Lee Harvey Oswald's grave is a big attraction for tourists from around the globe on the eve of the JFK anniversary
FORT WORTH – The grave marker is small and plain, stamped with a single surname, "OSWALD."
It's hard to find amid the rows of more elaborate headstones and mausoleums at the Shannon Rose Hill Funeral Chapel and Cemetery, but it is a surprisingly popular American attraction this week.
Throughout Thursday, visitors nonetheless streamed to the marker and snapped photos or just stared at the final resting place of Lee Harvey Oswald, one of the most famed assassins in history.
They came from California, Canada, Belgium and New York to see with their own eyes the grave of the man accused of killing President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago Friday. Despite a steady drizzle, they posed by the grave for a photo or swapped theories — that Oswald was a paid CIA operative or the Cubans did it or Oswald acted alone. Most simply came for a quick, strong dose of history.
"Without Oswald, the whole story is not complete for us," said Kay Moreland, 64, of Orange County, Calif., who visited the grave Thursday with her brother, Gary Schulenburg. The pair had planned the trip for more than a year. "It's closure."
Dallas officials on Friday will memorialize the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination with bagpipes and drums, speeches, hymns, prayers and a moment of silence at 12:30 p.m., the moment a rifle bullet killed Kennedy as he rode in an open-air motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Police later arrested Oswald, accusing him of firing the fatal shot from a sixth-story window of the nearby Texas School Book Depository. Two days later, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald as police transferred him to another jail.
On Nov. 25, 1963, the same day that more than 1 million people lined the streets of Washington, D.C., for a glimpse of Kennedy's elaborate funeral, Oswald was buried in front of his widow, Marina; mother, Marguerite; and brother, Robert. No other mourners showed up. News reporters at the scene filled in as pallbearers.
Friday's ceremony in Dallas is invitation-only, though hundreds are expected to line the nearby streets for the event at Dealey Plaza. Twenty-five miles west, the cemetery holding Oswald has been steadily drawing its own curious onlookers for the past several months. At the head of the marker, someone laid a wreath of plastic white-and-pink dendrobium orchids and bluebonnet flowers. Next to that: a single fresh red rose.
Most of those who showed up said they believed Oswald had shot Kennedy and didn't sympathize with him. Joe Hunt, 55, visiting from Virginia, said he was there to witness a slice of history. "Something this guy did changed the entire world," he said, nodding toward Oswald's grave. "He took America's innocence."
Ward Dossche, 63, traveled from Mortsel, Belgium, with his daughter, Nele, 22, to see the grave. He said he remembered hearing about the assassination as a 13-year-old boy while at home at night, how traffic stopped on the street outside and school was canceled the following Monday in observance of Kennedy's funeral.
He had been to Kennedy's grave in Arlington, Va., several times. Now it was Oswald's turn.
"It's something defining for me and a lot of people," Dossche said of the assassination. "Whether he's guilty or not, (Oswald) is part of history."
The public's fascination with Oswald stems from the fact that he was a troubled youth from a dysfunctional family who had trouble fitting in, whether with the U.S. Marines or in Minsk, Russia, or in Fort Worth, where he last lived, said Peter Savodnik, author of The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union.
"He's the quintessential American figure: the alienated American constantly seeking someplace to fit in," Savodnik said. "This is a character that millions of Americans can relate to."
Others are drawn to the mystery surrounding the killing that persists today, despite scores of books and movies and several federal commissions on the subject. Glen Watson, 61, visiting the grave site from Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, with his son, Trevor, 31, and daughter, Tara, 27, said he believes Oswald was just one of several gunmen in Dealey Plaza that day hired by the Central Intelligence Agency to kill Kennedy.
Watson said he had been planning for more than 25 years to be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the 50th anniversary. "When you go and actual see the headstone and see his name, it becomes more of a reality," Watson said. "It really becomes the truth."
"Closure," he said. "Where it starts is Dealey Plaza. Where it ends is here."