Then and Now: Reflecting on Lee Harvey Oswald's grave

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by TERESA WOODARD / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on October 23, 2013 at 10:12 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 23 at 10:12 AM

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The staff at Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery won't direct curiosity-seekers to the grave of Lee Harvey Oswald, but people find it on their own. 

On October 18, Oswald's birthday, someone left an arrangement of fresh flowers that was much larger than the grave marker, which simply reads, “Oswald.” There are neither dates nor any other words -- just a single name on a simple stone.  

It is a sharp contrast to the complex times of a half-century ago.

On November 25, 1963, the nation buried a president. Hours later, a family buried his killer.  WFAA cameras were at the funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald in Fort Worth, and so was Mike Cochran.  

"This is only the third time I've been out here," he said, looking around the cemetery. Cochran was a reporter for the Associated Press when President Kennedy was assassinated.  

"I never stopped working for four days," he remembered. 

And during those four days, he became part of history.

"That's me, with hair and no beard," he said, laughing, pointing to a photo taken at the Oswald funeral. There weren't enough mourners at the service to carry the casket, so the undertaker recruited reluctant reporters.

"Because of being with the Associated Press, I was one of the first they approached. I didn't just tell them 'No,' I told them, 'Hell, no!'" Cochran said.  But a reporter for rival United Press International, hoping it would help land an interview, said "yes."

"Well, I wasn't totally stupid," Cochran said. "It only took me a half-second to change my mind, then I told them I, too, would be a pall bearer."  

So six reporters and the funeral home director carried Lee Harvey Oswald's casket from a small chapel to the grave. 

Oswald's widow, children, brother, and mother were the only mourners.  

"It was one step above a pauper's funeral. It cost $710," said JFK historian and former FBI analyst Farris Rookstool, "That’s $710 for the entire funeral; the casket, the use of the chapel, then the graveside service." 

That service lasted 20 minutes.  

It would be 18 years before Cochran returned. Rookstool was with him the day he did. An author's theory that an imposter, not Oswald, had been buried, led to an exhumation in 1981.  

An autopsy immediately proved that theory wrong. But Cochran and Rookstool were there as the casket was removed. And they both returned as the 50th anniversary approaches.

"I don't know that even as a reporter that I've got the words to describe being right here," said Cochran last week.  

It's an eerie place, he said, made more odd by an observation he made. Buried beside Lee Harvey Oswald is someone whose first name is "Ruby," the last name of Oswald's killer.

Curiosity-seekers are frequently drawn to the cemetery, and there's visible proof.  The ground near the Oswald grave is worn and the flowers were fresh. Fifty-year-old memories are, too. 

"After the funeral, I went home to Fort Worth," Cochran said. "I sat down in semi-darkness with my wife and we watched the TV, the re-runs of the funeral and events in D.C. and Virginia. Watching all that, I finally broke down and cried."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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