On 52nd anniversary, Dealey Plaza visitors reflect on JFK assassination

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Nov. 22, 2015

Dealey Plaza welcomed a small crowd of conspiracy theorists and tourists Sunday, as usual. Most visitors said they were unaware it was the 52nd anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

But many said the assassination profoundly affected their lives.

North of Elm Street, Beverly Oliver led a group in the national anthem, and a moment of silence marked the 12:30 p.m. shooting. Oliver, a controversial figure in the assassination research community, claims to be “The Babushka Lady” featured in several photos of the incident.

Clark Phillips, 60, was one of the conspiracy theorists attending the memorial ceremony. He was in third grade the day of the assassination.

“It made an impression on me,” Phillips said. “I remember the teacher being called out into the hallway. She came back in as white as a sheet and said we had to pray.”

Denver residents Katie and Brent Goebel said they coincidentally had a Dallas trip scheduled and wanted to walk the plaza. The Goebels drew comparisons between the assassination and 9/11, the major tragedy of their youth.

“Both the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 violated the American spirit,” Katie Goebel said. “They stand starkly against the things we take pride in, like being a welcoming place of equality and protection.”

Kenneth Zediker, 23, flew in from Titusville, Fla., a week ago. He first visited Dealey Plaza five years ago when he came to visit his fiancee. On Sunday, he sat on the south end of Elm Street with about a dozen old cameras — the exact models used by assassination witnesses.

“I really hate the ludicrous conspiracy theories that put into question the authenticity of the films and photos,” Zediker said. “If you question the authenticity of the film, then we truly don’t know what occurred.”

Zediker has made it his mission — “it’s kind of an obsession” — to prove the authenticity of each photo. He plans to debunk the theories in YouTube videos using the images he re-created.

Garland resident Billy Griffith, 66, lived in Okinawa, Japan, when Kennedy was killed.

“I didn’t realize how much hate there was around here,” he said. “People hated his guts, and some were even glad it happened. I don’t think the city is over the hate yet.”

Griffith said he took the assassination hard.

“At the time he was elected, I was going along with my father, being a good Republican and thought Kennedy would make the world fall apart,” he said. “By 1963, everybody loved him and I turned completely into a Democrat. I’ve stayed one.”

Griffith often mulls over the assassination that changed his youth and has even been “a bit of a conspiracy nut,” he said.

Pablo Ortiz Jr., 61, was attending a New York Catholic school in 1963. He said what stands out in his memory happened a week after the assassination.

On a spelling test, “we had to spell words like ‘president,’ ‘congress,’ ‘government’ and ‘legislative,’” he said. “That’s when the impact of the assassination really dawned on me.”

Also on Sunday, the Sixth Floor Museum held its first event on an anniversary of the assassination. Associate Curator Stephen Fagin presented “Moments & Memories,” walking guests in the packed museum through new additions.

“This event touches people of all ages from all over the world,” Fagin said. “Dealey Plaza is a necessary pilgrimage for many people, so it makes sense to have a sampling of our newest films, photos and oral histories available.”

Fagin said the newly discovered images allow guests to see history with more context.

“You find someone in an image, try to find the images they took and talk to them about their perspective,” he said. “That’s what today was all about.”

Figures like Fort Worth Press photographer Gene Gordon made guest appearances at the event.

Gordon told museum visitors that he had stashed an 8-foot stepladder to get better photos of the president as he spoke in Fort Worth. He had snapped only one image, shown in the presentation, before a Secret Service agent told him to step down.

“I said, ‘What’s the problem? I’m not going to shoot the president,’” he recalled. “Four hours later, he was shot.”

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