John F. Kennedy: Archives of an Assassination Investigation

By Hillary Brady, November 22, 2013.
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Fifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, boarded a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible with his wife, Jackie, who was outfitted in a pink and navy Chanel suit. They began the route of a motorcade through Dallas that would end at 12:30 p.m. when shots rang out, fired at the president.

November 22, 1963 is a day that has lived on in the minds of Americans for decades—from those who remember watching Walter Cronkite announce the death of JFK on the CBS news, to those who grew up reading about the Camelot era and the young president’s tragic end. It has spurred countless conspiracy theories, tell-all books, TV movies and pop songs.

The official investigation was conducted by the Warren Commission, which was established by President Johnson a week after JFK’s assassination. The commission concluded that it was a single man, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, firing shots from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The commission’s report was the first in what became a litany of subsequent studies on the JFK assassination. Now, on the 50th anniversary of this tragic day, users can look at the evidence themselves using the DPLA archives.

The DPLA’s network of partners offers a variety of information related to the Kennedy presidency, but more specifically the assassination and subsequent investigations.

The National Archives has a series of photos of evidence that was examined by the Warren Commission. Foremost, there is the official government photo of the gun Oswald used to assassinate the President. Other notable items include the shirt Oswald was wearing when arrested; fragments of metal from where Governor John Connolly, riding alongside Kennedy in the motorcade, was shot; and the famous “magic bullet.”

Beyond taking a look at photos of the actual pieces of evidence, you can read many of the official documents, thanks to the Dallas Municipal Archives (from the DPLA’s new partner, The Portal to Texas History). There are a variety of digitized documents, so you can read the primary sources that were created as the investigation by the Dallas police department unfolded.

You can read a list of police witnesses who were involved in the investigation—some of whom lead the lineup where Oswald was identified, others who recovered Oswald’s rifle from the Book Depository.

Or, take a look at a flyer distributed by Robert Glenn Klause—a man who distributed “Wanted for Treason” flyers, which charged Kennedy with betraying the Constitution and appointing “Anti-Christians to Federal Office”, prior to the motorcade. These flyers were later brought up when Klause was called to testify before the Warren Commission.

Through the DPLA, you can also look at the warrant of arrest, charging Lee Harvey Oswald with JFK’s murder. DPLA viewers can also look at photos taken by the Dallas Police Department of the Book Depository. There is also a photo of the police reconstruction of the parade route, with cones placed where the second and third shots were fired—the route lined with mourning onlookers and commemorative wreaths.

Finally, the Dallas Municipal Archives has a digitized copy of Kennedy’s death certificate—his “Usual Occupation” listed as “President of the U.S., United States Govt.”

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