"Stained Glass" part 1

Col. Byrd and the Sniper's nest window The man on the phone speaks in conspiratorial tones. His
name is Martin Barkley, a 40-something divorced father of
two who has devoted so much of his life to a single purpose --
proving that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill John Kennedy
from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository on
November 22, 1963.

His research qualifications amount to having worked security for
several large companies and spent time in Army intelligence. His
personal link to the assassination was that his uncle was the
longest-serving Dallas police officer when Kennedy was shot
-- and, of course, he whispered something conspiratorial at
Thanksgiving dinner days after the assassination.

Barkley is a true believer, and he talks in elliptical phrases and
vague pronouncements. On this day, he says he wants to share
his theory that Dallas' powers-that-be are perverting the information
presented in the Sixth Floor Museum, Oswald's alleged sniper's
perch -- and this city's biggest tourist attraction. Barkley argues that
those in charge of the museum are toadies for the Warren Commission.

"The way to control an issue is to manage information on both sides so
nothing gets out of control," he says, espousing a typically muddy slogan.

He says he will prove this all with a guided tour of
the Sixth Floor, where he used to work as a security guard.
Barkley was a seasonal hire two years ago and was laid off --
ostensibly when tourist traffic slowed down, he explains. But
he's convinced that he was, in fact, terminated because he
answered visitors' probing conspiracy questions too honestly,
too carefully, too knowledgeably. Of course, he can't prove it.

Barkley insists we meet late on a Sunday, when we would
arouse the least amount of suspicion.

When he arrives that afternoon, he wears an overcoat over his
tall frame and a fedora that doesn't obscure piercing blue eyes.
Still, the disguise doesn't work: Two minutes after we step
inside the building, security guards surround him and want to
know why he's there.

"See what I mean," he whispers, as the guards escort us up in
the elevator.

He reels off an enormous list of ways the museum subtly
controls the mind of the visitor. He is suspicious of a sign that
directs visitors to begin the tour with the panels and videos
highlighting Kennedy's early years; Barkley believes the "flow"
of the exhibit -- which winds through Kennedy's all-too-brief
presidency, his fateful visit to Texas, then the assassination -- is
intentionally misleading and exhausting.

"By the time the visitor gets to the end," Barkley insists, "he's
too tired to read about conspiracies."

Barkley's rant is a fairly predictable and obvious one. Indeed,
place a museum on the sixth floor of the old School Book
Depository, and you're pretty much admitting you think Lee
Harvey Oswald acted alone. It's not like the county opened a
Grassy Knoll Museum.

Yet Barkley is not all hushed whispers and vague hypotheses.

Displayed halfway through the tour in the Sixth Floor Museum
is one of the most famous windows in the world -- the perch
from which Oswald allegedly killed Kennedy with a cheap
Italian mail-order rifle. Behind a thick wall of Plexiglass, the
window has been exhibited here since 1995, and since then,
more than a million visitors have scrutinized it, studied it, even
venerated its tragic place in history.

The window, located in the southeast corner of the museum,
sits only a few feet from where Oswald killed Kennedy --
allegedly, of course. It bears the caption "The Original
Window from the Sniper's Perch."

But is it?

Barkley believes the infamous perch that hangs in the museum
is a fake...a fraud.

He may be right.

Just a cursory look at the window on display reveals that it
differs significantly from pictures taken of the window moments
after the assassination.

For instance, the window on display has a thick smudge of
paint and putty on a pane of glass at its top half. But there is no
such smudge on any pictures of the original sniper's perch.
Also, old photos of the window -- photos that are on display
at the museum -- show markings on the green wooden sash
along the bottom portion of the window. The window encased
in the Plexiglass exhibit has no such markings.

Of course, conspiracy theorists say they never believed it was
the real window all along.

So here's one more riddle for the theorists to solve: If this isn't
the real window, and it likely isn't, then where is it -- and how
did this impostor wind up enshrined in this museum? We're
through the looking glass, as Kevin Costner's Jim Garrison
drawled in JFK, where every answer spawns a dozen more
questions.

"There is just no end to this," says Robert Groden, a prominent
local conspiracy theorist who served as a photo analyst on the
1978 U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on
Assassinations. "It's just mystery after mystery."

For more than two decades, the window -- or what one man
believed was the famous sniper's perch window -- hung like a
trophy, or a deer's head, in the banquet room of one of the
wealthiest men in Dallas.

Col. D. Harold Byrd kept it in his University Park home as a
souvenir, a tragic keepsake he ordered removed from the
building on Elm and Houston streets that he owned and leased
to the Texas School Book Depository. Byrd kept it there until
his death in 1986, at which time it fell into the hands of his son
Caruth -- who, the story goes, kept the window out of public
view for almost a decade.

Caruth Byrd wanted to keep the window buried, forgotten
about. He rejected enormous financial offers from those who
collect such morbid artifacts, and refused the requests from
those who wanted to place the window in a Dallas museum
commemorating the assassination -- fearing the museum would
be an embarrassment to the city. He preferred to keep hidden
this reminder of Dallas' shame...until one day, in 1994, he had a
change of heart and turned the window over to the Sixth Floor
Museum.

On February 21, 1995 -- President's Day -- more than 100
elected officials, members of the Dallas County Historical
Foundation, and assassination eyewitnesses gathered at the
Sixth Floor Museum for the window's dramatic unveiling.

"I thought and thought about what to do with it," the garrulous,
barrel-chested Byrd told the assembled crowd during the
unveiling ceremonies. "I've had offers for a lot of money for it,
but I decided the best thing to do was bring it home where it
belongs."

The window has remained on display here ever since, an
authentic piece of history that offers its own special peek into a
tragic day in this city's history.

Read part 2 of "Stained Glass"

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