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OHS Shows ‘What They Did’



On a wicked cold December night a man lectured from the stage of the First Congregational Church in downtown Portland.

James Swanson spoke to a full house, breaking down the Kennedy assassination moment by moment from his book ‘END OF DAYS, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.’

Swanson followed the characters and events from fifty years ago under a modern microscope.

Was that a good idea? Yes, and here’s why:

For those old enough to remember November 22, 1963 in real time, to current students working on research projects, the question still remains: What really happened?

If you settle on a truth that won’t haunt you any further, another question appears. How bad was the fallout then? How bad is it still?

By Mr. Swanson’s lecture, it’s not good.

Baby boomers and seniors alike know where they were, what they were doing, when they heard the JFK news. They also know the color of Jackie Kennedy’s outfit.

And they’ve seen the footage. More than once.

The modern world contains graphic violence in movies, video games, and television, but the Zapruder film stands alone. How does a young student process that information after their first viewing? Probably the same as the older crowd with James Swanson in church.

They’re in shock.

That the Oregon Historical Society steps up to host events exploring the depths of emotional despair shows a vibrant community tuned into more than the official story. In his Portland visit, Swanson demonstrated a vast knowledge of conspiracy theories, then explained how aren’t plausible.

His even tone and on-topic delivery comes from an early exposure to those four dark days. As a young boy he knew friends in his neighborhood who weren’t allowed to watch television. Until those days.

A few years later he saw his mom’s JFK collection, a scrapbook of hard history. Those memories drive END OF DAYS. What are your JFK memories? What sort of book would emerge from them?

As a fourth grader I sat in the lunch room with classmates. A friend showed his new St. Christopher’s medal. A few teachers came to each table to send us home. Some where crying, but the news didn’t sink in until I got home and turned on the television. Day after day JFK dominated the air. It hasn’t ended fifty years in.

As a twelve year old I traveled with my family to visit relatives in Texas. My Grandmother worked in the Dallas County Jail. She took us over the same ground Oswald last walked, then found time to sit each grandson down for a mug shot complete with a zeroed out jail number necklace.

I recall it being a little eerie.

The important takeaway from James Swanson’s END OF DAYS lecture was a close-up view of Portland wrapped in the threads of a shared national fabric.

While recent Portland highlights run from hipsters, to high tech startups, to world class brewing, it’s heartening to see young and old make the effort to get out on a difficult night.

The Oregon Historical Society deserves recognition for their work. The museum continues to show ‘what they did.’ It’s a good sign when the state repository doesn’t flinch in the face of controversy.

Plan a visit for your own in-depth history experience.



About David Gillaspie
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