The voice coming from the television monitor tells of a vast conspiracy to control the White House. It says the Warren Commission Report was “born long before the president was assassinated.” And it even asserts that Lee Harvey Oswald is still alive.
Make another selection on one of six video monitors and the ominous voice will declare that the “umbrella man,” who is seen in the most complete film footage taken of the assassination, actually shot a poison dart into President John F. Kennedy’s throat and that the White House is controlled by a group of financiers, war mongers and government bureaucrats, labeled the “Professional War Machine.”
Glance to the left or right, and there is a 108-foot-long mural covered with abstract bloodstains that is meant to illustrate several more farout theories, all of which coalesce around one overarching conspiracy: a conspiracy that binds all conspiracies, from the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick (a plot to keep Sen. Edward M. Kennedy from the presidency), to the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 (a CIA plot to prolong the Cold War).
The videos are part of the Conspiracy Museum, an exhibit space that opened last month in Dallas, just three blocks from Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was shot in 1963.
In highly conspiratorial tones, the museum traces the American history of assassinations back to Andrew Jackson, who was the target of a failed attempt on his life.
The museum is the pet project of a Harvard-educated architect, R.B. Cutler, a self-proclaimed “assassinologist.” Cutler, 81, who is from a wealthy family that made its money in the fertilizer business, says he has spent about $400,000 on the museum, which promotes and displays his theories.
The museum is in the right place. City officials say about 6 million people visit the Dealey Plaza area each year. More than 1,200 people have visited the museum since it opened on April 4.
“If we could export the Kennedy assassination to Japan,” said one of the museum’s three staff members, Ron Rice, “we’d be instant millionaires.”
In recent years, attendance has nearly doubled at the Sixth Floor, the permanent exhibit on the Kennedy legacy that opened in 1989 in the former Texas School Book Depository, on the floor from which the Warren Commission said Oswald shot Kennedy. And several private companies now offer tours of other assassination sites, like the rooming house where Oswald stayed.
But for hard-core theorists, the Conspiracy Museum is the only place that aggressively examines the plot. Whereas the atmosphere in the Sixth Floor is tight, professional and historical, that in the Conspiracy Museum is loose, free-thinking and speculative.
Gerald Posner, whose book, “Case Closed” (Random House, 1993), was widely praised as a convincing argument that Oswald worked alone, said Cutler was known for constructing one of the most thorough maps of Dealey Plaza. But as for Cutler, the theorist, Posner said, “Even among conspiracy theorists, he’s not in the mainstream.”
Certainly, the museum is short on artifacts and long on suppositions, which are explained in its art work, diagrams and “video kiosks.”
Its bookstore is stacked with Kennedy books, as well as titles like “It’s a Conspiracy” and “Unsolved Texas Mysteries” and “Paranoid” magazine.
Admission is $7 and includes a walking tour with Rice, a former police officer who says he has spent 18 years researching the assassination. Apart from the museum’s “official” theories, Rice has a few of his own, and will show some fuzzy pictures as proof of his case.
The director, Tom Bowden, a former information systems analyst, says his goal is to push the museum’s conspiracy theories into the mainstream. “We just want people to think,” he says. “Maybe that way we can correct the textbooks so that they contain information about the larger conspiracy.”
That “larger conspiracy” comes from Cutler, who claims the “Professional War Machine” is behind just about every political assassination in the past 30 years.