The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination is only four months away, but interest in the event -- "the seven seconds that broke the back of the American century," in the words of novelist Don DeLillo -- has hardly waned. In November 2011, Stephen King published 11/22/63, a novel that imagines a time traveler's attempt to head off the president's murder; the book became a huge bestseller. And the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald recently announced that an auction house will sell her dead husband's wedding ring this October. Fourteen-karat gold, and engraved on the inside with the Soviet hammer-and-sickle, the ring is expected to bring up to $50,000.
If the ring is a kind of assassination relic, there is also a sort of perverse shrine to Oswald: The room in a Dallas boarding house where Oswald stayed under an assumed name. CBS News was granted access to this space, which is largely unchanged since the day Kennedy was killed -- aside from the confiscation by the FBI of all the assassin's possessions. Correspondent Tracy Smith explains the room's significance to the killing that made Oswald infamous:
"On November 22, 1963, Oswald reportedly showed up at the house at 1026 North Beckley, wordlessly grabbed a few things from his room, ran out the front door . . . and into history."
What's more, according to the [Warren] Commission, the first place Lee Harvey Oswald went after shooting the President of the United States was his tiny rented room." The house's owner, Gladys Johnson, posed uneasily beside the bed for a Life magazine photograph, but soon began receiving hate mail and death threats. The room was then off-limits to the media, with the exception of a scene shot by Oliver Stone for his 1991 film "JFK."
Johnson's granddaughter, Patricia Hall, said that her grandmother always resented the authorities' removal of the room's bedsheets -- "Not because they were historic, but because those were fairly new sheets and she could have used those on other beds." The bed itself is the same one that Oswald slept in, Hall believes.
Now the house is for sale, and Hall hopes to find a buyer interested in converting it into a museum -- or, weirdly, a bed & breakfast. The asking price is $500,000, which includes all the furnishings ("including the original stove").
The assassination site at Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald fired the shots that killed the president, stand with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as among the country's most hauntedly affecting public spaces, monuments to a decade that seems even now to have defined America's trajectory since the Second World War. An apartment building where Oswald lived with his wife and child was demolished earlier this year, so it will be interesting to see if someone attempts to preserve this other notorious landmark.
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