By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
The ill-fated Kennedy motorcade, Lee Harvey Oswald’s perch on the sixth floor, the grassy knoll, the “Badge Man,” the “Umbrella Man” and the Moorman Polaroid all vividly came to life on Oct. 29 for 11 Cistercian history students when Father Anthony Bigney took his class studying the assassinations of Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln on a tour of Dallas’ Dealey Plaza.
Sophomore Scooter Eddy, for instance, got to stand on the parapet where Abraham Zapruder filmed the 486 color frames that uniquely captured the transcendent incident in graphic detail 50 years ago this month.
“I was interested in the subject and I knew a little bit about it, so I figured I knew what he’d be talking about,” said Eddy, who lives in Richardson and attends St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church. “You ask somebody about it – any given person will probably give a different explanation. This is largely unbiased.”
This is the second time that Father Bigney has offered this semester elective in his six years teaching at Cistercian. Sophomore Esteban Pimentel of Dallas and a Christ the King parishioner spoke for the majority of the class members when he said the 50th anniversary of the assassination was a major reason why he registered for this elective.
“One of the really neat things about an elective from the point of view of a teacher, you get to teach something you’re interested in,” said Father Bigney, a Michigan native who got his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University in Wisconsin and his theology master’s from the University of Dallas. “I took a class in college on the assassination of Kennedy and just really enjoyed it and pitched it to the headmaster.
“It allows the boys to sort of go deep into history, which we don’t do too often. We normally do broad history, where you study all the ancient world in one year or all American history in one year. This sort of forces them to focus and slow down.”
Over the course of about 45 minutes, Father Bigney explained what is known about what happened on Nov. 22, 1963 and also what has been speculated since.
“Conspiracies?” Pimental said. “Yeah, we’re all about that.”
The nine sophomores and two juniors stood on the sidewalk along the curve of Elm Street above the triple underpass as Father Bigney detailed the paths of the two bullets that struck President Kennedy and the specific wounds that he suffered. That was something of a revelation to sophomore Jake Berard of Murphy and St. Mark the Evangelist in nearby Plano, given the look of revulsion on his face.
“He did mention early in the course that [Kennedy’s] head had suffered some severe trauma, but I really didn’t picture it that way,” Berard said.
The group later stood at the picket fence behind the grassy knoll, where some have asserted another gunman – called “Badge Man,” since an enlarged photograph appears to show a puff of smoke in front of a man in uniform wearing a badge – could have fired shots that struck the motorcade. When Father Bigney asked about the assumed vantage point facing east over the fence, junior Dare Odeyingbo of Irving correctly noted the view would be obstructed by a wall and probably also by parade spectators.
“Unless ‘Badge Man’ was like 11 feet tall,” Father Bigney said.
The class will tour the Sixth Floor Museum in a few weeks. The boys are invited at semester’s end to serve as tour guides themselves to family and friends.
“I think it’s pretty cool to be on the very spot where history was made,” Father Bigney said.