“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.”
― Milan Kundera
I’m not really sure why – it was a spur of the moment “that sounds like fun” kind of thing – but I bought tickets for Candy and I to go on a bus tour of Dallas spots that are associated with Lee Harvey Oswald‘s crime and last days.
The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination is this November and Dallas is bracing for the event. When you live in Dallas, the assassination is an odd thing. It is the most famous historical event that has occurred here and it is what most people still think about when they think about Dallas. When the television show became wildly popular back in the day the people here were relieved because they figured that people would associate Dallas with J. R. Ewing, rather than the assassination. Same thing when the Cowboys are winning.
But those things have faded and with the half-century mark coming up, it’s time to live in infamy again. Dallas and most of the people that live here wish that the memory that horrible event occurred here – well, we wish that would be forgotten.
Everyone my age or older remembers where they were when they found out about the assassination. I was in third grade, in New York (state, a little up the Hudson from the city) and I remember going out to catch the bus home, and the bus was not there. I guess we were sent home from school early. We were waiting with our teacher with us and someone came up to talk to her, both women were very upset. We didn’t know what was going on and all I heard was “shot and killed.”
At that age, the world looks different. I put the phrase “shot and killed” together with our missing bus and assumed that our bus driver had been murdered. Later, when I found out it was the president, I was sort-of relieved. I knew my bus driver personally, after all.
At any rate, the tour was inexpensive and looked like fun – I am always up for learning about my city – so we signed up. It started, not surprisingly, at Lee Harvey’s – a beer garden/restaurant/live music spot/dive bar – in the Cedars. We met there, piled into an air-conditioned coach, and set off.
Our first stop was Dealey Plaza. There are always a lot of tourists there, and a lot of tours, guides and sellers of conspiracy theory books and materials. Our guide was really good. He was Jerry Dealey, the great grand-nephew of George Dealey – the guy that Dealey Plaza was named after. He said he was from the poor branch of the family.
What was nice was that he gave a “fair” tour – as far as all the conspiracy theories go. He said something that makes sense to me, “We will never know for certain exactly what happened, and anyone that thinks they know is wrong.” So he covered a lot of the more well-known theories… but also did point out those that are clearly completely impossible or flat out wrong (many having to do with Oliver Stone’s film).
I have, of course, been to Dealey Plaza many times – even went there before dawn to take photos of the sunrise.
I remember when I first moved to Dallas, I lived in Oak Cliff and worked downtown. My bus would go through Dealey Plaza twice a day – it was a month before I realized that was the assassination site.
Then we drove over to Oak Cliff to see where Oswald lived, then visited the site where Officer Tippit was murdered, and then on to the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested (for shooting Tippit). That was surreal, because I spend so much time in Oak Cliff, especially on my bicycle, that I am very familiar with the streets and hadn’t really thought about the web of history that is overlain on such familiar turf. I have ridden my bike past Oswald’s rooming house, for example, a dozen times in the last few months, without knowing its infamy.
Then we headed out west, to Fort Worth to visit Oswald’s grave. It’s a fairly isolated spot, and hard to find (the cemetery will not give directions or help locating it). We parked the bus on a side street and then trudged over to the grave. It was more interesting than you would think… not because of Oswald per se. It’s especially interesting because of the mystery of NICK BEEF.
Lee Harvey Oswald’s original tombstone was stolen and replaced with a simple marker that says, “Oswald.” Then, in 1997, right next to his grave appeared a mysterious stone, the same size and type that said, simply, “NICK BEEF.”
Of course, that mysterious stone supplied fodder for all sorts of wild stories. It wasn’t until this year that the New York Times finally was able to run it to ground. No wild conspiracy, simply an eccentric New Yorker – nonperforming performance artist with a morbid artistic sensibility – that as a child saw Kennedy at Carswell Air Force Base the day before he died. It left a lifelong impression and when he found out that nobody wanted to buy the plot next to Oswald… well, NICK BEEF was, umm born.
We headed back to Dallas to see some spots related to Jack Ruby and his killing of Oswald. Then we returned to Lee Harvey’s for a couple beers and hamburgers.
It was a fun day. They are going to do some more tours – a Haunted Dallas tour around Halloween, a “Dirty Dallas” about the history of the city’s seamy side, and (the one that I am really interested in) a Bonnie and Clyde tour.
Sounds like a plan.
There was a famous person on our tour. They announced that the music artist/rapper MC 900 Ft Jesus was a member of the company. They wouldn’t say which person he was, but… after a bit of looking and thinking, I figured it out.