The "Myths and Conspiracies in the Kennedy Assassination" videoconferencing program at the Tahlequah Public LIbrary Thursday brought out over 20 people at a time when the library doesn't normally offer scheduled activities.
"This was an experiment to see if people would come. Most programs we offer are after 6 p.m.," said Gerran Walker, Tahlequah Public Library technology specialist. "This was a really popular topic. We had people show up and engage."
The program was hosted by Stephen Fagin, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, via computer with additional screens set up in the Carnegie Room for viewing. The museum is housed in the former Texas School Book Depository building, where Lee Harvey Oswald was employed, and supposedly the place from where he fired the fatal shot at Kennedy.
The subject of President John F. Kennedy's assassination has been one of discussion and debate for almost 56 years, said Fagin. "Was it Lee Harvey Oswald or were others involved? More people believe in a conspiracy more than that Oswald did it," said Fagin.
He presented a graph of Gallup polls taken over the decades since then. Of the responders, the number believing it was a conspiracy has not dropped below 50 percent.
"It was 52 percent right after the event. It was 81 percent in 1976 around Watergate. The mistrust in the government was at an all-time high," said Fagin. "It has dropped down in recent years, but it still was at 61 percent in 2011 of people believing in a conspiracy."
Fagin said he often has to explain the difference between a myth and a conspiracy, especially to children who visit the museum.
"This program aims to dispel some myths and shed light on popular conspiracies," said Fagin. "A myth is a widely held, but false belief or idea. A conspiracy is a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful."
Fagin said the museum presents both sides of the assassination, and lets visitors make up their own minds. He would not give his personal opinion.
The first conspiracy was about the parade route the motorcade took while in Dallas that fateful day. Some say the route was changed at the last minute to facilitate the assassination by "dark forces" or people high up in government. This theory comes from a parade route maps printed in Dallas newspapers.
"Not every myth in the Kennedy story involves a conspiracy," said Fagin as he introduced the next topic: Was the Kennedy parade and assassination broadcast live on television?
The museum, as part of its Oral History Collection, has interviews numerous people's accounts of that day. Many recall watching it on TV.
"These people are misremembering. There was live footage of the president at the airport, but it cut back to regular programming. An affiliate in Dallas broke into 'All My Children' 15 minutes after shots were fired," said Fagin.
Another conspiracy question is: Was the Secret Service ordered to stand down? This comes from the fact that a Secret Service agent who had been jogging alongside Kennedy's car, on the president's side, stopped, turned, said some words to agents behind him, and shrugged his shoulders and waved his arms. This one was explained during an interview with the Secret Service agent who was on the other side of the car, Clint Hill. He stated the first agent had been assigned to stay at the airport, and when he stopped running with the car, he was leaving to go to lunch or back to the airport.
Another conspiracy line involving the Secret Service is that one agent, George Hinkley, riding in the "follow-up" car directly behind Kennedy's, accidently shot the president. Hinkley is recorded as having an automatic weapon, but it was after the president had already been shot. He had retrieved it from the floor of the follow-up car.
"Few subscribe to this theory. It would mean the entire Secret Service did a coverup," Fagin.
He also mentioned that two of Kennedy's best friends and advisers were in the followup, so they would have had to be part of the coverup, too. "The biggest question I get asked daily is about the 'single-bullet theory,'" said Fagin.
According to the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination, there were three bullets fired by Oswald. Three empty shells were found in the Book Dispensary, which was the maximum Oswald's gun could have been fired. Those three bullets hit a concrete curb, Kennedy's head, and one went through Kennedy and into Texas Gov. John Connally, who was in the president's car.
How Connally was shot is in itself a conspiracy. This has been proved, mainly in this century.
After Fagin's presentation, he asked how many in the audience thought Oswald was the only shooter. One person raised a hand. About half the group raised their hands when asked if there was a conspiracy. Fagin next took questions and remarks from the Tahlequah audience.
Commenters include Norma Boren, whose husband, Jim Boren, was chief of staff for Ralph Yarborough, a Texas politician who supported Kennedy.
"I learned a few things I had not heard before," said Boren. "It did not change my opinion on what I'd personally heard from Yarborough. He always thought he and his family would've been in danger after the assassination if he expressed his opinions."
To share a personal account of John F. Kennedy's assassination, email Curator Stephen Fagin at email@example.com.