“Phone Calls From White House to Jack Ruby”
It’s November 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Like the majority of Americans, for a variety of reasons I feel there was more than one gunman, thus a conspiracy, thus a President was overthrown and the American people fifty years later don’t know who did it or why they did it. Important questions in a democracy. Am I positive of conspiracy? No.
The past fifty years have shown us a large number of conspiracy theories that are simply ridiculous: John Connally was the actual killer, the limo driver was the killer, umbrella man’s umbrella was actually a gun that shot a poison dart, etc. etc. Keeping legitimate and rational questions from turning to the irrational is a difficult thing in a nation of hundreds of millions.
Here’s my brush with irrational conspiracy theory.
In November, 1994 I was the faculty chaperone to a group of Downers Grove North High School students attending the CloseUp program in Washington, D.C. As the students were involved with the program almost every day all day, I had a significant amount of free time to roam the city. It was great. I toted my video camera along and did a running documentary of my visit. I visited the Vietnam Wall, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, Union Station, Arlington Cemetery, rode the little train underneath the Capitol, Ford’s Theater, snuck the camera into the Library of Congress (it was a different age)… and visited the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC).
My department chair recommended the AARC. He said it was a must-see, and it sounded quirky, so I added it to my list. I called the center a day or two before I went and asked if it would be okay if I brought my video camera. I spoke with the director, Jim Lesar, who assured me that that would be fine. On the spur of the moment I asked him if I could interview him on camera and he agreed. This could be interesting.
There was no internet to speak of in 1994, but if there had been, here is the AARC self-description (from their “About” page today): “As a result of two FOIA lawsuits pending at the time this law was enacted, the member of the AARC Board of Directors who brought the suits was able to force the CIA and the FBI to reprocess under the terms of the JFK Act approximately 750,000 pages of JFK assassination records that these two agencies had made available to the House Select Committee on Assassinations….The AARC’s holdings comprise the most extensive collection of records on the JFK assassination in private hands. It has approximately 1,500 books on assassinations, organized crime, covert activities, and a wide variety of other subjects relevant to the study of assassinations and related topics. Its “main files” consist of newspaper and magazine articles, unpublished manuscripts, trial transcripts, photographs, tapes, notes, letters and other materials which fill some 36 four-drawer file cabinets.”
While just a few blocks from Ford’s Theater, the AARC was in quite a seedy part of town. I found myself standing in front of a rather run-down looking ten story-ish office building, rather narrow, and entered, walking toward the back of the building down a narrow, dirty hallway. My expectations were dwindling. There was a very old elevator, the kind with the accordion gate, still manned by an actual elevator operator. I stepped in and said “Sixth Floor” (yes, I see the connection). With a lurch and a hum, we were on our way.
Stepping out into an even narrower hallway I turned to my right and was facing a door, sign reading “Assassination Archives and Research Center”. Somehow I couldn’t picture scholars trooping to find this place. I rang the bell, and Jim Lesar answered it. He was a rumpled, gray man wearing a droopy sweater. He looked like he didn’t get out much. He looked very tired, but he was pleasant.
Immediately upon entering one couldn’t help but notice the floor to ceiling stacks of cardboard file boxes lining the left side of what was a fairly long hallway – at least ten high and twice that long. Jim explained that these were over a half million pages of documents just received as a result of a Freedom of Information suit.
He took me out of the hallway and into what was a suite of connected rooms, perhaps at one time an old high-ceilinged apartment. The first room was his office. I think there must have been a desk, but you couldn’t see it for the papers and books stacked everywhere. I had an immediate sense of disorganization, if not chaos. This is an archive??
I had my video camera running as Jim began the tour. The next room was the library, a relatively small room with library-style floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Jim said they have every book they knew of on the topic of assassination, not limited to Kennedy or the Kennedy brothers.
Jim continued the interview as we went into the next room. It was larger and its walls were lined with filing cabinets. There was an additional cluster of filing cabinets backed up to one another in the center of the room.
Just as he was beginning to continue the interview, the phone rang in the office and Jim excused himself, telling me to feel free to look around. I could hear his voice coming from the office, two rooms away as I began to nose around. I found a large Styrofoam-backed chart propped against one of the filing cabinets. It was a matrix chart, maybe 4’x3′ containing the names of every conceivable person who had anything to do with November 22 and there were lines drawn wherever any person was connected to another person in any way. It was amazingly complex and I spent several minutes looking at it before continuing to wander. I remember pulling open a few filing cabinets and staring in wonder at not only the number of but the detailed titles of the folders, none of which I can remember today.
But then I found something I’ll never forget. For some reason (and in the maze of random papers lying around this place, I have no idea why) my eye was drawn to a sheaf of loose papers lying just above my eyeline on top of one of the filing cabinets (yes, I’m short). They were hanging over the edge a bit. As a random act I pulled the sheaf down, making certain to keep the papers in order, and here is what I read as the title to the top paper:
“Phone Calls From White House to Jack Ruby – September 15-November 22, 1963”
As my mind was wrapping itself around this title, my eye moved down the paper. It was a typed list of over twenty telephone calls from the White House to Jack Ruby. Each call was dated, with the phone number of the White House, the length of the call and another number I assume to have been Ruby’s in Dallas.
Very quickly, the importance of what I was seeing hit me and I remember my first thought being, “Whoa! Now WHO is calling Jack Ruby twenty times from the White House before November 22?!!!” That’s one call on average every three days. From the White House. To Jack Ruby. (This would be the time for me to iterate that while I was in fact a believer that there had been a conspiracy to kill the president, I could just as easily have been a lone-assassin convert, given good reason to believe so.)
Suddenly I got the creeps as thoughts began racing through my mind. Holy Crap! What WAS this document? Could it be real? If it was, the import was huge. How could it not have become public? I quickly turned on my video camera and held the papers at arms’ length, hoping the camera would focus in on the paper. I did a very quick video “review” of the thoughts that were racing through my mind, and as I was taping I heard Jim hang up in the other room.
I was spooked. Of course I shouldn’t have been, but I was. I quickly shut the camera off. I didn’t want Jim to catch me with this document. My instant reaction was that I was holding in my hand the single hottest piece of evidence of the entire assassination conspiracy and if anybody knew I’d found it I was going to be killed. Yes, I know in hindsight that’s ridiculous. Yes, I’m sure the document couldn’t have been real. (Could it??) I quickly put the papers back on top of the filing cabinet and turned to meet Jim as he came back in the room.
Of course the thing to do was to ask Jim about it, right? And I will kick myself forever for not doing that, but I was so spooked at the moment that my brain wasn’t working right, and Jim and I continued our little video interview where we had left off, an interview I now had absolutely no interest in. We finished, I said my thanks, and left.
I offer no rational explanation for my actions. I was excited by the knowledge that I had a really cool piece of video to show my students back at DGN. I of course told Lois about it and showed the video to my students, but it wasn’t until two months later, when the thing kept nagging at me, that I finally called the AARC and spoke to Jim. I was quite certain that the fact that time had passed would be insignificant – nothing in that place seemed to have moved in years, so all I had to do was tell him where the document was and he would retrieve it, explain what it was (or be amazed at what it was), and that would be that.
So I explained to him who I was – did he remember the teacher who interviewed him back in November, etc. etc. Yes, he did.
“Well, I found this document when I was there that I simply can’t find an explanation for and I’m wondering if you’d help me.”
“Of course, if I can.”
And here’s the frustrating ending to this story. Jim had no knowledge of the document. When I told him I could tell him exactly which file cabinet to find it on, he said, “I’m sorry, but last month they came in and painted the entire interior of the complex and everything has been moved. I wouldn’t know where to begin to look.”
I’ve arrived at a couple of theories as to what this document, if real, could have been. I’d be very interested in hearing yours.
I have the video tape. It moves in and out of focus at my arm’s length, but you can read the title and some of the dates and perhaps even make out the telephone numbers. I really need to get it transferred over to dvd, and if I had the money, I’d get it digitally enhanced. Until then…
anybody for a trip to Washington, D.C.?