Day 5: Dallas
This story has two beginnings.
1) Mike Brownlow sat on his usual corner, chewing on an unlit cigarette. A few feet away, there stood a kid who was obviously an out-of-towner. He looked a bit lost and curious, and he held a camera in his left hand. Mike would do the usual act: put on a show, play up the sob story, and get a few quick bucks out of his latest mark. Same as every day.
2) Mike Brownlow sat in the same spot he had for God-knows-how-many years. Chewing an unlit cigarette, he waited to tell his story to whoever would listen. Public perception would never change, of course. But that wouldn't keep him from coming back here every day to share his story -the true story- of what happened that day. If the kid standing in front of him asked, he'd talk. But he wasn't going to go out of his way. He was tired. He was always tired.
I'm not sure which beginning is true.
"Excuse me," I said, pointing around my general area, "Is this uh....is this the 'Grassy Knoll'?"
"Right there," said Mike Brownlow. "See that fence? The spray-painted mark is where the other two shooters were standing. It's that red mark, there, behind the tree".
"So," I pressed, "That's where the other shooters supposedly were? Behind that fence?"
"Yessir," said Mike Brownlow. He slowly got up and sauntered over to where I was. "There were two shooters there, Oswald in the book depository, and another shooter in the building next door".
"How old is this fence?" I asked, bracing myself for a conspiracy theory, "Was it here during the shooting?"
"Not that fence, no" said Mike Brownlow, "That's the seventh fence they've built since 1963. This one was built about eight years ago. They've had a fence there since 1948."
"Huh," I said, "You seem to know a lot about the area."
Mike meandered back over to his knapsack.
"Of course I do," he said. "I was here during the shooting."
It was then that Mike Brownlow produced a tattered, old photograph of a familiar visage: John F. Kennedy sitting in a convertible, waving to the people of Texas. The photograph was old and folded in too many places. Someone had written notes in the lower left corner. I didn't think to ask what they said.
"This photograph was taken 34 seconds before the President was shot," said Mike Brownlow, "This is me, standing on the corner."
He pointed to a child in his early teens standing on the corner watching the motorcade.
"It was right over there," he indicated, pointing to a corner about a block or so away.
He saw me stare at the picture. And he could tell by the look on my face that I thought that this could clearly have been any child standing on the corner.
"You went to the museum, huh?" he asked.
"Yep." I responded.
"You heard the story of the Warren Commission, right?"
"We saw the smoke from over here." said Mike Brownlow, neither pleading nor contradicting, "We saw the two Secret Service agents telling us to stay away. I was here. I saw the whole thing. Over there, those guys will sell you souvenir newspapers and tell you all sorts of crazy stories. Me? I'm not selling a thing. I come here every day. And I tell my story to whoever wants to hear it. But I'll tell you this: there was more than one shooter."
At that point, Mike Brownlow lit his cigarette and stared off into the distance.
I'm not proposing a conspiracy theory. I'm not asking you neither to believe nor discount what Mike Brownlow told me. What fascinates me, though, is that we have here a point of contention in American history upon which not everyone agrees. On the one hand, the polished, professional museum that tells story A as we all know it. On the other hand, an old man with a tattered photograph sits outside, telling story B to whoever will spend a couple of minutes to listen.
Mike Brownlow may be a sympathetic character, and a tired man who just wants to set the record straight. After all, he told me the story with a quiet calm, without an urgent pleading for me to believe his truth -a trait that so often accompanies liar's speak.
However, Mike Brownlow might also be an exploitive con-man who is taking advantage of a tragic moment in American history for his own personal gain. After all, when I asked to take his picture, his index finger magically landed to a point where it was pointing directly towards him. He held the photo in such a way that you could tell this wasn't his first photo-op.
I don't know what the true story is. I wasn't there. And I don't know for sure who or what Mike Brownlow is. I can only tell you this: at Dealey plaza, there may be more than one museum worth investigating.
To close: A photograph of the Grassy Knoll. The 'X' is where the fatal shot struck. A perfect view.