A reluctant and minor footnote.
November 21, 2013 6:15 AM   Subscribe

"With no mourners around to serve as pallbearers, it was a task that fell to me and a few other reporters covering the funeral of John F. Kennedy's assassin." An ex-AP reporter remembers the funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald. No one showed up to mourn, and the press had to step in to serve as the pallbearers.
posted by jtajta (52 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
"With no mourners to serve as commenters, it was a task that feel to me and a few other mefites reading this article and thread covering the funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald."
posted by symbioid at 6:40 AM on November 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


A police escort delivered Oswald's casket in the early afternoon. Much later, officers arrived with his family: mother Marguerite, brother Robert, widow Marina and her two daughters, June Lee, 2, and infant Rachel. No one else would follow; even the minister failed to show.

I didn't know this. Thanks jtajta for putting it up. Was Oswald really tried and convicted in the public consciousness so quickly that no one wanted to carry his coffin?
posted by three blind mice at 6:41 AM on November 21, 2013


Short video.

Lee Harvey Oswald's funeral is the last scene in Don DeLillo's Libra, the very best book about the assassination, the assassin, the conspiracy theories and America. Interestingly, DeLillo doesn't mention the reporters.
posted by chavenet at 6:44 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


People loved that Jack Kennedy I guess.
posted by grobstein at 6:44 AM on November 21, 2013


I watched the Frontline on Lee Harvey Oswald last night. When it came to Oswald's burial, I was stunned that there were so many people there and wondered who the pallbearers were. Now I know.
posted by pashdown at 6:50 AM on November 21, 2013


Makes you wonder whether the mafia CIA Illuminati evil people behind the assassination warned his friends and family not to show up. [carefully removes tin-foil hat, places it lovingly back in its tin-foil hatbox]
posted by Mooseli at 6:53 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


even the minister failed to show

Despite the circumstances, I find that really shocking and sad.
posted by billiebee at 6:55 AM on November 21, 2013 [25 favorites]


Related: a dispute over Oswald's tombstone.
posted by mattbucher at 6:55 AM on November 21, 2013


People loved that Jack Kennedy I guess.

No not really.

"Compared to most other presidents, JFK enjoyed very high public approval ratings for the duration of his abbreviated presidency. He averaged 70.1 percent approval, the highest of any post-World War II president. By comparison, the average for all presidents between 1938 and 2012 is 54 percent.

That high average, though, is deceptive. The trends were heading steadily downward. By September 1963, JFK’s approval rating was at the lowest point of his presidency, while his disapproval rating was at its highest."

JFK and Camelot is a posthumous construction. So much about JFK's life is legend and not so much fact. Same with his assassination and Oswald's. So much is legend, but if as a fact people refused to help carry a coffin in Nov of 1963 much of the animus which exists against Oswald now must have also been immediate. And it wasn't because people so admired and loved JFK at the time. Which is interesting.
posted by three blind mice at 6:56 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Frontline episode
posted by holmesian at 6:57 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought Lee Harvey Oswald Was My Friend was a fascinating read.
posted by kimota at 7:06 AM on November 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Kimota, I agree. That short article gave me more insight into Oswald than anything I had ever read about him in the past.
posted by stopgap at 7:12 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]




If we're going to have this thread, then I guess we'll have to comment on the son of a bitch ourselves.

A while back I was researching the actors in Richard Linklater's Slacker, having idly wondered what they'd done with their lives. Of them all, I was most delighted to learn that John Slate, the Conspiracy-A-Go-Go Guy in this scene, went on to earn a degree in archives management and is now the Dallas city archivist in charge of—among other things—all of the JFK materials.

tit tit.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:13 AM on November 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


I hadn't realised Oswald was exhumed years later, due to some doubt that it was really him buried there. Although it seems conclusive that it was.
posted by billiebee at 7:14 AM on November 21, 2013


Was Oswald really tried and convicted in the public consciousness so quickly that no one wanted to carry his coffin?

They had trouble finding a place for the service for Boston bomber shitheel Tsarnaev, let alone a place to bury him. I am not at all surprised that Oswald's remains found only marginally better treatment.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:19 AM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


At all the funerals I've been to the coffin was carried by professionals provided by the undertaker, never any question of needing to recruit pallbearers from the mourners. Different customs, obviously.

...muffled sobs by Oswald's mother and widow.

Lee Harvey Oedipus.
posted by Segundus at 7:24 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Right, but Tsarnaev had been photographed placing the bomb, he was ID'ed by Jeff Bauman as the bomber, etc.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:27 AM on November 21, 2013


At all the funerals I've been to the coffin was carried by professionals provided by the undertaker…

I've been a pallbearer before and had it done both ways. Perhaps ColdChef or someone else who is more knowledgeable about funerals can explain why it is done different ways. I can tell you that coffins are heavy! If the pallbearers are going to actually do some work make sure they are up to the task.
posted by TedW at 7:41 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I guess this JFK thread is as good as any: I drive through Dealy Plaza on a near daily basis. One of the many fun things (and there are many) the characters in charge have done for this week of festivities is strip the top layer of asphalt off of Elm Street in front of the Grassy Knoll, thus exposing the surface of the road that carried Kennedy's limo as it was that day fifty years ago, bringing us all a little closer to where blood and pieces of skull sprayed down.

I bring this up because, although I know Dallas carried a deep wound and unnecessarily bore the blame for what happened and I believe the city still feels a lot of misplaced guilt it doesn't quite know what to do with, the atmosphere here in Dallas - at least in the already insane local leadership and press - has really taken a sharp turn down Bizarre Street. I'll only be half surprised if they decide a full-on reenactment is in order using cowboy actors brought over from the Fort Worth stockyards, followed by a parade with kids waving BANG! pennants and the Rootin-Tootinist JFK Death Day Fireworks Display. I am usually a fan of inappropriately macabre things, but we get it, Dallas: it wasn't your fault.

By the way, I live in Oswald's stomping ground (at least I do until this coming June when I move to a slightly more sane city, one that prides itself on its weirdness) in North Oak Cliff and know the ins and outs of the places he knew as well. Any mefites wanting a LHO tour that doesn't involve a guide bused in from Disney, let me know. I'll even show you Bonnie & Clyde's graves, since that shit's getting the basic cable treatment yet again.
posted by item at 7:42 AM on November 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


At all the funerals I've been to the coffin was carried by professionals provided by the undertaker, never any question of needing to recruit pallbearers from the mourners

I've had the opposite experience. I've never been to a funeral where the coffin wasn't carried by mourners. Here it's seen as the last tribute you can offer the deceased, the last thing you can do for them, which is maybe why the reporters were so reluctant to do him any "favours".
posted by billiebee at 7:46 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not only was his Oswald exhumed, his original coffin was sold at auction (pics)! He was reburied in the same grave in a new coffin.
posted by Jahaza at 7:51 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


An interesting note that I wasn't aware of until reading it. I actually enjoyed it, too, as I've been driven sick by all the JFK coverage over the last couple weeks. A few days ago we had the 150 anniversary of one of the finest American speeches given in the 19th Century in the midst of the greatest crisis in the history of the nation, and it was completely overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. I seriously cannot wait until his death is treated to the same degree as William McKinley's.
posted by Atreides at 8:12 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


a grave on a slight rise dotted with dying grass

So... a grassy knoll?
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:18 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


until his death is treated to the same degree as William McKinley's.

To be fair, the news media was somewhat preoccupied with another story when the centenary of McKinley's death rolled around.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:25 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


A few days ago we had the 150 anniversary of one of the finest American speeches given in the 19th Century in the midst of the greatest crisis in the history of the nation, and it was completely overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here…
posted by zamboni at 8:35 AM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested to know what the guy from UPI was thinking. It seems to me that volunteering as a pallbearer was clearly the decent thing to do, but the author of this piece was clearly reluctant (he says he changed his mind and did it because the UPI guy was his main competition) and he doesn't really reflect on how he feels about it.
posted by hoyland at 8:40 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article being grim, the chain smoking, the bare visuals, and it being the 1960s had me picturing all the events as something in a Coleman Francis film. Then again I haven't yet had caffeine this morning.
posted by crapmatic at 8:40 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wasn't aware he had a family. The reporter also interviewed his widow, Marina, who was quite the looker:

"Have you ever tried to analyze yourself?" she asked me at one point, then added: "It's very hard to do."

Asked about the Warren Commission's conclusion that her husband was the lone assassin, she said: "I think about it a lot. I try to forget. It is very difficult. It is like a nightmare. ... I have nightmares."

"For a while I thought it would all blow over, just go away," she said. "But now I accept the fact that I must live with this the rest of my life.

"I may still be naive, but I'm not stupid."

posted by papafrita at 8:46 AM on November 21, 2013


I wasn't aware he had a family. The reporter also interviewed his widow, Marina, who was quite the looker

Stephen King's 11/22/63 comes damn close to fetishizing Marina in several ways. The book in general is good (but not his best), and I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, but there was a lot in there that gave me food for thought. In regards to Oswald and the US in 1955-65, that is, not conspiracy theories.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:58 AM on November 21, 2013


Marina today.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:36 AM on November 21, 2013


One of his daughters went to UT and worked at the Texas Chili Parlor.
posted by mattbucher at 9:39 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one mentions that Oswald was mentally ill. Why is that?
posted by Renoroc at 9:51 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing that I've noticed about Dallas's place in this whole narrative is that it seemed to be of particular note that JFK was Going To Dallas. Like there was more to this visit than any other typical visit a POTUS might make to a given American city. For example, a quote ran across my Twitter feed this week that JFK had told (I think) the Speaker of the House that he really didn't want to go to Texas. What I'm getting at is it seems like there was more to where the assassination took place than just "President Shot In [insert random significant American City here]!!!!"

I recognize it's entirely possible, in fact probably, that that narrative of fatefulness has been tacked on by history.

But I've had the impression for a while that it was something slightly more than that. If any MeFites can add that kind of context, I'd be fascinated to hear it.
posted by dry white toast at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2013


What I'm getting at is it seems like there was more to where the assassination took place than just "President Shot In [insert random significant American City here]!!!!"

* Dallas was a well-known hotbed of right-wing agitation.[1]
* LBJ had been accosted and spat on there in 1960.
* Ambassador Stevenson had been hit with a sign and spat on a mere month before the assassination. The Dallas Morning News apologized for this in an editorial and hoped that the President would receive a more fitting welcome.
* There was a group of anti-Castro Cubans in Dallas, who were pissed that JFK did not support the failed Bay of Pigs invasion with military support
* There were leaflets handed out by right-wing groups saying that JFK was "Wanted for Treason"
* An ad placed in the Dallas Morning News said "Welcome to Dallas Mr President" and proceeded to bitch him out at great length.
* A letter was sent by a private citizen to Jackie telling her that JFK should not come to Dallas, as it was too dangerous.

And yet, JFK was not killed by a right-winger, he was killed by a communist.

Who was then killed before he could testify.
posted by goethean at 10:46 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]




WELCOME MR. KENNEDY TO DALLAS [1] [2]
posted by goethean at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2013




Eh...I can't find any support for the anti-Castro Cubans in Dallas part. Strike that.
posted by goethean at 11:00 AM on November 21, 2013


The simplest explanation seems like Oswald (was kind of a deluded loser who) didn't have any friends or family. The link kimota posted above to "I thought Lee Harvey Oswald Was My Friend" makes the no friends or family part pretty clear.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 11:42 AM on November 21, 2013


I think it's oak to mourn the life that could have been instead of the one that was.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:05 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have thought loads of people would be turning up to the funeral of who Oliver Stone tells me is the World's Greatest Rifleman. Surely other rifle...aficionados?
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:07 PM on November 21, 2013


The simplest explanation seems like Oswald (was kind of a deluded loser who) didn't have any friends or family.

Oswald had a mother and a brother both living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, plus a wife and two children. It's true, however, that he didn't seem to ever have any real friends.

Deluded? Absolutely. Loser? That one's a bit tougher. He definitely failed in most of his endeavors, but the thing that recently struck me was how very young he was. He had just turned 24 at the time of Kennedy's murder. Twenty-four, and he had already served a stint in the marines, lived in Russia for a year, married, and fathered two children. (Not to mention his attempting to defect to both the USSR and Cuba and trying to assassinate General Edwin Walker.)

So, while it's valid to label him a misfit and a misanthrope, by the standards of contemporary 24 year-olds, he had already led a pretty eventful life.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:11 PM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stephen King's 11/22/63 comes damn close to fetishizing Marina in several ways.

11/22/63 is a top tier King book, although the ending is only a few steps above "and then everybody was hit by a truck." That said, I haven't the foggiest idea how else you would end it, and I respect the chutzpah it took to take it into that direction.

With regard to Marina, I think the funky approach with her had two main threads: one, to the extent that anyone could be out of anyone's league, Marina was out of Lee's, and two, there's a thematic and psychological connection between the narrator's desire to save JFK from Oswald and the narrator's desire to save Marina from Oswald.

Note as well the frustrating, powerless, voyeuristic situation the narrator is in, where he must surveil the Oswalds, including Marina's frequent beatings, but he cannot interfere until the true moment of action. It's a little like the opening of The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, where the main character is trapped in a vestibule, forced to watch a murder unfold.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:35 PM on November 21, 2013


Less seriously, perhaps . . . Lee Harvey was a friend of mine
posted by one weird trick at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2013


No one mentions that Oswald was mentally ill. Why is that?

It just seems like a given?

11/22/63 annoyed me in a lot of ways--particularly (a) the poorly-argued choice of preventing the Kennedy assassination as its anchoring event and (b) the narrator's curious decision to plan some things years ahead of time while waiting to the last possible minute to make a very important decision--but I appreciate the background color on Oswald's family life.

Also I'm amazed to know that Marina is still around.

posted by psoas at 6:15 PM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I seriously cannot wait until his death is treated to the same degree as William McKinley's."

As someone old enough to remember Nov. 22, 1963, that's such a chilling statment to me. It's so dismissive of what a huge shared event means for the generations who experience it, both in the immediate emotion of the moment and in the symbolism it takes on, the way it marks the beginning and/ orend of an era for those who witness it.

I remember the announcement in school. I remember my first thought was,"That's how Lincoln died." I remember being the one to turn on the TV at my grandparents' house moments before Oswald was shot - a surreal cap to a horrific weekend.

That week was the first that very young me was ever aware of things outside my immediate family and elementary school and small town, and would be followed by an adolesence viewing more assassinations, useless wars, the start of social revolutions of every kind.

But then again, I've recently had the shock of talking to college freshmen who don't recall much about 9/11 or why it was so big to their parents. Time marches on, history repeats itself, and all those cliches.
posted by NorthernLite at 10:07 PM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, NorthernLite, in Atreides' defense, us Gen X'ers and Gen Y'ers have had JFK's assassination drilled into our heads until the entire event almost ceases to have any meaning.

I was in Dallas last year, and I went to Dealey Plaza. My local friend pointed out the Repository, and the grassy knoll with the dry humor of someone who knows the area like the back of her hand. A buff guy ran out into the middle of the street, did a Buddy Jesus sign, while his friends laughed and snapped photos with their phones. It felt vaguely unreal.

I think the assassination of JFK didn't have much weight for me until I read, at another friend's urging, King's 11/22/63. It was a really great book (up until the ending, but that's another post). It really made me consider the weight of the event, and what it was like for everyone involved. For the first time in my life, I became actually interested in the Oswalds and the Kennedys. I started talking to older people who'd lived through the event. It was eye-opening. JFK's death stopped being a Clone High type punchline, or a canned, tedious story that Gramps tells you for the millionth time, and started becoming (in my mind) a Real, Actual Thing.

So yeah. I can see 9/11 becoming a canned, tedious thing already to the teenagers I know. That's history, I guess.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:36 AM on November 22, 2013


Slate: Why’d Oswald Do It? It may all come down to a party in Mexico City.
The real mystery about the assassination, to anyone who has spent time examining facts (and not playing games with names, making unsupported “connections” among BadPeopleWhoDidn’tLikeJFKAndThereforeMustHaveKilledHim), is not whether Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots. But why he did it. What was going on in his mind, what was his motive? Did he have any assistance or encouragement from others? And if so, who?

I had suggested here in Slate earlier this year that a new paradigm that focused on Oswald’s trip to Mexico City was developing among students of the assassination but until very recently—in a dialogue with Errol Morris—I had expressed doubt we’d ever know for sure.

Now I’m not so sure about being not so sure. Now I think with the Shenon book I think we may have a plausible answer.

Yes, that’s right, I’ve become convinced that, 50 years after the act, a real reporter—not some chat-room know-it-all—has through actual, on the ground, person-to-person investigation, through nonstop digging, tugging at the tangled heart of the mystery, brought us to the brink of answer. An achievement that, I believe, merits the Pulitzer Prize and the thanks of a grateful nation. (I should note I’d never met or spoken to Shenon before our phone call in early November.)
posted by BobbyVan at 7:20 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a good article, BobbyVan, but the "twist party" theory doesn't tell us much more than we already knew: at some point, Oswald got it into his head that the best way to bolster the cause of the Cuban revolution was to kill Kennedy. Whether he got the idea from reading Castro's speech about CIA attempts on his life, or by scuttlebutt heard at a party in Mexico City, or a combination thereof, is not really all that germane. It's interesting for historical purposes, however, and I must say I do want to read the Shenon book, now that I know it's not the work of a conspiracy loon.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:34 AM on November 22, 2013


Well, NorthernLite, in Atreides' defense, us Gen X'ers and Gen Y'ers have had JFK's assassination drilled into our heads until the entire event almost ceases to have any meaning.

Thanks for the defense, as that is a lot of how I feel about the matter, as someone born in '79. I definitely understand the emotional impact the event holds for people who were alive at the time and recall it vividly, but it's an event that will always be one more historical note, and as someone who has studied a lot of history, it's the sense that I view it in. Not to mention, I grew up with a media that initially very lionized JFK, as a president and as a person, with the magic of Camelot. Yet, the more I learn about JFK as a person, the more abhorrent I find him. I recognize some of his presidential achievements, but it's arguable how effective and great (is great even an appropriate adjective here?) president he was.

But back to it, it's a life I've grown up with where the Kennedys possessed some special place in the American psyche, to which I couldn't understand why they deserved it. That irritation also grows as I see grandchildren paraded out because the original generation and the one that followed are dying off, but people still much reach out for that DNA and surname. (For the matter, I much more respect Ted Kennedy than JFK)

I also have grown sick of modern media, how everything is beat to death. Every tragedy must be cast wide enough to blanket the sky and block out the stars, ad nauseam, ad nauseam. I feel the same way about 9/11, and don't begrudge any kid born in 1998 or 2002 for being clueless to why people want to stand in a park and recite name after name after name. The anniversary of the assassination feeds into all of this, and goes so far to overpower the anniversary of an event so terrible and devastating and a remarkable event that occurred during it, it just makes me rather jaded to it all. Tragedy, so far as its remembered as a living memory by enough people today, is this awful commodity that the media (and its consumers) devour, chew up and spit out in repeatedly. I would appreciate and observe such things far more seriously if I was asked to look at one candle in the darkness for an hour than to stare into a blinding spotlight for a week.

I regret the pain that Jackie and her children had to suffer as a result of that day in Dallas. It's her pain I instantly feel when I see a rerun of the Zapruder film, but that's the only pain and shock I connect to the event.
posted by Atreides at 2:58 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good article in the Daily Beast today about a reporter who was an eyewitness to Kennedy's assassination, the arrest of Oswald, and Oswald's murder. (Apparently, he was the only individual on-hand for all three events.) He's devoted much of his life to debunking JFK conspiracy theories.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:04 PM on November 22, 2013


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