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John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy Onassis arriving in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 shortly before JFK's assassination. (Reuters)
John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy Onassis arriving in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 shortly before JFK's assassination. (Reuters)

Three surprising details from the JFK assassination – and why they matter Add to ...

John Kennedy was a fatalist who lived with a sense of detachment and ironic humour. He had an intuition that he might not live a long life. One of his favorite poems was written by fellow Harvard graduate Alan Seeger, who had been killed in the First World War. “I have a rendezvous with death,” Mr. Seeger had prophesied. Mr. Kennedy often asked his wife to read the poem aloud to him.

But Mr. Kennedy also believed he was lucky and luck had taken him all the way to the White House where, at age 43, he had been the youngest man ever elected to the presidency.

As Mr. Kennedy spoke in the safety of his hotel suite about guns and assassins, a man who wanted to kill him was already waiting for him in Dallas. He had a rifle, and he was in a tall building.

3. The president’s brain

Not all of the evidence from the Kennedy assassination reposes in the National Archives of the United States. One unique, macabre item is missing from the collection – Mr. Kennedy’s brain. During the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital on the night of Nov. 22 and the early morning hours of Nov. 23, doctors removed the wounded brain and sealed it in a leak proof, stainless-steel cylindrical container with a screw-top lid. Before he was embalmed, they failed to place his brain back in his head, so at his funeral on Nov. 25, he was buried without it.

For a time, the steel container was stored in a file cabinet in a Secret Service office in the executive office of the president. Then it was put in a footlocker with other medical evidence and transferred to the National Archives, where it was placed in a secure room designated for the use of JFK’s former secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, while she organized his presidential papers.

Then, one day prior to Oct. 31, 1966 – Halloween, of all days, no one knows precisely when – the locker, with all its contents, disappeared. An investigation failed to recover the brain. But compelling evidence suggests that former Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, aided by his assistant Angie Novello, had stolen the locker and its contents, including not only his brother’s brain but also a number of medical slides and tissue samples. They have never been seen since.

Robert Kennedy did not abscond with these materials to suppress evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate the president. It is much more likely that he took them to conceal from the American people any evidence of the hitherto unknown extent of his brother’s serious health problems, illnesses and medications, which contradicted his jaunty public image of glamorous effervescence. Robert Kennedy did not want anything to undermine the president’s legacy as a youthful symbol of a new era of American optimism and spirit.


NOV. 22, 1963

11:40 a.m. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 46, and wife Jackie arrive at Love Field Airport, aboard Air Force One.

11:45 a.m. John and Jackie Kennedy take back seat of open-topped Lincoln Continental limousine. Texas Governor John Connally and wife Nellie sit in front jump seats.

12:22 p.m. Motorcade reaches downtown Dallas. Along the route, Nellie Connally tells the president, “No one can say Dallas doesn’t love and respect you.”

12:29 p.m. Motorcade drives into Dealey Plaza, en route to a planned political luncheon with a Texas businessmen at the Dallas Trade Mart.

12:30 p.m. Three shots ring out from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-marine, worked as an odd-job man at the Texas School Book Depository, where a trail of fingerprints and a gun led to him being found guilty by the Warren Commission.

One of those bullets hits an oak tree and ricochets off the pavement, injuring a bystander. Two others hit the president, one of which also wounds Connally.

12:36 p.m. Car carrying the president arrives at Dallas’s Parkland Hospital.

12:47 p.m. Oswald takes a taxi to his apartment to retrieve a pistol.

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