Robert Groden: The Plaza Man
In this week’s Dallas Observer, we profile 30 of the metro area’s most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here
On November 22, 1963, the day President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza, Robert Groden was an 18-year-old kid at home playing hooky from Forest Hills High School in the nice part of Queens, New York. He sat glued to the television watching a grim but unreal saga unfold — something out of a cheap detective novel set in some distant banana republic — all of it in living black and white, all of it coming from some strange city 1,400 miles away called Dallas.
Since that day Groden has devoted his entire life to ferreting out the truth beneath the surface of the bizarre pictures that flashed across his TV screen a half century ago. Author of seven books on the Kennedy assassination, including a New York Times best-seller, Groden now lives here and lectures and sells his books and videotapes to tourists in Dealey Plaza.
He has been ticketed more than 80 times by the city, arrested and jailed twice. All of these alleged infractions have been tossed out by city courts as violations by the city of Groden’s First Amendment rights. At this moment the city is appealing its latest defeat in a years-long battle to silence him.
Groden believes the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy involving more people than just Lee Harvey Oswald. The city of Dallas’ institutional voice on the assassination emanates from the Sixth Floor Museum in the old School Book Depository Building, a place fiercely committed to the idea that Oswald acted alone and the case is now closed.
This conflict — between those who want to keep the case open and those who want it shut — may come to a crisis next year on November 22, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary. The city has turned Dealey Plaza over to the Sixth Floor Museum for the week, with apparent power to bar the presence of people the museum deems objectionable.
Groden, a soft-spoken man with a slight scholarly stoop in his shoulders, says he will be there. “I plan on being in Dealey Plaza and standing up for First Amendment rights,” he vows.
Asked what he tells people back home about his experiences here and the kind of city he has found Dallas to be over the years, Groden says, “I tell people it’s a great city with great people and a really corrupt government.”