Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Nightmare on Elm Street

History is a matter of options.

You pay for education and if you are lucky you get to make your choice.

It's more than 50 years since the American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered. For today's children this is ancient history. But they need to know about it.

Here is a look at one schoolbook's two versions of what might have happened on that fateful day:

Nightmare on Elm Street is an appropriate title for Chpt. 13 of John Clare's schoolroom text book (National Curriculum in History at Key Stage 3) for it deals with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Friday 22nd November 1963 in Dallas, Texas, a nightmare which began at the junction of Houston Street and Elm Street.

At 12:30pm as JFK's car drove through Dealey Plaza and turned into Elm Street a number of gunshots rang out and the President of the United States was struck and killed.

The official report (The Warren Report) offers up the lone gunman option. Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald who acted alone. Oswald fired 3 shots from the 6th floor window of the Dallas School Book Depository. The first shot went through Kennedy's neck, the chest of Governor Connally, and struck the right wrist of Governor Connally and ended up in Connally's left leg. The third shot struck Kennedy in the back of the head and emerged on the right side of the head. The second shot presumably missed.

Oliver Stone's film JFK presents a 6 shots (or possible 10 shots) and 4 gunmen version of events. It's another option. The first shot missed Kennedy. The second shot hit Kennedy in the throat. The third shot hit Connally. The fourth shot hit Kennedy in the back. The fifth shot hit Kennedy in the head. The sixth shot hit Connally in the wrist.

And naturally to help the student, there is the now customary collection of odd facts pertaining to the assassination, and several of them highlighted by the author include:

Fifty-eight witnesses said they heard shots from the grassy knoll.
A bullet taken from Connally's leg was given to FBI agents and never seen again.
A bullet taken from Kennedy's body was given to FBI agents and never seen again.
A bullet found on the pavement by an FBI agent was never seen again.
A bullet was found under the stretcher on which Kennedy was taken to hospital. It had a pointed tip  indicating that it had not hit anything.
A film taken by Abraham Zapruder shows there were two seconds between Kennedy being hit and Connally being hit.
A film taken by Orville Nix shows a gunman firing from the grassy knoll. The film was given to the FBI and subsequently lost. Fortunately Nix had made a copy which he had given to a friend.
Two other private films were given to the FBI. In the first, the Muchmore film the relevant frames were ruined. The second film, known as the Oliver film, was lost.
The Dallas Police Department's audiotape of the assassination on which 6 shots can be heard was not made public until 1978.
Photographs showing Kennedy's wounds were tampered with. One shows the back of his head intact.
Three men were arrested on the car park behind the grassy knoll. They were later released. The records of their arrest were lost.

And so, here we are today, living in times of "an announced need for security", the phrase John F. Kennedy used when he warned the world about what lay in store for humankind.

As I said, history is a matter of options, and when we look back over the last half century we see that we have made our choice. Or rather, we see that it has been made for us. Not all options are, or will be the ones we might prefer, not all will come gift-wrapped and  cozy and comfortable. There will be nightmares.

Sleep tight.
Mind the bed bugs
Don't bite.


  1. The farmer and I have stood at the window from which Lee Harvey Oswald is reputed to have fired the shots. Interestingly, every high profile assassination always seems to have various versions doesn't it?
    We also visited Kennedy's grave with the eternal flame burning - now that really is quite moving.

    1. If you go to Eire you can visit the Kennedy family farm where his relatives still live. It's somewhere near Cork I seem to remember (but I could be wrong) . I imagine it must have been an odd feeling standing at the 6th floor window of the schoolbook depository.

  2. I remember the evening well when the news came through. My mother old me that Kennedy was a most hated President by many and so I believed. I have never gone into it in much detail after the views that my mother held, albeit she was always rather outspoken and maybe I should, but then again she was usually right.

    1. I can remember my mother telling me that the President, much admired in our house, had been shot. The news affected me deeply, as did the killings of John Lennon, Martin Luther King jr., and also 9/11. And more recently events in Paris. I think it's because I instinctively abhor attacks on freedom.

    2. I was working in a pub at the time Lennon was shot and I remember the landlord saying there would be a good film to watch that evening because normal program schedules were changed and he said that was all it meant to him and he told me to get on with my work.


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