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Faithful flock to solve JFK riddle

Dallas, Nov. 22: The conspiracy theorist jogged into the Dallas traffic, pausing in the roadway to spray-paint an orange “X” on the exact spot where President John F. Kennedy was shot, 40 years ago today.

Don Miller then puffed up Dealey Plaza towards the Texas Book Repository building, darting into the road once more to spray a second “X”.

Three Tennessee men in their thirties, in town for a business meeting, glanced at his handiwork from the “grassy knoll”, a small lawn above the road. “Head shot, neck shot,” said one, identifying each fresh painted “X” in turn. The trio resumed their calculations of bullet trajectories and lines of sight, pointing at possible sniper’s nests around the plaza.

Every year about two million people visit Dealey Plaza, an otherwise unremarkable patch of municipal gardening, cut through by a trio of busy roads. They come, in theory, to remember a slain President. Some talk of being on a pilgrimage.

A few shed tears for a life cut short. But the truth is that Kennedy’s life is hardly felt here at all.

This may be the most visited presidential site outside Washington, but what counts here is not Kennedy’s presidency, but his death — a few seconds of violence during a flying campaign visit to a conservative Texas city that did not greatly love him.

This is what brings the day-trippers, and lures visiting conventioneers to cross town between meetings: the “whodunnit” mystery of who killed JFK; the profitable fog of rumour and misinformation that has swirled since that fatal November day.

Miller was cross. “That paint isn’t drying fast enough,” he said, looking at the smudgy orange “X”s he had sprayed. Miller moved to Dallas 11 years ago, to be near Dealey Plaza. “I consider this my laboratory”, he said.

According to Miller he is just one of thousands studying the assassination. “This is the greatest murder mystery of all time.”

They shun such talk at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a museum preserving the old book warehouse where Lee Harvey Oswald’s high-powered rifle was found near a corner window. It took 25 years for the building to become a museum.

“This did not become a place of pilgrimage by design,” said Jeff West, the museum’s executive director. “Dallas was never comfortable with preserving the site of the death. It only opened in 1989 because people were coming, day in day out, to see where it happened.”

West and his staff work hard to give Kennedy’s death a context, devoting large displays to 1960s pop culture, civil rights, the Cold War, even the poisonous atmosphere of 1963 Dallas, a hotbed of Right-wing extremists.

Two thirds of the museum’s 380,000 annual visitors were born after the assassination. “You've got to explain who John F. Kennedy was,” said West.

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