They congregate here, almost every day, at Dealey Plaza — pointing, squinting and photographing that window.
Hundreds of thousands annually, from all over the world, want and get a personal memento of that tragic November 1963 day.
“He was right there,” said a young tourist from Japan last weekend, aiming his digital camera at the sixth-floor window on the southeast side of what used to be called the Texas School Book Depository building.
“Right there, in that window, with his rifle resting on the window sill,” said 16-year-old Ochi Taguchi to several travel companions, adding convincingly, “You can almost feel the presence.”
What sort of presence emanates from that building — now the home of Dallas County government, its top two floors a museum — it isn’t because that is “the” window.
The window that today depicts the spot where Lee Harvey Oswald sat poised with his cheap Mannlicher-Carcano rifle on Nov. 22, 1963, is, not the same one that Oswald leaned against to line up the deadly shots that killed President Kennedy.
In fact, none of the original windows remain in the building — once said to be more photographed than the Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower or other such attractions. All are gone, replaced with modern, more weather-friendly windows.
Many windows were switched several years after the assassination as the building lay empty and dormant. After many tourists and JFK aficionados slipped inside and scraped off chunks or strips of several window frames, some from the rear of the building were switched to the front. Nobody ever kept a record of which windows ended up where.
So if that isn’t the window, where is the actual one?
“It’s either in Nashville with Aubrey Mayhew, or it’s the one owned by the D. Harold Byrd family,” said Gary Mack, curator of the acclaimed Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza. “We’re not sure, because we haven’t been able to scientifically examine what Mr. Mayhew has.”
Told of rumors that a third “Oswald window” might be out there, Mr. Mack replied: “Well, I hadn’t heard about that before.”
The question of what happened to the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) windows is entwined in the building’s history and the attitudes held by many civic leaders of Dallas after the JFK assassination.
D. Harold Byrd, a wealthy oilman whose family accumulated a large portion of downtown Dallas property in the early 1900s, was heavily involved in behind-the-scenes Dallas politics.
Among his other vast holdings, he owned the TSBD, buying it at auction in 1939 for $35,000. In 1963, he was leasing out most of it to publishing houses.
After Kennedy’s murder, many Dallas leaders hoped the nation and world would forget what happened here. More than one civic leader suggested the building be torn down. “If they don’t show it on TV all the time, it won’t be reminding everybody. Demolish it,” cried one city council member.
Finally, tired of the public squabbling, Mr. Byrd sold the building for $460,000 to Mr. Mayhew, a Nashville, Tenn., music producer.
Mr. Mayhew came to town, promising that eventually his new building would house a JFK museum. He already had collected considerable Kennedy memorabilia and had others who wanted to co-sponsor the museum, he said.
The Tennessean’s ideas didn’t set well with many locals, who shunned the new businessman and publicly berated his plans. He said the Dallas business establishment pressured a bank to foreclose on the deal, handing the building back to Mr. Byrd.
Mr. Byrd told friends, including the president of the Dallas Morning News at the time, that he had quietly removed the southeast corner window and briefly stored it. Later he displayed it in his home, where it became the centerpiece of many social gatherings.
Mr. Byrd’s son, Caruth, took control of that window after his father’s death. And it has been on display for years at the Sixth Floor Museum.
But Mr. Mayhew, after abandoning his Dallas plans, announced from Nashville that he had had the window removed and had it stored safely in Nashville. Mr. Mayhew claims he still has his window in Tennessee.
Recently, however, a third person has claimed that he has the “real” corner window from the book depository, stored in a local warehouse since he hired a crew to salvage it when the building’s windows were replaced years ago.
Farris Rookstool III, 45, a former FBI employee, said when he got word new windows were going to be installed, he contacted Dallas County officials — the county had since bought the building from Mr. Byrd — and was told he could have them all, if he would pay to have them hauled away.
Aware that some of the windows had been switched over the years, Mr. Rookstool ordered his workers to gather all the windows from the building and deliver them to a Dallas warehouse.
“I thought if I had them all, we could determine later scientifically, which was the specific one,” he said.
“Today, I couldn’t walk in there and pick out the exact one,” he added, “but there are many good photographs that will show marks that will make identification precise.”
He said he had never tried to sell his “Oswald window.”
What about the rival claims of Messrs. Byrd and Mayhew?
The Byrd family had been assured by the colonel that his “Oswald window” had been removed before Mr. Mayhew ever visited Dallas.
Mr. Mayhew isn’t talking. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Mr. Rookstool said Buddy McCool, the workman sent by Mr. Byrd to remove the Oswald window, removed the wrong one.
“He was told to remove the one on the sixth floor, far right,” he said. “Mr. Byrd, of course, meant the one on the right as one stood facing the building. Buddy McCool entered the sixth floor, walked toward the front and removed the one to his right.”
Mr. Mack has doubts the “real” window can ever be positively identified. “There are many, many good pictures,” he said, “but I have the feeling that several of the windows might have been painted over. That would make identification much harder.”
He has been dealing by telephone with Mr. Mayhew over the years and says Mr. Mayhew tentatively agreed to let him travel to Nashville to view the window he claims he took from the TSBD, but he has changed his mind.
“I’d sure like to examine what he has,” said Mr. Mack. “I would, also,” echoed Mr. Rookstool.
If the actual window were identified, what would it be worth?
Mr. Mack pointed to an article from the Dallas Observer, which quoted Mr. Mayhew in 1997 as saying he once told Sixth Floor officials he would sell them the window for $250,000.
“If a Kennedy rocking chair sells for approximately $500,000 at auction, and there were 12 of them, who knows?” said Mr. Rookstool.