Umbrella Man, the Kennedy Assassination and the Problem of Proving a Negative

On the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Errol Morris explores the story behind the one man seen standing under an open black umbrella at the site. Writes Morris:

For years, I’ve wanted to make a movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination. Not because I thought I could prove that it was a conspiracy, or that I could prove it was a lone gunman, but because I believe that by looking at the assassination, we can learn a lot about the nature of investigation and evidence. Why, after 48 years, are people still quarreling and quibbling about this case? What is it about this case that has led not to a solution, but to the endless proliferation of possible solutions?

Years ago, Josiah Thompson, known as Tink, a young, Yale-educated Kierkegaard scholar wrote the definitive book on the Zapruder film — “Six Seconds in Dallas.” Thompson eventually quit his day job as a professor of philosophy at Haverford College to become a private detective and came to work with many of the same private investigators I had also worked with in the 1980s. We had so much in common — philosophy, P.I. work and an obsessive interest in the complexities of reality. But we had never met.

Last year, I finally got to meet and interview Tink Thompson. I hope his interview can become the first part of an extended series on the Kennedy assassination. This film is but a small segment of my six-hour interview with Tink.

After an appeal to the public by the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations, Louie Steven Witt came forward in 1978 and claimed to be the Umbrella Man. He said that he brought the umbrella to heckle Kennedy. John Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy was U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. and had been a supporter of the Nazi-appeasing British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. By waving a black umbrella, Chamberlain’s trademark fashion accessory, Witt claims he was protesting the Kennedy family appeasing Adolf Hitler before World War II. An umbrella had been used in cartoons in the 1930s to symbolize such appeasement, and Chamberlain often carried an umbrella. Witt thought that Kennedy, who wrote a thesis on appeasement while at Harvard, Why England Slept, would recognize the symbolism of the umbrella.

Witt said “I think if the Guinness Book of World Records had a category for people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, I would be No. 1 in that position, without even a close runner-up.” Some conspiracy theorists are still skeptical of Witt’s story and do not think he is the true “Umbrella Man.”

Here is an excerpt of Morris’ film that features an interview of Tink:

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/11/21/opinion/100000001183275/the-umbrella-man.html



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