Until this week, X marked the spots. But on Tuesday a steamroller trundled up and down the road near the building best known as the Texas school book depository, smoothing out a brand-new surface with its smart black asphalt and freshly painted straight white lines.
City workers are re-laying the street. “I guess they don’t want any special visitors to see the Xs,” said Robert Groden as he sat on the grassy knoll at a table stacked with copies of his DVD, The Case For Conspiracy.
The New Yorker was a photographic consultant to the House select committee on assassinations in the mid-1970s and also provided input to Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, JFK. He moved to Dallas two decades ago and comes to Dealey Plaza most days, selling his DVDs and books.
He claims responsibility for taping white crosses along Elm Street that for years tempted camera-wielding tourists out into the road, dodging traffic on the three-lane artery so they could say they were there, standing in the path of the bullet(s) that changed the world.
Friday ought to be one of the most important days of his life. It is the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s death, as well as Groden’s 68th birthday. The city is hosting a commemoration in Dealey Plaza for dignitaries and 5,000 members of the public who won their tickets in a ballot. Groden said he will be there as an accredited journalist. But like other conspiracy theorists, he does not feel welcome.
“It’s very late in the day for this damn city to all of a sudden pretend that they care about what happened to the president. For 49 years people like myself have been out here trying to keep the issues alive, respectfully giving a moment of silence for the president and now that it’s the magic 50th, the city decides they want to take it over,” he said.
Dallas civic leaders have arranged an hour-long ceremony called “The 50th” that will “set a solemn, dignified and understated tone as we commemorate the life, legacy and leadership of President John F Kennedy,” mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement. There will be speeches, hymns, a flypast and a moment of silence at 12.30pm, the time of the shooting.
Attendees have been background-checked by Dallas police. Security will be tight, dissenters and demonstrators are unwelcome. With the world’s media in attendance, for the theorists this is akin to being asphyxiated within touching distance of an oxygen tank.
The fight over who may stand in this small section of downtown Dallas on Friday has come to symbolise the decades-long friction between authorities and truthers.
Understandably, after half a century, many in Dallas would like this anniversary to be an orderly and tasteful form of closure, the point when history was finally left in the past. The conspiracy theorists want precisely the opposite: for the attention to spark more debate, greater openness, extra focus on whatever they happen to believe.
In the absence of any previous official city event, November 22 has always been their day, the plaza their place. The city “had Dealey Plaza all these years and they didn’t take advantage of it,” said Debra Conway, co-founder of JFK Lancer, a historical research company that believes there was more than one shooter. Conway is organising a conference for 400 people in Dallas this week. She will watch the ceremony on television.
“They’re just on lockdown, they don’t want us there and I have no desire to get arrested,” she said. “They’re not acknowledging that somebody died there.”