Biographies & Memoirs

Farewell to Camelot

Three weeks later, on 21 November 1963, President Kennedy, accompanied by the First Lady, travelled to Texas, where he was scheduled to make a number of appearances in a bid to drum up support for the Democratic Party prior to the 1964 general election.

Not everyone, however, was convinced of the wisdom of such a journey. Some White House officials, worried that the President would receive a hostile reception from voters in what was a staunchly Republican State, advised against it. But characteristically, Kennedy rebuffed their concerns, insisting that a trip to ‘nut country’ was necessary. He reportedly said to Jackie: ‘if somebody wants to shoot me, […] nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?’

The following day, 22 November 1963, at 12.30pm, President Kennedy was travelling in an open-top car through the streets of Dallas when three loud rifle shots rang through the air, apparently fired from the sixth floor of the nearby Book Depository building. According to official reports, the first of these bullets missed its mark, while the second penetrated the back of the President’s neck. Kennedy’s steel-boned back brace, which he wore to alleviate his constant pain, held Kennedy in an upright position, despite his wound – allowing the final, fatal shot to strike the back of his head.

President Kennedy with the First Lady, shortly before his assassination, 22 November 1963

In the ensuing chaos, the presidential limousine sped to nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, where surgeons tried in vain to save Kennedy’s life - in all probability, the impact of the third bullet had killed him instantly. At 1pm local time the 35th President of the United States was pronounced dead. He was forty-six years old.

Less than two hours later, on the tarmac of Dallas Love Field airport, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as President on board Air Force One. Standing by his side was the former First Lady, a crimson-red bloodstain spoiling her stylish pink suit.

The fairytale of Camelot was over.

Epilogue

A little over an hour after the shooting of President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald – a disaffected former US Marine who had once tried, unsuccessfully, to defect to the Soviet Union – was arrested on suspicion of Kennedy’s murder.

Unfortunately, he was not given an opportunity to defend himself against the allegations levelled against him – two days later, as President Kennedy’s body lay in State in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington DC, Oswald was shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while in police custody.

Arrest card of Lee Harvey Oswald, 22 November 1963

Almost immediately, various conspiracy theories began to surface. Among the most popular were allegations that Oswald was not in fact a ‘lone gunman’, that he was merely a pawn in a sordid assassination plot, masterminded by FBI boss, J Edgar Hoover. Another conjecture, which gained traction at the time, cast Fidel Castro as the villain of the piece, accusing him of murdering Kennedy in revenge for a rumoured CIA-backed attempt on his life.

However, while no definitive proof has ever emerged to support these hypotheses, neither have they been irrefutably disproven, despite various governmental inquiries into the assassination – most notably the Warren Commission, established by President Johnson a few days after Kennedy’s funeral. Consequently much like the fascinating circumstances of his extraordinary life, the controversies surrounding John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s untimely death continue to fascinate even now, almost fifty years later.

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