DALLAS — A half-century after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Dallas held a solemn ceremony of remembrance that included a tolling of bells throughout the city.
Dealey Plaza, the park that echoed in gunfire and erupted in chaos as the president was cut down by a sniper’s bullets, became the focal point for the memorial. Choirs sang patriotic hymns, a renowned historian spoke and a squadron of aircraft performed the “missing man” formation over downtown Dallas.
The city that once shunned its infamy as the place of President Kennedy’s murder has gradually grown to live with its tragic distinction. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of one of the nation’s most infamous murders, construction workers assembled stages and camera risers for a ceremony that would be witnessed worldwide.
The event attracted an odd collection of tourists who traveled from across the nation, and even from foreign countries. Conspiracy theorists spent the past few days making the rounds of sites associated with the assassination, from the Texas School Book Depository sniper’s perch to the Texas Theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested shortly after the shooting.
“I’m from Hamilton, Ontario, near Toronto, and I’m just totally fascinated by the whole Kennedy legacy,” said Peter Schneider, a conspiracy enthusiast visiting the Texas Theater. “And I had to see this.”
Tour guides led visitors around the sites that have intrigued students of the assassination for decades. On the grassy knoll – which many theorists argue was the sniper’s nest for a second gunman – people took cell phone photos from the area where Abraham Zapruder shot his film of the president’s murder. Outside the Texas Theater, a tour guide recounted history for a group of visitors from Great Britain.
“Oswald stands up, pulls out his revolver,” she said reciting the narrative of the killer’s arrest inside the theater.
A short distance away in the same neighborhood, people dropped by a historical marker honoring J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer who spotted a man resembling the description of the suspected assassin. After Tippit stopped the man for questioning, Oswald pulled a pistol and shot him four times.
The marker, dedicated just last year, sits on a street where working class homes have given way to a newly rebuilt school and a tennis court. The site attracts comparatively few tourists. But on occasion, it’s visited by Marie Tippit, the widow of the slain officer, who still lives in Dallas.
“I just stop and reminisce, think about all the good times,” she said. “And then usually have a cry because he’s not there anymore.”
On the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, as the world focused on the ceremony in Dealey Plaza, Dallas also held a candlelight vigil honoring Tippit – Lee Harvey Oswald’s last victim.