Saturday, November 22, 2008

TDIH: Dealey

George Bannerman Dealey never knew John Kennedy. At the pinnacle of his career, John Kennedy was but a name unknown to America and a son yet to be born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy. However, the lives and names of these two men, one the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the other a newspaper man who decided that Dallas was the perfect location for what would become the Dallas Morning News, would forever be entwined.

Many have written their own personal accounts and interpretations of what occurred in the section of Dallas named for Dealey. Many have written on the topic despite having not been in Dallas, some having not even been alive in 1963. For forty-five years the Kennedy assassination has flooded the tabloids, the book market, documentaries and debates, but none of that, none of what we see or how often we have seen it commercialized and popularized prepares a mind for what Dealey Plaza holds in person.

Tourists, skeptics, and historians alike visit Dealey Plaza every year. They wander through looking and pointing, speculating and paying their respects. His body may not have been laid to rest there, but his legacy lingers. John Kennedy died on this day forty-five years ago in a small section of Dallas that was once just a development project for one George Bannerman Dealey. It is now one of the most recognizable places in the world.

With Kennedy died so much that day in Dallas. The hopes of a nation rested on the shoulders of that man riding through downtown Dallas, waving at the crowds who came to greet him. With Kennedy died a hope for peace; a hope for civil rights; a hope for a peaceful and decisive end to the war in Vietnam; and as many would say, so died Camelot. The things we do not recognize as having died with Kennedy in Dallas are the hopes that Dealey Plaza would ever be remembered for George Dealey and the mental health and inner calm of Nellie Connally and so many others who witnessed a gruesome murder.

The collective memory of this nation is marred with the images we have been forced to consume over the years. The innocent camera operation of Abraham Zapruder is now a film that is used as evidence to support any number of conspiracy theories. That film, that Zapruder received so little for when he originally sold it, is now a spectacle forced on a public that doesn't even wince while viewing it. We have not only lost historical touch with Kennedy's legacy, apparent in the all too frequent references comparing Kennedy to one politician or another, we have lost touch with historical emotion that will forever be linked to Kennedy and Dealey Plaza.

I have spent enough time in Dealey Plaza to know that the public would rather sensationalize the death of Kennedy than respect the ideals that died that day in Dallas. I have spent enough time in Dealey Plaza to know that it is possible for the generations that did not live through those dark days to not only grasp, but be profoundly moved by those events.

It is a deafeningly silent place, Dealey Plaza. There is a reverent consideration only interrupted by the men hawking their theories and despicable merchandise. It is the reminder of a young man shot down in the prime of his life when he has the most to offer his country. It is the reminder that innocence is neither definite nor abiding.

In the forty-five years that have passed since John Kennedy was killed by a sniper's bullet in Dallas, this nation has never completely healed. We converge on Dealey Plaza seeking closure, searching for answers, pleading for the return of our national innocence, and yet, in the early morning hours before the sun has risen over the streets where our young president was once slain, we continue to mourn a loss, the cost of which cannot be quantified or explained by forensics. It is a loss that continues, forty-five years later, to reach to the very soul of our nation.

On the brightest of days, Dealey Plaza remains a terribly dark place.

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