It’s no secret that New Orleans is a city steeped in history. From the otherworldly architecture to the cracked streets, the past lives on every corner.
This week, the country is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists, historians, and casual observers alike remain fascinated by the man, the presidency, and that terrible day at the Grassy Knoll. The brief, shining moment of Camelot and its tragic end.
There are many professed truths of that day, some accurate, some plausible, and some wildly outrageous. The speculation is wide and varied, with much Cold War intelligence still classified. E.B. Held’s A Spy’s Guide to the Kennedy Assassination parses this information through the lens of a former CIA operative. This nonfiction text traces the concurrent lives of the Kennedy family and Oswald until their fateful encounter on November 22, 1953. It also includes walking tours of Georgetown, Dallas, and New Orleans with photos, adding a dimension of living history to this moment etched in the American consciousness.
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Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans and lived there for a brief period in 1963, the year of the assassination. Fearing an investigation for the attempted murder of the retired anti-Castro General Edwin Walker, he fled Dallas to New Orleans by bus. Initially, he stayed with his maternal aunt in Lakeview. In May 1963, he invited his wife and young daughter to join him. They lived in a shotgun apartment Uptown on Magazine between Robert and Upperline, and shopped at the Winn-Dixie on Prytania, now a CVS. Oswald worked at the William B. Reily Coffee Company, known today for its Luzianne teas.
He attempted to open a Fair Play for Cuba Committee chapter in New Orleans, and was arrested for disturbing the peace after a fight broke out while he was handing out “Hands off Cuba” leaflets in the French Quarter. The incident was reported by The Times Picayune (read Sharon Litwin’s interview with journalists of the era here), and he was interviewed by WDSU Channel 6. This highly-publicized pro-Cuba activity likely garnered attention, but whether that was from the FBI or the DGI (the Cuban intelligence service), no one can be certain.
Oswald left New Orleans on September 25, 1963, with two suitcases and without paying his rent. Less than two months later, he was arrested outside of a movie theater and charged with the murder of President John F. Kennedy.
As is so clear in New Orleans, history is a living organism, perpetually revealing itself as time progresses. In this particular slice of local lore, E.B. Held uses his intelligence background to inform the facts, meticulously deconstructing the narratives of the Cold War and guiding the reader through a fragmented, complicated time frame.