President John F Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald during a visit to Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963. On the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination , 56-year-old Jeff Franzen, who now lives in Washington DC, remembers witnessing the event
Interview by Aimee Robinson
22 November 1963, it was my mother’s birthday and my dad decided to surprise her with a present from a new department store, Neiman Marcus, which had just opened in Dallas. I’m one of seven kids, was the youngest and the only one not in school . I’m not sure if my dad had forgotten President Kennedy’s visit to Dallas, although the President doesn’t visit often, or if he just didn’t think about it, but when we arrived there was no way we could get down to the store.
The weather was supposed to be bad that day. It had been rainy when we left home, but by this point it was very clear, sunny but cool, so my dad took me to the centre part of Dealey Plaza where it was grassy, to play ball. The sun was shining through the trees while we waited, and I lost my ball.
At the time I wasn’t really aware of Kennedy’s visit, I suppose the only thing I could relate it to was some sort of parade, but I could tell people were excited. Then the noise came, a rumbling in the distance, kind of like at a football game [nice]. A wave of cheering and applause, causing the office buildings surrounding the plaza to vibrate as the echoes bounced.
We were standing at a corner when the car came down a slope to the right of us. We were perhaps only four people away from the car, which meant we had a pretty good view. Jackie was closest to us; her pink suit and the roses in her lap caught my attention more than anything else.
That was until there were three loud bangs — gunshots — I can’t be sure. I heard three or if that number is just engrained in my memory because of what we know now. As a kid I just put the noise down to firecrackers [nice], it was the only thing I could relate to being at a parade.
Confetti exploded from the car and spiralled downwards over the road. I realise now, the confetti was actually Kennedy’s head.
In that moment, everything changed. Suddenly there was pandemonium. Noise broke out. and All I could hear was the sound of people running. My mother immediately cried out something- some startled noise and started crying. I didn’t really understand.
I watched Jackie try and climb out over the back of the car, obviously trying to escape any danger, but a police officer pushed her back in. I didn’t think much of it; still just assuming it was part of the parade. In all of the chaos, the car sped off. It had been going very slowly up until this point and suddenly the driver just hit the pedal. Motorcycles came from everywhere and surrounded the car as it headed towards the freeway-probably to the emergency room.
The pandemonium continued, though there were no more firecrackers. My dad pushed my mother and I to the ground and lay on top of us. I guess as an ex-military man he was more aware of what was going on and was trying to protect us. People were running down the slope towards the plaza. Police on motorcycles and secret service men came from every direction. The mood had completely changed, yet I felt a sense of excitement. I forgot all about my missing ball. My dad shouted, “We’ve got to get out of here”’, so we did.
My father called the FBI and told them what we had saw, I suppose just to offer help, but they already knew more than we did. He just saw what everyone else saw. I think what surprised me most that day was the change in mood. Once we were back home everything was very somber, as though a member of the family had died. My parents were in mourning over our lost President and there was no getting away from it. It was on the news and there was constant talk of the assassin, Oswald, and later Jack Ruby, for a long time.
That day hasn’t really affected my life. It was just something I witnessed when I was too young to comprehend. It affected my parents more than me. My father always believed it was Oswald who shot the President, but as he has gotten older he’s become more accepting of conspiracy theories- he’s really changed his tune. I don’t believe there was any conspiracy. There’s a famous news anchor here in America, Dan Rather, who said after 20 years of looking for stories, “I just cannot find any shred of evidence of any kind of conspiracy or any grand scheme. I would love to find it as a journalist, but I just can’t.” That sums it best for me.