Jerry Dealey reflects on Kennedy assassination, anniversary
Jerry Dealey, a descendant of Dealey Plaza's namesake, had just moved from Dallas to Denver and started third grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding through the plaza on Nov. 22, 1963.
"The next couple weeks at school I got pushed around," recalled Dealey, now 56. "Having your name dragged through the mud, I’m used to it.”
Dealey said he was not the only Texan to encounter hostility. "I can tell you horror stories about people being told in restaurants, 'We don’t serve people from Dallas here,' " he said.
In 1993, on the 30th anniversary of the assassination, Dealey attended a ceremony to mark the plaza's designation as a National Historic Landmark.
Now he leads tours in the plaza. On recent anniversaries, he has watched the area become a circus scene with actors dressed up as Kennedys and people on stilts vying for publicity.
He attends annual conferences about the assassination held by JFK Lancer, a group that usually obtains a permit to hold an observance in the plaza on the anniversary. Recently the group learned Dallas city officials and the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository had already obtained a permit for the week of the 50th anniversary of the assassination in November 2013.
Dealey said members of the group have mixed feelings about officials deciding to observe the anniversary for the first time in years.
"We want it to be a dignified ceremony," he said. "The fear is that if the Sixth Floor Museum is backing it, they won’t allow anyone else to speak because they don’t want to endorse any other theories."
Many at this year's conference last weekend said they resented being dismissed as conspiracy theorists.
“A lot of times we are our own worst enemies,” Dealey said. “There are a few of us who come up with some outlandish things. But most of us just want to know what happened.”
Among the group, Dealey is considered a fence-sitter because of his unwillingness to accept any of the established theories about who killed Kennedy.
"I can see where Oswald might have done it alone. It’s just there’s so many discrepancies, I can’t quite bring myself to believe it," he said.
Dealey said he is concerned that the planned $2.2-million restoration of the plaza ahead of the 50th anniversary might limit access to highlights on his tours, such as the pergola where Abraham Zapruder shot his iconic film of the motorcade.
"If they go to do that pergola there on the grassy knoll, while they do that they’re basically shutting down tourism," he said. "That’s where people go."
Dealey also points to Robert Groden, a longtime vendor of conspiracy theory books and paraphernalia. Groden has been waging a legal battle against the city (highlighted recently in the Dallas Morning News and at length in the Dallas Observer) after being ticketed repeatedly and arrested last year for selling his wares near Zapruder's Perch without a permit.
Dealey watched Groden at work last weekend and wondered aloud what sort of permits will be required to lead tours during the 50th anniversary.
Dealey said Dallas is clearly still coming to terms with the plaza and its reputation as "the city that killed Kennedy."
"It’s a tourist attraction," he said of the plaza, "but it’s also a black eye."
— Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Dallas
Photos: Jerry Dealey, a descendant of Dealey Plaza's namesake, leads a tour group through the plaza Sunday. Credit: Los Angeles Times / Molly Hennessy-Fiske