("Quid coniuratio est?")
NEW MUSEUM RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT HISTORIC ASSASSINATIONS
As history tells us, Union soldiers tracked John Wilkes Booth to a Virginia farm and shot him days after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
Or did they?
And how about Lee Harvey Oswald? Still don't think he was the lone gunman who shot President John F. Kennedy?
According to scenarios touted at the new Conspiracy Museum in downtown Dallas, the real Booth survived long after the assassination, and Oswald "died in an heroic attempt to save his president's life."
What's a person to believe?
That's up to you, according to Tom Bowden, the museum's president.
"We want people to think. We want them to realize that there are other sides to the story," said Mr. Bowden, former executive director of the Texas Theatre Historical Society.
"If you think there are other sides to the story, here's the place to look and listen."
Those "other sides" frequently aren't backed up with facts, critics say.
"Some people will never believe that Booth was killed in 1865," National Park Service historian Michael Maione told The Dallas Morning News last fall. "I'm sorry, but they do not offer anything that is historically concrete."
The new museum -- a stone's throw from the Kennedy Memorial and about three blocks from The Sixth Floor Exhibit -- explores almost two dozen alleged conspiracies involving everything from presidential assassinations to international incidents to political scandals.
The museum opened last week in the Katy Building at 110 S. Market St., although it's only about two-thirds completed. Two key exhibits are still under construction, one of which will be finished in time for the museum's official opening Feb. 15.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for senior citizens and $4 for children.
Until the exhibits are completed, visitors are directed to six kiosks with touch screens in the basement of the building. Topics examined include the Bay of Pigs invasion, Watergate and the shooting down of a spy plane by the Soviets in 1960.
Three-minute sound bites explore presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations -- and the "patsies" accused of committing those crimes.
The most notable examination, naturally, is that of the Kennedy assassination. It traces the life of Oswald and the release of the Warren Commission report.
"You must never forget that the Warren Report is a lie!" a voice booms through the television in Kiosk No. 3.
It goes on to "reveal" that Oswald, who was shot and killed after the assassination, was not really Oswald at all, but an imposter named Alek Hidell.
The imposter was later killed because he knew too much, the voice says.
The video exhibit examines several other shootings, including the killing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the wounding of President Ronald Reagan. James Earl Ray and John Hinckley were set up, the voice says.
But things get murky when it comes to the real question: Who done it?
Mr. Bowden said the video exhibit was based on the work of long- time assassination researcher R.B. Cutler, who edits the Grassy Knoll Gazette, a newsletter published in Manchester, Mass.
The two men blame many of the conspiracies on the "Powerful War Machine," repeatedly referred to as PWM.
Mr. Bowden describes the PWM as "people intent on controlling the White House -- both political and business." When the museum is complete, four vultures in the lobby will represent the PWM, he said.
Mr. Cutler, who has been studying the JFK assassination since 1966, wasn't much more specific. He said the PWM is composed of bureaucrats in intelligence agencies.
"I hope people get the idea that what happened in Dallas was a coup d'etat by the government in Washington," said Mr. Cutler, who plans to spend Feb. 1 answering questions at the museum. "The people who did that are still in charge."
The JFK exhibit, which will be finished in time for the museum's official opening, is surrounded by a mural of Japanese brush strokes and symbols from the Orient to illustrate the various alleged conspiracies. Dallas artist Brandy Redd-Smith said she spent six weeks painting the mural, which extends 109 feet along the wall.
"I wanted it to be a peaceful environment from which to contemplate those horrible assassinations," she said.
The Japanese theme is used in each television presentation, which ends with the word ahimsa. The word roughly translates as "the truth shall set you free," museum officials said.
Mr. Bowden said he was pleased with the reaction to the museum. More than 140 people toured the facility last week, although it has gotten little publicity, he said.
Paula Stoliar of Buenos Aires visited the museum with two friends from Argentina. Ms. Stoliar said she has long believed that Oswald was falsely accused.
After the tour, she said she was more convinced than ever that Oswald was a "patsy."
"I didn't know too much about the story," said Ms. Stoliar, 21. "Now it has become clearer."
The second major exhibit to greet visitors as they walk into the building will be titled "Myth and Mummy," about the Lincoln assassination.
Scheduled to open May 18, it will trace the whereabouts of Booth after the president was shot. Mr. Bowden said there is strong evidence that Booth was not the man Union troops hunted and shot 12 days after the assassination.
"I have a lot of information from people who swear that John Wilkes Booth was alive long after the assassination and died at a hotel in Oklahoma," Mr. Bowden said. "This is interesting stuff."
Mr. Bowden said visitors will be asked whether they believe that Booth escaped, and the results will be mailed to Booth's relatives, who have asked a Baltimore judge to exhume his corpse.
"We are going to present the exhibit," Mr. Bowden said. "People can say yea or nay."
I encourage distribution of "Conspiracy Nation."
Coming to you from Illinois -- "The Land of Skolnick"