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November 22, 2013

The Umbrella Man And Conspiracies

Are you sick of JFK coverage yet? Well, me too. I promise this isn't too JFK-y and it sort of touches on some of the themes Ace described below.

There's an interesting story I wasn't aware of until recently and it's a bit of a major component in JFK assassination conspiracy theories. This is the man known as the "Umbrella Man". As the story goes, he was the only man to be carrying an umbrella on the route. As JFK's limo approached him, he opened the umbrella up, lifted it in the air and spun it as JFK passed. After the shots rang out, the man sat on the sidewalk until ultimately getting up and walking in the direction of the book depository. Here's the thing: that all actually happened.

Seems a little off, no? This specific part of conspiracy theories seems to endure simply because if presented with the question, "What was he doing there?", it's difficult to come up with a non-nefarious answer. It was a warm, sunny day in Dallas. There was no need for an umbrella, and yet the man made a point to open it up and make a show of it.

The mind drifts towards conspiracy.

The most common belief is that the Umbrella Man "signaled" the shooter(s) that it was safe to take the shot. At that point, depending on your favorite theory, JFK was shot by a number of people in buildings, the grassy knoll or hiding in the sewer grates by people aligned with either mobsters, illuminati or aliens. There are some wackier theories (sliding scale, I suppose) about a hidden gun being built into the umbrella.

I don't think it was touched on directly in Oliver Stone's JFK, but they do allude to it being part of the plot when Donald Sutherland's "X" character discusses it with Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) and says "we never would have allowed a man to open an umbrella on the route". Those of you familiar with the X-Files might remember the Cigarette Smoking Man, the shows running antagonist, being involved in the assassination of Kennedy with the Umbrella Man signaling by moving the umbrella up and down to the shooters.

There is a reason the man did this, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the death of JFK. After rumors persisted and theories abounded, the man finally did come forward to testify to The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. His name was Louie Steven Witt and he waved the umbrella in protest of John Kennedy's father, who was a supporter of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain was well-known for frequently carrying around a black umbrella.

In today's era, I think we'd call that a well-researched and obscure troll. But, coupled with the assassination and lingering questions and investigations, his rather bizarre display seemed to fit some sort of deeper plot. It's interesting that it still persists even though the man publicly testified 35 years ago. That part of the story is indeed "solved", and yet it makes its way into places like a major Oliver Stone picture and the X-Files years later.

The New York Times put together a short mini-documentary that's quite interesting on the Umbrella Man. Definitely give it a look.

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posted by JohnE. at 07:29 PM

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