Many hieroglyphics have never been read. At least not since whatever tomb or ruin where they were discovered was unearthed. The papyrus or pot shard is collected, put into a drawer at an academic institution to await someone to come along and read it. Fifty or 100 years might go by.
Just as well. When scholarly eyes finally fall upon ancient writings, they find not a beautiful poem or key piece of history but a sales receipt, another inventory of wheat or a recipe for beer. Most of life is ordinary, even under the pharaohs.
That truth echoes to the current day. Ordinariness abounds though we refuse to accept it.
The last batch of classified Kennedy assassination material — thousands of pages — is expected to be released Thursday.
Oh goody, just what we need. More words about the Kennedy assassination. Because there just aren’t enough now. We’re curious about the new batch even though we have only the vaguest notion of what we already have.
In one of those coincidences that would look trite in fiction, I can, as I sit here writing, shift my right knee six inches and touch 21 volumes of “HEARINGS BEFORE THE PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY.” Sturdy blue volumes, each with the Great Seal of the United States on the cover.
The 2-foot-high stack is under my desk because the Sun-Times is moving its office to the West Loop. Part of the process of squeezing our physical presence to fit a smaller space has been shedding books. The Kennedy report was fished out of a dumpster by a colleague, then abandoned at my office like 21 blue-swaddled babes since I’m the crypt keeper, apparently, for this kind of thing.
I glanced at the first page of the first volume, which begins as promisingly as any drama:
TESTIMONY OF MRS. LEE HARVEY OSWALD
THE CHAIRMAN. Well, Mrs. Oswald, did you have a good trip here?
She never answers that question. Before she can reply, the commission is called to order and a period of legalistic throat-clearing is endured. Her 46 interviews with the FBI are mentioned. Incomprehensible detail is gone into. Not just the date she first arrived in this country but the hour. The young widow — she was 22, and yes, she is still alive — is asked the name of the ship she came over on and the name of the hotel. She is uncertain. The hotel was somewhere in the Times Square area, “not far from the New York Times.”
Enter the media! So they were in on it from the start.
The new documents will fuel more wild speculation, as if such a thing were possible. The Kennedy assassination is the mother lode of conspiracy theories, a nation-wrenching event whose obvious explanation — Oswald did it — was so unsatisfying to those who couldn’t accept that one loser with a mail-order rifle could so jar the world.
Spoiler alert: He can. Although, reading the testimony, I had forgotten that his wife was a Russian; she speaks Russian to a translator. Maybe Russian meddling with U.S. internal affairs didn’t start with Donald Trump.
Her testimony makes interesting reading. Lee Harvey Oswald would get angry if dinner was five minutes late. “And I do mean five minutes — it is not that I am exaggerating,” Marina Oswald told the committee. “He would be very angry. Or if there were no butter on the table, because he hadn’t brought it from the icebox, he would with great indignation ask, ‘Why is there no butter?'”
This goes on for 263 closely packed, small-print pages, with 20 more volumes of photos — stills from the Zapruder film, the Nix film. Letters, telegrams, reports.
A mass of information. And from that information has been mined, well, whatever conclusion you like. Oswald was alone. Oswald was the patsy. It was the CIA, the Mafia, the Cubans, the Church, the Russians. Personally, I suspect Lyndon Johnson, just because he was that sort of guy. “If you do everything, everything you can,” Johnson liked to say. “You will succeed.”
I wish we could spend half of the time wasted parsing conspiracy theories instead wondering why we feel compelled do so.