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US fascination with JFK endures almost 60 years after assassination

President’s death continues to fuel conspiracy theories as documents stay unreleased

President John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy get set for motorcade in which he would be shot dead.

Etched into the marble floor in front of the high altar at the cathedral of St Matthew in Washington city centre is an inscription to commemorate that the casket containing the remains of former president John F Kennedy lay on that spot 58 years ago this week.

At Arlington national cemetery in Virginia on Sunday, where Kennedy's body was taken following his requiem Mass at St Matthew's in 1963, bouquets of roses and other fresh flowers had been placed at the graveside.

A steady stream of visitors to the 240-hectare national cemetery, where more than 400,000 military personnel, senior politicians, judges and their families lie buried, stopped by the eternal flame above the remains of the former president, his wife Jackie and two of their children.

JFK may be dead nearly 60 years but the fascination with him, his life, his family and the tragedies that have befallen it, endures.


Last month, President Joe Biden said "the profound national tragedy of President Kennedy's assassination continues to resonate in American history and in the memories of so many Americans who were alive on that terrible day".

Footage of former US president John F Kennedy's visit to New Ross, Co Wexford in June 1963 - filmed by local woman Peggy Walsh, now aged 98 - is to be donated to the Kennedy Book and Research Archive at New Ross Library. Video: Peggy Walsh

Biden was speaking after he made a controversial announcement that a deadline for the release of the remaining US government files into the Kennedy assassination would not be met.

About 520 official documents relating to the JFK assassination remain withheld from the public while 15,834 documents that were previously released have partial or significant redactions.

‘Passage of time’

The Biden administration said some documents would emerge before the end of the year but it could be late 2022 before everything else is available. It blamed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic for the delay in processing the documents for release.

Biden said he agreed that the archivists needed more time to go through the remaining material but maintained that the need to protect records “has only grown weaker with the passage of time”.

However, he said: “Temporary continued postponement is necessary to protect against identifiable harm to the military, defence, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or the conduct of foreign relations that is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in immediate disclosure.”

Biden said some documents would be released on December 15th of this year, but not earlier “out of respect for the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination”, which took place November 22nd, 1963.

He said the remaining documents would undergo an “intensive one-year review” and be released by December 15th, 2022.

Former president Donald Trump in 2017 announced he planned to publicly disclose the remaining JFK files, only to delay the release of some of the documents on national security grounds, setting a new deadline of October 26th, 2021. In 2018, Trump did authorise the release of more than 19,000 documents but three-quarters of these contained some redactions.

The JFK assassination is, of course, one of the staples in the canon of American conspiracy theories and the delay in releasing the official documents has sparked further controversy.

Q-Anon belief

From deep within the Q-Anon conspiracy culture there has also emerged a separate, but linked, theory in recent months that JFK's son, John jnr, did not in fact die in a plane crash in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Massachusetts in 1999, but rather would turn up in public shortly and announce a 2024 presidential run with Trump.

Earlier this month, Q-Anon supporters gathered in Dallas, Texas – the site of the Kennedy assassination – in the expectation that JFK jnr would make an appearance to announce his return.

At the solemn and beautiful Arlington cemetery on Sunday, there were no obvious Q-Anon supporters to be seen.

However, just feet from the JFK grave, where his brother Bobby – who was killed in1968 – lies beneath a simple white cross, a handwritten note and a few bronze coins had been left.

Robert Kennedy would have been 96 years old last Saturday and the note just said "happy birthday".

The coins represent a tradition in the military to let the family of a fallen soldier know that someone – often a person who knew or served with the deceased – has stopped by to pay their respects.