Nov 18, 201309:19 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Kennedy Assassination: Why New Orleans is Conspiracy Prone
Just for fun I recently tried to develop an argument for why the Lincoln assassination was the result of a conspiracy that originated in New Orleans. Consider this: 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? Many planters risked seeing their fortunes lost to a Union victory.
Also, Judah Benjamin, who served at various times as the confederate government’s Secretary of War and Secretary of State, was a resident of New Orleans. He was a slaveholder and had roots to the West Indies where it would have been in the interest of planters, and shippers, to maintain slavery.
Isn’t it also suspicious that Confederate President Jeff Davis spent his last days in New Orleans, being taken care of in a Garden District home? He died here and was briefly entombed in the city. What was it about New Orleans that made him feel more secure?
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.
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.
New Orleans Magazine's October 2013 cover
I 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 Case 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.
(In New Orleans the debate has been intensified by the book Dr. Mary’s Monkey, a far-flung conspiracy theory that, among other connections, links the Kennedy assassination with a plot to kill Fidel Castro and with the outbreak of AIDS. For a critical commentary, see Dr. Brobson Lutz' 2007 review in New Orleans Magazine.)
Kennedy’s 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.
Based on his comments made to the arresting officers from the Dallas police department, Ruby, caught up in the passion of the moment, thought he was being a hero by shooting Oswald though he quickly realized he had complicated matters. Oswald, whose politics were all over the place as he talked leftist but hung around with right-wingers, thought he was somehow liberating the country though it is uncertain from what. John Wilkes Booth believed he would be a revered figure for freeing the country from a tyrant. Rather than being motivated by deep philosophical thinking, all three assassins were emotional men who were politically screwed up and who acted on an opportunity.
New Orleans Magazine’s October issue 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 there could have been a shadowy figure. Fortunately there was no loner in the streets out to change the world on his own. Majesty, for the moment, prevailed.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and online.
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