JFK's Assassination at 50 Revisited - the Day the Music Died

Many of us - myself included - remembered where we were 50 years ago today, but perhaps none of us witnessed JFK's assassination at Dealey Plaza. I sure don't know anyone who was there.

For modern music fans, you know what "the day the music died" means. If you don't, it refers to Buddy Holly, who was lost along with others in a fatal plane crash a few years earlier in 1959. Interestingly, his birthplace of Lubbock is due West from Dallas - not that far away.

What he represented to the nascent world of rock and roll, along with what was to become youth culture, was exactly what JFK meant to the idealism of post-war America and all the promise that the 1960s was showing. After November 22, 1963, nothing was ever the same again, and my feeling is that this was historical high point for America and we may never get back there.

If any of this resonates with you, then today is pretty special, and that's why I'm re-sharing one of my older blog posts here.

I wasn't at Dealey Plaza in 1963, but I WAS there in 2008, and given what made that day special, I'd say this is the next best thing, and a pretty good proxy for getting a first-hand flavor for what happened then.

So what was so special in November 2008? Well, Obama got elected, and I happened to be in Dallas the day the results were announced. If you care about these things, the stars really couldn't have lined up any better, and I took full advantage of the moment in both time and place.

I don't often cite old posts, but just after that trip, I put a photo-essay together based on my experience, and if you're even just a bit reflective of what today means, I think you'll enjoy seeing it. There was hardly any social media then, so if you don't follow my blog, you probably never saw it.

As a taste, here's one of my photos. What's this?

Well, it's the USA Today headline announcing Obama's win and "dream fulfilled" at the base of the JFK cenotaph in Dallas, where another big dream died 50 years ago today. How's that for linking one American dream to another?

If you don't remember my photo essay - or have never seen it - I hope you take a look. I'm pretty sure you'll find it time well spent and maybe learn a few things you never knew or saw. If you like that, you may also enjoy my Americana posts, which I do from time to time. Whatever you do, I'd love to hear what all this means to you too!

Obama Redux - Flashback Photo Essay - Nov. 5, 2008 - Obama, Dallas and JFK

Four more years - that's the storyline for the U.S. election. Great win for Obama, but not much has changed across the board in the mix of power, and let's hope the two parties can find ways of working together. Nothing like a financial crisis to force the issue, and I hope they figure this out before China calls our hand and starts dictating economic policy. Yeesh.

Well, let's stay with the afterglow for now, and I wanted to share a photo essay of mine from 2008. Some of you may remember this, but many of you weren't following me then, and I hope you enjoy this.

On November 5, 2008, I happened to be in Dallas, Texas - the day after Obama got elected. Wow. Talk about a happy accident. Clinton sure had his JFK parallels, but nothing like what Obama had. While we're still living off the hope 2008 brought, it was a pretty inspiring message then.

So, if you're a fan of.... Obama, JFK, conspiracy theories, or just America, I hope you'll check out my post from my day in Dallas. Also, if you like this type of posting, please check out the other posts in the Americana section of my blog.

Enough said - let's go back to 2008, and sadly, to 1963 - would love to hear your thoughts!

Semi-Random Thoughts on Texas, the Alamo, Gun Culture and Elvis Costello

If you want to read about my impressions of Interactive Intelligence's conference, this isn't the place to be. Texas is a big place, and whenever I come here, all kinds of things synapse for me in ways that just don't seem to happen anywhere else. Maybe it's all the sun and hot weather...

Anyhow, this is a very different type of blog post, and if you're wondering what the Alamo, Elvis Costello, guns and Interactive could possibly have in common, bear with me.

I'll start with a walkabout I did yesterday afternoon. Everyone knows what this is...

How can you NOT pay a visit to the Alamo, esp when it's about 3 blocks from our hotel? I love history and really enjoyed seeing this for the first time. Being from New England, I never had a true appreciation for what the Alamo means to Texans. You'd think it's considered a national historic site - and it probably is - but it's on a whole other level here. As the sign says, it's a "shrine" - and no pictures are allowed inside.

This sure is holy ground for Texas, and after learning more about the story, I realize this was their Boston Massacre. Am sure kids down here learn about that in passing, but my guess is that their history classes focus more about the Alamo. Texas really has its own sovereign identity that you just don't see anywhere else. So what is this a shrine to? Well, sure it's about independence and freedom, but around here, nothing embodies that more than guns. Frontier justice may be a thing of the past, but as they say, don't mess with Texas...

This brings me to synapse #1 - guns, Texas and Interactive.

At the Interactive general sessions yesterday, the stage props included some vertical towers with circular cut-outs for lights inside them. Like this:

I have no doubt I'm the only person in the room who made an instant association of this with a well known building that leads me to synapse #2. Anyone recognize this building?

Unless you're from Austin or a big Elvis Costello fan, it's extremely unlikely you'll know what I'm talking about.

This is "The Tower" building at the University of Texas campus in Austin, which is not far from San Antonio. Locals will know why the building is bathed in orange - the color of the Texas Longhorns - and they light the building when their teams win. I get that - and found it a bizarre coincidence that the "tower" prop here at the conference was lit in a similar way.

None of this registered for me until hearing a song from Elvis Costello's country music phase called "Psycho." It's such a departure from his style, and the back story is incredible. The song was penned by a blind country singer name Leon Payne, and Elvis did this amazing version that has become one of my favorite tunes of his.

The song is a very chilling rendition of the Texas Tower Sniper massacre in 1966. Once you read the story, you just can't get Elvis's song out of your head. In short, the story is about Charles Whitman, who was a student there, as well as an ex-Marine. He was also mentally unstable, and simply snapped and went on a shooting rampage. First he stabbed his mother and wife to death, then took his rifle and ammo up the tower and opened fire on helpless students below, killing 16 people before being gunned down by the police. This happened WAY before Colombine, and probably set the template for these types of killing sprees that now seem to be the inspiration for video games. Don't get me started on that one. Anyhow, I have no idea what inspired Elvis to sing about such a morbid event, but he sure captured its essence - check it out if you're still with me here.

I've never been to Austin, but San Antonio is close enough by to make these unlikely connections work for me. It also reminded me of my 2008 trip to Dallas and my experience visiting Dealey Plaza, yet another landmark symbol of the U.S. gun culture, esp deep in the heart of Texas.

Oh - finally - you'll love this. As I'm writing this, the most bizarre tune is playing now on my iTunes - Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell". Aside from Psycho, I couldn't have picked a more appropo tune for this post. Could you?

Enough synapsing for now - back to the conference...

Adtran and Jack Daniels - Quality the Old Fashioned Way

Just a quick afterthought about the Adtran analyst event from last week. In my earlier post, I included some narrative and photos about the various tours we got of their production and testing facilities. These tours were really great, and I can't recall ever getting to see so much of the inner workings of companies I follow.

Mind you, Adtran is on the high end of vendors who manufacture a lot of products (1,700 different ones if you can believe it), most of which are made right there in Huntsville. Only high volume/low margin products are made offshore. These days, most companies are software shops, so there isn't much to see. Adtran does a lot of software too, but most of what we saw was bona fide product manufacturing and all types of testing facilities.

Anyhow, I wasn't the only one struck by how accessible all of this was to us. While I was pretty much the only one taking pictures as well as blogging, they were happy to have me do this. I asked in advance if it was ok to take photos, and they were most obliging. Not only that, but we didn't have to pass through a maze of security or sign any confidentiality documents. We were quite free to move about, most all the doors were open, and I don't recall seeing ID badges on anybody.

This sure felt like a throwback to a more innocent time, and that openness really stuck with me. I'm not sure if that's the particular culture of this company, or if it's simple Southern hospitality, or maybe they're just not used to having a lot of visitors. Whatever the reason, it was a treat to be so up close to their everyday operations, and I certainly felt they had nothing to hide. To me, that's a virtue, as well as a sign of quiet confidence in the quality of their products. I think it also goes a long way to explaining why the company continues to grow and stay profitable. And in a humble way, it's a great example of the "Made in the U.S.A." quality that used to be a hallmark of America's economic strength.

Just when you thought I was done, there's a Part 2 that stands in total contrast to this, and I couldn't help but bring these story lines together.

So...after the event wrapped up Thursday morning, some of us opted to take the tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. I couldn't pass that one up - who knows when I'll ever get to Lynchburg, Tennessee again, right? The tour was a lot of fun, and you sure come away with an appreciation of what goes into making whiskey. Of course, the biggest irony is that Lynchburg is in a dry county - apparently they were the first to go dry during Prohibition. While you get to see every step of their time-honored tradition of making Jack Daniels, at the end of the tour, all you can do is smile. If you want to take home a bottle - well, you'd best drive over to the nearest county for that. Only in America, right?

Anyhow, the point of all this is how different this tour was from Adtran. We had a great tour guide - Ron - who gave us a well-honed, but folksy narrative of their history and process that makes Jack Daniels so special. While the basic ingredients are common to all types of whiskey, their secret sauce has three elements. First is water, which has always come from one source - Cave Spring - and as we were told, this water is iron-free. Second is charcoal filtration, with the charcoal made onsite. Third is the barrel, which they also make onsite. Apparently, this is the only distillery going that still makes its own barrels.

The tour was fascinating, but unlike Adtran, they make it very clear that no photos are allowed. As simple as the ingredients are, they don't want the world to see the inner workings and process that goes into making Jack Daniels. I'm sure they would argue that Jack Daniels - in its own subtle way - is just as complex as anything Adtran makes, and clearly they want to keep it that way. I guess the moral of the story is don't be fooled by something that looks simple and easy to do.

With that said, I took photos where permitted, and here's a few to share with you for posterity.

How can you not be relaxed here?

The secret sauce troika - Cave Spring (behind Ron), charcoal, and the barrel (well, at least one I could photograph)

My Dealey Plaza Experience: "Who Shot JFK?" - Ask Ron

In my earlier post about coming to Dallas, I mentioned feeling an inspiring opportunity being in this city the day after the election and being so close by to Dealey Plaza. Everybody knows the history around this place, but how many of us have actually been there? I just had to do it. I won't go into rant mode about how modern technology is great at connecting people virtually, but it's rapidly destroying the importance of the physical world. Maybe that's the germ for another blog - I'm game - anybody out there want to sponsor it?

Back to JFK. For a variety of reasons, I haven't been able to prepare this post until now, but if you're even remotely interested in JFK and American politics, I think you'll find the wait worthwhile. Otherwise, you'll be bored to tears, and I suggest you move on to something else or go back to watching Family Guy now.

I'll preface this post by saying I'm not a JFK history buff, but having grown up in the Boston area, and being old enough to remember 'where I was when JFK was shot', the lore holds a pretty central place in my mind. We all know how historic Barack's victory was, and I can't possibly be the only one out there making these instant and profound connections to JFK. However, I sure felt that way during my pilgrimage to Dealey Plaza early Thursday morning. During my travels to get there, two things really struck me.

First, nobody seemed to know where Dealey Plaza was! Armed with a simple street map, I took the light rail train 3 stops from my hotel to the West End stop. That's the old part of town, and while walking in the general direction of Dealey Plaza, I couldn't help doing the Jay Walking/Rick Mercer man-in-the-street interview. I asked a handful of people where Dealey Plaza was - and we couldn't have been more than 3 blocks from it - and not one person had a clue what I was talking about. Wow. It's like asking a New Yorker where Ground Zero is - you're not going to get too many blank stares on that one. I'm not even at Dealey Plaza, and I'm in trouble already!

Second, I thought I would see some signs of life or evidence that others had the same idea as me, and realize what a special time this would be to visit Dealey Plaza. Nada. Granted, this is a Republican state, but still, this was a pretty historic moment. Maybe people's sense of history isn't what it used to be. Tell you what, though - here's a small aside. For all the bravado and outlaw nature of Texas culture, I couldn't get over the fact that nobody jaywalks. Even at intersections where there was no traffic, people waited obediently until the light turned green to cross. Huh? This never happens in places like New York or Boston.

The other interesting thing is that their light rail service works on the honor system. You buy your ticket from a machine at the platform, and simply board any car. Nobody ever checked my ticket going either way. Very civil and very impressive. Of course, I'm sure half the people riding on the train own guns, and I guess that's part of what makes America so interesting, right? Enough preamble - let's get to the pilgrimage.

First stop - the JFK Memorial - designed by Philip Johnson, this is a very reflective experience that makes you feel the emptiness and collective sense of loss from his assassination. The memorial is a cenotaph - an open tomb - to show how his spirit has never left us.

My camera doesn't have enough depth of field to convey the experience, but it's pretty neat. The cenotaph is surrounded by 4 open walls that appear to float; it's very heaven-like I guess. It's quite an effect, and my photos don't do it much justice. As pristine as this memorial is, it was in maintenance mode - another bad omen - so there was a lot of scrubbing and sanding going on. Ugh. I guess they weren't expecting anybody, so there goes my theory about this being a natural attraction to visit after the election. Looks like I'll have to come back another time to get the intended effect of tranquility.

This juxtaposition below came to me out of the blue, and the image links Obama to JFK in ways words can't express. In the background on the face of the cenotaph is "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" - which you really can't read here - and the foreground is my USA Today. The effect is more dramatic if you view a bigger version of the photo, but hey, this is a blog, not a photo gallery (but if you want to see a bigger version, let me know). Yet another point to support my tech rant earlier!

If I'm Obama, and wanted to invoke the spirit of JFK and reinvigorate it for today, can you think of a more inspirational spot to stage a speech from? Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?...

Ok, so here we are - the corner of Elm and Houston - the Book Depository Building (now a museum for what happened here) - Ground Zero - and...Ron.

I can be a very in-the-moment kind of guy, and this was one of those times. As I looked every bit the gawking rube, Ron came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy a pamphlet that recounted the whole event. After declining, he offered to give me a personal tour - 'I work for tips'. How could I say no? Let's just say he could sure use the money, and he turned out to be an incredible source of knowledge about what went on when JFK came to town. Either he spins some truly Texas-league yarns, or he's just one of these treasures who has seen it all but nobody pays any attention to. Except maybe me!

Let the tour begin, and of course that means the fabled Grassy Knoll. Nothing much happening here, and if you've seen earlier photos or JFK documentaries, it seems virtually unchanged since the sixties. So peaceful - so...deserted.

Thanks Ron. Gee, he sure is a good sport.

Mise-en-scene. November 22, 1963. See that 'X' on the road? That marks the spot where JFK was shot. The Grassy Knoll is on the left, and the motorcade would have come toward me. Building on the left is the Book Depository. More on that and the building beside it in a moment.

In case you're wondering, yes, I walked out into the middle of the road to take this picture. It's like 9am - rush hour, right? Not a car to be seen - it was like being on a movie set. Doesn't anybody care about this any more?

The official story is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and did the shooting from a 6th story window in the Book Depository - circled in black. Well, that's a pretty good vantage point. However, Ron explained that the building next door had an even better line of sight and I've circled the window area in yellow where he explained that other shots were fired from. By whom? Well, that's another story, but he believes that's where many of the fatal shots came from. The plot thickens.

Let's shift locations to get a bit deeper into the mystery. This picket fence - the Stockade Fence - is at the top of the Grassy Knoll, and Ron took me around the back to have a look. Notice all the missing slats. That's from souvenir hunters; but the joke's on them, as Ron explained that the original fence was replaced in 2000.

Lots of graffiti all around, but how about this one? There is no shortage of cynics out there, and the only conspiracy theory that rivals JFK is 9/11. You'd think the people who look after Dealey Plaza would clean this up - or maybe they want it there for shock value.

Not many people buy the lone gunman theory, but if you were looking for the ideal spot to make sure you hit your target, wouldn't it be right here? That's Ron's story and I know he's not alone. It's perfect. In between two leafy trees and behind a fence - nobody would see you. Presuming you had a clear line to the street without endangering onlookers, a slow moving motorcade coming towards you - not going away - would be a pretty easy target - which I've noted with a circle around the 'X' spot.

The 'Manhole Theory'. Am not going to get into the details, but Ron pretty quickly refuted it. He had many other very interesting theories and angles that were far more plausible: the Umbrella Man, the Tague wounding, why the motorcade slowed down, the Zapruder film, LBJ's motives, etc. - but that's another conversation.

While you're still looking at this picture, I can't help but see it as a symbol of the U.S. right now - going down the drain and decay all around - it's hard to see, but there's an empty beer can and a crushed up Marlboro package. Obama sure has his work cut out and is going to need all the help he can get channelling JFK's mojo.

Another perspective taken from a spot most people wouldn't normally get to. The road - Elm Street - slopes down at this point and goes under the bridge upon which I'm standing. Ron took me up here to show another spot where a gunman might have considered shooting from. Train tracks cross the bridge and if a train came by while the motorcade was there, the sound of the shots would have been muffled. While this provides a great sightline for a shooter, it's too public and there's really no place to escape. Besides, the Secret Service and police no doubt would have staked this space out for themselves.

Here's another juxtaposition I couldn't resist. This city worker was blowing leaves off the sidewalk onto the road, exactly over the 'X' spot. He didn't think anything of it and I'm sure most people around here are pretty blase about Dealey Plaza. All I could see in this was turning over a new leaf and the changing winds of history ushering in a new era of hope - for the U.S., for the world, and especially for African Americans. I'm just happy he was so obliging!

Plaque at the base of the Grassy Knoll across from the 'X'. Very interesting language here: 'this site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America'. How generic can you get? No mention of JFK at all, and I know Ron has some views on this. It's pretty clear to me this is still a very touchy subject and Washington isn't ready yet to totally come clean. An apologist would say - no - this plaque is about Dealey Plaza, not JFK.

As I learned that day, this is where Dallas was founded, but somehow, I don't think this city is of such 'national significance' to warrant this level of recognition. America sure is filled with contradictions. Oh, interesting aside - I'm a big fan of urban history and there's always a good story behind major cities that are landlocked. Turns out to be pretty simple for Dallas - they settled there because it was safe - hardly any Indians around. Ok....

Believe it or not, this excursion barely took an hour, but I sure learned a lot. As I left the West End, I saw these ads for some local BBQ and seafood restaurants. Boy, did these look good, but at 10am it was a bit on the early side. Next time I'm back I know where I'm going for dinner.

This post is a bit out of the norm for me, but I hope you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and like Ron, I work for tips too, so let me know if you want to hear more. :-))

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