New Orleans is a great town for conspiracy theories, even if the conspiracies don’t exist. There are enough shadows and shadowy figures to give one pause. Being a port city adds mystique, as one wonders just who steps off the ships, even if the ship just arrived from a seven-day cruise to Cancun.
During the half-century since the assassination of John F. Kennedy the city has been mentioned prominently in many of the theories. Lee Harvey Oswald was born and raised here. Not long before the assassination he was seen downtown handling out flyers concerning Cuba. Carlos Marcello, the local Mafia chief, had contempt for the Kennedys. Then there was district attorney Jim Garrison’s post-assassination far-flung investigation, which ultimately fell flat and hurt many people along the way.
I am one of those people who believe that Oswald acted alone and that there was no conspiracy. As one veteran investigative reporter told me a few years ago, over the decades all of the sleuths in the world had a chance to prove otherwise and could have achieved wealth and fame had they done so, but no one has successfully been able to make the case. (For the most convincing analysis of the incident check out Cased Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, by Gerald Posner, Random House, 1993.)
Nevertheless it remains easy to conjure up a conspiracy theory and to make New Orleans part of the scene. Consider this, for example: actor Edwin Booth, John Wilkes’ brother, spent much time performing in New Orleans. Could he have been used as a conduit to funnel money and directions in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln? Many planters risked seeing their fortunes lost to a Union victory.
There is, of course, no evidence of a New Orleans link to Lincoln’s death, but the point is just how easy it is to make a case. The Kennedy assassination remains forever muddled because of the actions of one man, Jack Ruby, who shot Oswald. Had that not happened and Oswald lived to be interrogated, we could have learned more about the facts. Ruby adds a cloud though, and the conspiracy theories will live on.
What is a clear fact is that New Orleans will forever be linked to the assassination, even if its role was more tangential than actual.
Our cover photo shows Kennedy at City Hall on the day, May 4, 1962, when he visited New Orleans to dedicate the then new Nashville wharf. There was genuine excitement about the president’s visit.
School kids lined St. Charles Avenue. New Orleans loved Kennedy that day, though somewhere in the crowd that the president is waving to there could be a shadowy figure. He might have evil thoughts; or he might just be looking for a place to cool off in the shade.