What about the man on the grassy knoll? The Kennedy Assassination Revisited.
January 14, 2013
We recently sat down with author John Crawley to discuss the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination in Dallas, Texas. Crawley is author of the book, The Man on the Grassy Knoll, published originally in print by Lulu Press. Beginning the week of January 21, Caleb and Linda Pirtle will proudly publish the novel daily as a VG Serial.
To date, Crawley has produced eleven novels. The last four have been published by Caleb and Linda Pirtle in association with Lulu Press. John’s latest novel, The Myth Makers, was reviewed here last November.
Q: How is the City of Dallas going to observe the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s shooting? Will there be speeches and parades, or will it be a more somber memorial?
Crawley: The City of Dallas is not mentioning that the President was shot in Dallas at all.
Q: I’m not sure I understand.
Crawley: Dallas, as a city, is so afraid for its “brand” that it doesn’t want to remind people that Kennedy was shot on Elm Street here in our downtown. Even though it is part of American history, that would mean the city was back in the news as the site of a horrendous murder. Not that people don’t associate the assassination with Dallas anyway. And not like it isn’t going to be talked about in all forms of media on a daily basis as the event’s date nears. It’s like saying, ‘Oh the Alamo… I forgot it is in downtown San Antonio.’ I mean sooner or later, Dallas is going to have to grow up and quit hiding behind its own shadow. Hey, Reagan was shot in Washington, but they don’t hide it. Lincoln, too. But Dallas has such an inferiority complex for some reason that city officials just can’t handle the truth. Plus the mayor is a PR/Ad guy who wants everything whitewashed. So we have a Fiftieth Anniversary scheduled … but Fiftiety what?
Q: I understand you are commemorating the event with the possible release of a film based on your book.
Crawley: It wasn’t planned to be commemorative. It just so happened that the timing on the development of the film is happening at the same time the fiftieth Anniversary is going on. Makes for good marketing. But it truly is serendipitous.
Q: Have you seen more interest in The Man on the Grassy Knoll this year because of the anniversary?
Crawley: Yes. People like you want to interview me now. Four years ago when the novel came out I couldn’t buy press time. Now you guys in the media are lining up to talk with me. But I understand that. It is a news event. There is air time that must be filled and pages of print that must have ink spread upon them. And my story is just one of many that will help fill those gaps.
Q: Does it make you uneasy to feel as though you are taking advantage of a sad day in our history …
Crawley: I can stop you before you finish. No. Did Spielberg think twice about the Lincoln movie just because Lincoln was gunned down in Ford’s Theater? No way. Did Ken Burns pause in the making of the Civil War documentary because thousands lost their lives during that terrible conflict? No. They are historical events and we talk about them all the time. Same is true with Kennedy’s assassination. My book alone came out of a conversation I had with a Dallas police officer on duty that day. He said that there had been suspicious activity along the rail lines atop the grassy knoll. Officers had been assigned to check it out. The guys who did, however, were not Dallas police. He figured they were Secret Service agents, but the Secret Service said they weren’t involved in the surveillance of the overpass at the Grassy Knoll. So you see, we’ve got us a bit of a conspiracy hole to dig into. That’s how this stuff works. So I took that hypothesis and developed a character named Raul Salazar. I spent years working and reworking his story to get him onto the Grassy Knoll the day of the shooting.
Q: You worked on this book for more than two decades, is that right?
Crawley: Twenty-six years to be exact. I started in in 1983 and finally published the book in 2009. I wrote six complete drafts of the book and tore each of them up.
Crawley: They were dull and boring. You see, I had done all this research into the assassination. I had reams of documents and testimony. I had read and reread the Warren Commission Report. I had dates, times facts, and figures. And I tried to squeeze them all into each manuscript I worked on. And every time I did, the story got worse and worse. I finally threw them all away and placed the project on a “permanent” hold. It sounded and felt way too academic. I said that the other day during a talk at the University of Texas at Austin and suddenly said to my self, “I probably shouldn’t have used that phrase.” But the professors got a good laugh out of it, and they understood what I was saying. One professor even confessed that he hated reading his own papers based on his research because they were always so stiff and boring. So, I guess I wasn’t the only one suffering from too much crap piled inside the lines.
But the truth was that the writing wasn’t very good. So the story percolated in my brain for almost two decades, then as I approached another book I was working on, a thought struck me to tell Raul’ story in transcript format — an interview. By so doing, I would eliminate the need for such detail. A real person wouldn’t go into the kind of mind-numbing detail during an interview. He would simply tell his story. And it worked. It worked like gangbusters.
Q: So the transcript idea wasn’t around on the first drafts?
Crawley: Oh no. Not by a long shot. The earlier renditions were third person narratives that read like the Old Testament. This fact begat this fact, which begat this date and this action. Horrible. Kurt Vonnegut used to say you have to write a million words before you become a true writer. Well, the early drafts of The Man on the Grassy Knoll certainly helped get me down the road to that quota in a hurry.
Q: Six complete drafts?
Crawley: At least six. There may have been a seventh. God, think of the trees I destroyed. Those were back in the days we actually typed on paper.
Q: How did you develop the story of Raul?
Crawley: To begin with, I have never bought the conclusions of the Warren Commission Report. I believe the Warren Commission did exactly what they set out to do. Reassure a nervous country that we were okay and that our institutions were safe from foreigners, or worse, internal forces wanting to control the destiny of the greatest country on Earth. And if they could sell the idea that one man, crazy as he was, had acted alone, then all would be safe and cozy again. To that end, I believe they did their job. It’s just that as many people, including yours truly, doubted them as much as they believed them.
I mean just study the magic bullet alone, and you will see that their science is specious. It strikes President, exits him, goes through the seat and into Governor Connelly, comes back out of him, falls onto the floorboard, and is as pristine as a new shell. Really? And this was all accomplished while the bullet was executing two acute angle turns in its trajectory.
And what about the way in which Kennedy’s head explodes with the impact of the shot as seen on various films of the event that day? Not from a shot fired from the School Book Depository Building. Nope. The car had moved too far west down Elm Street. For the head to explode the way in which it did, the shot must have come from the north or northwest. It had to be fired from the Grassy Knoll or the edge of the overpass along the railroad line that leads into Union Station. That only takes a simple observation. Yet the Commission made a shell game of the facts, constantly moving information around and changing testimony of witnesses who tried to clear up their testimony when they read what the commission reported they had said. The Commission took events, quotes, and facts out of context, even changing the history of events that happened at Parkland Hospital. No one has ever really explained why the parade route had been suddenly changed so the motorcade would have to swing down Elm Street. Why even go under the Texas School Book Depository Building and alongside the Grassy Knoll? Did someone know there would be shooters waiting on Kennedy?
Part Two of my interview with John Crawley, author of The Man on the Grassy Knoll, will be presented on Wednesday.