The assassination of President John F. Kennedy has always held a deep fascination for me. The 1960s is the decade many historians point to as one of America’s most turbulent, soul searching, similarly edifying to many while confounding to others. Kennedy’s murder in November of 1963 continues to symbolize that transition, the loss of an innocent age perhaps running head first toward courted disaster. Meanwhile Dylan’s anthem played in the background, “These times, they are a changing.”

John F. Kennedy and the First Lady in the Dallas motorcade. November 22, 1963.

The assassination of JFK brings forward to light one of the many problems historians face, however. In looking for truths, scraps of facts, pieces of documentation, all in pursuit of creating history – both for ourselves and for others to consume – the micro stories often conflict with the macro tellings. The more historians poke and prod, and focus narrowly upon a particular telling event, the more complex, interesting, maybe even weird, perhaps even remotely beautiful a story transforms itself.

This is true with John F. Kennedy on a crisp blue afternoon in Dallas in November of 1963. The assassination of America’s 35th President  is History’s Higgs Boson moment. Separating fact from fiction, conspiracy theories from erstwhile realities is akin to the problems inherent in particle physics – there are these strings that must certainly be there but we just can’t find despite my handy-dandy multi-billion dollar Hadron Collider.

History's Higgs Boson moment - the assassination of the 35th President, John F. Kennedy. "The Umbrella Man" consumed many a historian, but is now proven to be nothing more than an attachment to the grand narrative sweeps we commonly call "history."

Recently I came across a video on the New York Times web site (yes, the NYT has video – some really good ones, too) where author and historian Josiah “Tink” Thompson (his book 6 Seconds in Dallas is what he’s noted for) points to this historical Higgs Boson boogey with great aplomb. Entitled “The Umbrella Man,” and produced by Errol Morris, the short six-and-a-half minute clip easily explains the dangers historians face when they follow the elusive particles of facts – or fiction – without remembering the grand narratives. “You can never,” warns Thompson, “on your own, think up all of the non-sinister, perfectly valid explanations” for the facts and fictions that History is made of. In Thompson’s “cautionary tale,” just as in the realm of particle physics; the tiniest subatomic, elusive, and theoretical elements – though they appear to fill space – must be remembered in their context.

For even if we discover, can flesh out a teeny-tiny factual flash of near insignificant almost weightless truth, we must remember history’s natural laws where, as Josiah Thompson states, “the usual happens.” Because it just did while you were reading this.

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