was, but we’ll be here.”

Source: Dallas Morning News


Paul C. said...

Jones and his associates who criticized the Warren Report in the '60s and '70s actually did a tremendous service to history - they highlighted the true weaknesses and (in some cases) outright misleading information in the report. Innumerable private researchers, historians, journalists, the 1977-78 House Select Committee researchers (not counting the dismal acoustics debacle!) and the 1992-98 Assassinations Record Review Board subsequently investigated the bejesus out of the case. The verdict of history is now clear-cut to all serious scholars and historians.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the ARRB did no investigating whatsoever. It was composed to simply re-examine and release the assassination-related records that federal agencies still regarded as too sensitive to open to the public.