|In the room where Lee Harvey Oswald slept, I tried to commune with his spirit.|
(CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
Twenty-four-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald lingers in the deep corners of my mind—tormenting me, mocking me, smirking at me like a madman.
As a teen growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, I pored over everything about my tormentor and JFK's assassination—Life, Time, Look and other magazines, newsletters and scores of books. TV documentaries, too. In 1975, I watched as the horrific Zapruder film was shown to the American public for the first time, on the late-night show "Good Night America," hosted by some guy named Geraldo Rivera. Then I bought a bootleg copy of the film of Kennedy's murder to study it for myself. In our basement, I watched, aghast, when Frame 313—the gruesome head-shot impact frame—melted from the heat from my family's ancient 8-millimeter projector.
|A Life magazine, a tattered assassination book, and a |
bootleg copy of the Abraham Zapruder film—
the stuff that occupied my time long ago.
To uncover the "truth" about the "The Crime of the Century," I even dreamed of joining the CIA.
As a 25-year-old, I took a job in sports at The Dallas Morning News, in part, because of you-know-who. In Dallas, I often visited Dealey Plaza after the paper was put to bed and downtown bars closed. Full of beer and bluster, I stood behind the infamous (and rickety) picket fence on the grassy knoll and then on the "X" on Elm Street that supposedly marks the spot of the president's limo when he suffered his fatal head wound. When director Oliver Stone filmed the motorcade scene in Dealey Plaza for his awful "JFK," I watched from the sixth floor of the old Texas School Book Depository, near the sniper's nest.
The Smirker's nest.
|A historical marker at 10th and Patton streets near |
where Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit was murdered
by Lee Harvey Oswald.
In the strip of ground across from the grassy knoll, I got an autograph from "The Lady in Red," assassination witness Jean Hill. The tattered card with her signature remained in my wallet for years. In Dallas' West End, I met a man so obsessed with the assassination that he became a postman in the Oak Cliff neighborhood where The Smirker killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit. While delivering mail there, he aimed to quiz witnesses to the crime.
I understood his obsession because it was mine, too.
The 'morgue,' a visit to his grave, and a new haunt
|Holding left-wing literature and a rifle, Lee Harvey Oswald stands in the backyard |
of his apartment on West Neely Street in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas; Right, the same site today.
In the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, I stood outside the grungy apartments where my tormentor once lived with Marina, as well as at the University Park mansion where The Smirker squeezed off a rifle shot at former U.S. Army major general Edwin Walker in March 1963. The bleak corner of 10th and Patton, where he killed the Dallas cop, became an assassination destination, too.
|This "X" on Elm Street marks the approximate|
location of JFK's limo when he received his fatal wound.
At Shannon Rose Hill Park in Fort Worth, I stared at The Smirker's gravestone—the Spanish-speaking workers there weren't supposed to tell me where he lay, so they used hand signals to direct me to his plot when the bosses weren't watching. Perhaps he weighed on their minds, too.
|The gas station where Oswald tossed his jacket after|
killing Dallas cop J.D. Tippit at 10th and Patton.
I also visited a new haunt: the Oak Cliff rooming house where The Smirker, then estranged from Marina, lived for six weeks leading up to 11/22/63. For 30 bucks, Pat Hall—granddaughter of the house's 1963 owner, Gladys Johnson—will show you around and tell you stories. It's her home now.
So, what would I find in the last residence of my tormentor's life? How would I feel communing one more time with the spirit of LHO?
The rooming house at 1026 North Beckley
|Pat Hall, granddaugther of the 1963 owner of the rooming house where Oswald lived |
for six weeks in the fall of 1963. Oswald watched TV and read newspapers in this room, she told me.
Red, white and blue bunting hangs from the porch at 1026 North Beckley, an 89-year-old, one-story brick house with a major 1963 vibe. The place seems small from the outside, but back then it included 18 rooms—six in the basement. Grandma Johnson rented rooms to single men—a large room cost 18 bucks a week, 12 for a mid-size. A tiny room cost the The Smirker, a thrifty man with little means of support, 8 bucks a week.
|The Dallas rooming house where Oswald lived in the|
fall of 1963. You can go inside ... for 30 bucks.
So damn surreal.
Near the doorway and a sign for the rooming house Facebook page, generous visitors stuff donations into the slot of a wooden box.
|A copy of the president's "memorial certificate."|
As we sit on the couch—the same one The Smirker plopped down on in 1963—I wince as Hall talks about him. "We knew him as a sweet, kind compassionate man who loved children," says Hall, who was 11 in '63. She and her family called him "Mr. Lee"—he registered in the rooming house under a pseudonym, "O.H. Lee."
In the small front yard, Hall says, "Mr. Lee" played with Hal, 10 in 1963, and Mike, then 6. Both the boys are long gone now. "Grandma didn’t want them playing in the driveway because she was afraid they’d throw the ball and hit a window. It was perfectly fine to play in the front yard and roll the ball into the street," the lifelong Oak Cliff resident tells me, chuckling.
|The Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald was|
arrested by Dallas Police on Nov. 22, 1963.
Blocks away, Hall's mother, Fay Puckett—who owned a photography studio on Jefferson Boulevard, across from the Texas Theatre—was horrified as she witnessed the arrest of "Mr. Lee" there. That's the man who played with my kids at Grandma’s rooming house! At home, Puckett unplugged the TV, refusing to turn it on until Sunday morning.
Then Ruby murdered The Smirker that day. Pat, Hal, and Mike were watching. "My brothers went crazy," says Hall.
“That’s Mr. Lee!" they cried. "Why did they shoot Mr. Lee?!”
|Oswald lived in this room, no bigger than a large walk-in closet. That's me with my foot on|
the bed—with permission of the rooming house owner, of course. The frame
is from Oswald's bed; the mattress does not date to 1963.
"Can I see The Room?" I ask politely, interrupting another of Hall's stories.
Steps from the living room, there it is, his room, no bigger than a large walk-in closet. It was Grandma Johnson's favorite—-she put plants in here. After the assassination, "Mr. Lee" returned to this tiny space to grab his jacket and revolver. Law enforcement picked this room apart nearly 58 years ago.
|Pat Hall shows a replica Eisenhower jacket like the one|
Oswald wore on Nov. 22, 1963. He used the armoire in
which the jacket is stored.
|"Hello? Is this hell? May I speak to Lee Harvey Oswald?" The phone I hold—and wallpaper|
behind me in the rooming house—date to 1963. (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)