Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On the Train of the Assassins

On the Train of the Assassins

Around 1993, in the midst of the repercussions of Ollie Stone's film "JFK," the passage of the JFK Act and the founding of COPA (Coalition on Political Assassinations), I put in for a grant from the Fund for Constitutional Government Investigative Journalism Project(FCG IJP) to follow up on the latest leads being developed in the assassination of President Kennedy.

Returning from the ASK conference in Dallas, I visted John Judge in DC and stopped by to brief Jim Lesar on what happened in Dallas. Lesar handed me a bouchour on the FCG IJP and urged me to submit a proposal, which I did, and received a check for $3,000.

In return, all they asked me to do was to note in any articles or books that I published that my research was supported in part by the FCG IJP, which I gladfully did. (See articles on Julio Fernandez, the Cuban Aid Relief, Catherwood Fund, etc.)

Although things were popping in Washington DC, I knew I had to take it on the road. Among the things going on in DC, the Committee for an Open Archives (COA), which I had co-founded with John Judge to lobby for the release of the records of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), was morphising into COPA and a much broader minded organization, I had a plan of action.

I would stretch the money out and get the most bang for the bucks by spending almost half of it on an AMTRACK round trip train ticket from Atlantic City, New Jersey to California and back again, visiting JFK assassination researhers, writers and witnesses along the way.

While I did take notes, this is not a contemporanious journal, but rather a reflective memoir of what happened on that train trip, and others I have taken over the years, now stretching into decades, on the train of the assassins.

Jim Garrison wrote "On the Trail of the Assassins," which I read during one leg of my trip, and which Stone used as a basis for some of his film, and Dick Russell wrote "On the Trail of the JFK Assassins," so I felt it natural to call this train the Oreste Express, the Train of the Assassins.

You can get on the Train of the Assassins too, as I was also inspired, as a matter of style, by the historic tourism articles written about locations peculiar to Linconln's assassination. Assassination Vacation [ ] led me to some historic sites in and around D.C., like Wok and Roll, the Chinese restaurant in Mary Surratt's old rooming house where Booth holed up. If Mrs. Paine was treated the same for putting up Oswald, she would have been hanged. [See: The Assassin's Accomplace Mary Surratt & the Plot to Kill Lincoln by Kate Clifford (Larson Basic Books)

But Assassination Vacation gave me the idea of mixing up what's at the scenes of the crimes today with a little "Symposium," and drink together while on this journey.

Publisher Comments:
Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial.

The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author's favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.
End Publisher Comments.

But she doesn’t deal with JFK, so that gives me this opportunity to do it.

As for style, I was also influenced by the late Rob Walker, whose coverage of the Grand Prix auto circuit for Road & Track magazine made you feel like you were there.

Most books about the assassinations, whether official versions or conspiracy treastes, cover the materail in much the same way, biographically, chronologically and advocative, but nobody has really approached the subject bio-geographically before.

Rather than just geographically, I look at it as a visiting tourist and try to locate evidence still there, and jurisdictionally, considering whether or not a crime has been committeed within a particualr jurisdiction if it can still be legally pursued without a lapse in the statute of limitations.

I embarked on my journey from Atlantic City, and that's where I start here, passing through Camden, my hometown, and Philadelphia - the crossroads of conspiracy, and New York and Pittsburgh, where I recently attended a conference at the Cyril Wecht Center at Duquesne.

As Dick Russell laid out this path in his On the Trail of the JFK Assassins, I will intersperce my reminiscences of my travels with articles I and others wrote, and will occassionally do some sidebar on places and profiles of the personalities I met along the way.

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