Trick or Treat: JFK Assassin Lee Harvey Oswald Can't Stay Dead

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

Halloween must be in the air.

The man who shot President John F. Kennedy is back in the news this week. (This verdict of history is not fully accepted; apologies to the conspiratorial-minded.)

What's not in dispute is this: Early on the morning of November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald left his wife in bed and a wedding ring on the dresser, heading off to his Big D date with destiny. That ring has now apparently re-emerged, having been squirreled away in the personal effects of an old lawyer with Alzheimer's, and the new issue is what to do with it. It's an orphaned piece of jewelry.

The Kennedy assassination fascinates the world over. In Texas, however, Oswald's ghost is literally in the machine, deep in the social fabric.

It turns out Lee's brother lives outside of Dallas. He's offering to identify the ring. Lee's widow Marina (who he'd famously brought back to the states from Russia) lives nearby, too, yet wants nothing to do with it. She took her two toddlers and remarried after that fateful day. The youngest waited tables in the late 80's at a political hangout in Austin, the state capital. She was sharp and beautiful, with both parents' unmistakable eyes. Real people, real stories.

Of course, others have always gotten into the act, so now there's a popular bar in Dallas by the name of....Lee Harvey's.

Are they pouring whiskey at a watering hole in D.C. called J. Wilkes, near Ford's Theatre, where Abe Lincoln caught a bullet? If so, it isn't listed in directory assistance. Try imagining an establishment in L.A. named after Sirhan B. Sirhan, who killed Bobby Kennedy in '68. Not happening.

Perhaps there's a Jack the Ripper pub in London, or a Lizzie Borden hardware store somewhere in Massachusetts. A great passage of time surely helps, and gallows humor can push us past the pain of human tragedy. There's also the kitsch factor.

All of these notions have legitimate cultural currency.

But our modern adult affinity for ironic detachment -- untethered -- can border on cruelty when real victims are still around. How does Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg explain to her children a joint in Dallas named after the man who shot her father, their grandfather?

I suspect that cocktails at Lee Harvey's wouldn't go down well with Kennedy kin, not to mention the three now-grown children of the local cop Oswald killed minutes before his arrest, J.D. Tippit. "Hey, let's meet for drinks at the place named after the guy who murdered dad." Talk about ghoulish.

Three short years after Dallas, in 1966, Austin lived through what was at the time the largest mass murder in modern U.S. history, 14 dead. Today, there's still no Charles Whitman's Pizza Parlor down on the Drag, in the bosom of the sniper's old perch atop the University of Texas tower.

At least not yet.