The Highly Unusual Funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

The director of the Miller Funeral Home was a man named Paul Groody. He told the grave diggers that the piles of dirt they were moving were in service of a deceased man named William Bobo. Bobo, an old cowboy in the Fort Worth area, occupied one of the tables inside the funeral parlor, old age and sun-drenched living having caught up to him at the age of 75.

That’s right, Paul Groody told them. That hole is for Bobo.

When Groody called and arranged for flowers, he told the florist to put “Bobo” on the tag.

When Groody picked out a brown suit for the service, the reporters who were milling around the funeral home asked him who it was for. “Mr. Bobo,” Groody told them.

Groody was lying. The suit wasn’t for Bobo. Neither were the flowers, nor the grave, nor the eight policemen and two guard dogs stationed at the property, some of whom had accompanied Groody when he visited Parkland Memorial Hospital on November 24 to claim the most infamous corpse in the country.

All of these arrangements were in the service of burying Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of assassinating John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, who was himself murdered on November 24, and would be laid to rest on November 25. It would be a most unusual send-off.


Getty Images

Perched at the window of the Texas School Book Depository, alleged communist Oswald reportedly took aim at a motorcade traveling through Dallas, fired three shots, and pierced the skull of Kennedy. He was captured, jailed, then shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby while in transit to another facility. At Parkland Memorial Hospital—the same site where Kennedy was rushed in an attempt to save his life—Oswald was pronounced dead 105 minutes after being shot.

Never had a dead body been such a source of consternation and concern among the Secret Service, the FBI, and local officials. Oswald had obviously been a target while he was still breathing; dead, the authorities were concerned that he might attract people looking to desecrate his corpse.

Quietly, law enforcement phoned Groody, who operated a funeral home in Fort Worth. He collected Oswald's body in the middle of the night on November 24 and made plans for a service the following day, when Oswald’s mother, widow, brother, and two children would be able to attend. But there were some problems.

Problem one was the issue of finding someone to lead the service. No one, not even clergy members, could seem to put aside their anger long enough to say even a few parting words about a man who sent the country into mourning. Two Lutheran ministers agreed, then backed out when Groody told them the service would be held outdoors. (Both feared sniper fire would disrupt the proceedings.)

When Oswald’s family showed up for the 4 p.m. service, Groody encountered another issue. Aside from law enforcement, no one other than Oswald's widow and mother had showed up for the funeral—there were no friends and no other family members to serve as pallbearers. So Groody turned to the one thing he did have in plentiful supply: members of the press. Acting on a tip, dozens of reporters had gathered on the grounds to photograph and witness the burial of Kennedy’s assassin.

Groody approached Preston McGraw, a local reporter with whom he had some previous dealings. McGraw agreed to help carry the casket. Michael Cochran, the Associated Press’s Fort Worth correspondent, saw McGraw assisting and felt compelled to join him (after initially refusing to help). Another reporter, Jack Moseley, hung on to the casket’s handle for a few steps before walking away; he couldn’t stand carrying Oswald, even if it was to his grave.

Eventually, at least seven reporters labored to move him. Then, with Oswald in the ground, the Reverend Louis Saunders—executive secretary of the local Council of Churches and the only man willing to lend the service a religious overture—uttered some spare words.

“Mrs. Oswald tells me that her son, Lee Harvey, was a good boy and that she loved him,” he said. “And today, Lord, we commit his spirit to your Divine care.”

That was all. Oswald’s casket was opened one last time so that the family could pay their last respects. It was then lowered into the grave.

It wouldn’t remain there.


Getty Images

The morbid fascination with Oswald so feared by authorities turned out to be warranted. On the fourth anniversary of Kennedy’s murder, in 1967, thieves stole Oswald's modest headstone in Rose Hill Cemetery. When it was recovered, Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, replaced it with a simple plaque and kept the original in her home.

When Marguerite died in 1981, she was buried in the plot next to her son. That same year, Oswald’s body was exhumed in order to satisfy conspiracy theories regarding whether he really occupied the grave or whether a body double had been used instead. After the curious parties were satisfied, Oswald was buried once more.

Because his pine bluff casket had been damaged by water, the Miller Funeral Home—now known as the Baumgardner Funeral Home—told Oswald’s brother, Robert, that they’d be putting him in a new coffin. Robert agreed, assuming the old one would be destroyed.


Charley Gallay, Getty Images

It wasn’t. Unbeknownst to Robert, the funeral home put the casket up for auction in 2010. In 2015, a judge ruled that the business owed Robert $87,468 in damages and needed to return the casket to the family.

No one ever appeared eager to let Lee Harvey Oswald rest in peace, save for the journalists who put him there. When Cochran stood deliberating whether to assist Groody in 1963, a reporter named Jerry Flemmons turned to him and said, “Cochran, if we're gonna write a story about the burial of Lee Harvey Oswald, we're gonna have to bury the son of a bitch ourselves."

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

12 Thought-Provoking Gifts for History Buffs

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon
The Unemployed Philosophers Guild / LEGO / Amazon

If you're looking for a gift for the person who can't get enough history in their life, we think you'll find something on this list. From an atlas of the United States's National Parks to a book that will allow one to record their own family genealogy, these presents will both enlighten and entertain even the history buffs who already own every Theodore Roosevelt biography and Titanic exposé.

1. Atlas of the National Parks; $59

National Parks atlas
National Geographic / Amazon

This stunning atlas from National Geographic invites armchair explorers into all 61 national parks, from Gates of the Arctic to Dry Tortugas, American Samoa to Acadia. Each entry features a brand-new map and information about the park’s character, covering archaeology, geology, human history, wildlife, and more. All of which are illustrated with amazing photographs. You can order it now, and according to Amazon, the book will be in stock December 24.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Homesick Library Candle; $30

Library candle
UncommonGoods

Remind your favorite history buff of that book project they've been working on for many years with a library scent that doesn’t evoke mildewed paper and anxiety. Homesick’s hand-poured soy wax candle features spicy notes of orange, nutmeg, sandalwood, and amber.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

3. Spectacular Women Ornaments; $22 Each

Spectacular women ornaments
UncommonGoods

Your giftee will need to make some space on the Christmas tree for these ornaments depicting amazing women in history. Artist Gulnara Kydyrmyshova and her team of textile artisans in Kyrgyzstan make each ornament by hand from local wool. You can choose Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, or all four.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

4. Homemade Gin Kit; $50

Gin making kit
UncommonGoods

Just in time for holiday parties, this DIY gin-making kit includes two elegant bottles, stoppers, a selection of dried herbs and spices, and mixing tools. The giftee supplies the vodka, which acts like a blank slate, to be flavored with juniper berries, coriander seeds, rosemary, rose hips, and more.

Buy It: UncommonGoods

5. Genealogy Organizer Book; $9

Genealogy organizer book
Amazon

Here’s a genealogy gift for the holidays that doesn’t require handing over genetic data to private corporations! This handy book includes organizational charts for tracing one’s family tree back five generations. Plus, there are fill-in family group pages and sheets to record personal memories.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Great Lakes 3D Wood Nautical Chart; $178

Great Lakes 3D nautical chart
Amazon

Up to eight layers of wood are used to demonstrate the depths of each of the five Great Lakes in this unusual topographical map, which also depicts the major rivers and towns of the region. If these lakes don’t float your boat, 3D maps of Cape Cod, the Hawaiian Islands, Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and other waterways are available.

Buy It: Amazon

7. Black Lives 1900: W.E.B. Du Bois at the Paris Exposition; $35

W.E.B. Du Bois art book
Amazon

With colorful, hand-drawn infographics, civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois illustrated the progress and challenges of African Americans in the South at the beginning of the 20th century. This beautiful volume pairs his maps and charts, which were displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition, with contemporary photographs of black people and communities.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Three Mini Notebooks; $15

Three map notebooks
Amazon

An explorer should always have a pen and paper at the ready. Make your giftee’s travels memorable with this set of three pocket-sized notebooks, each bound with a vintage map design on the cover and blank, lined, or graph pages.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Penny-Farthing Watch; $40

Penny-farthing watch
Amazon

It’s been said that bicycles kickstarted the women’s equality movement by giving ladies the means to explore their world. Celebrate that history by giving your fave cycling enthusiast this cute watch, which depicts a penny-farthing, the Victorian precursor to modern bikes. The leather band and analog face complete the watch’s old-timey look.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Shakespearean Insults Mug; $14

Shakespearean insults mug
New York Public Library Shop

This 14-ounce ceramic mug includes 30 Elizabethan insults that you can feel free to use any morning pre-coffee—but you may need to reassure you gift recipient that you’re not actually calling them a “canker-blossom” or a “lump of foul deformity” when they open the box.

Buy It: New York Public Library Shop

11. LEGO White House; $222

LEGO White House
LEGO / Amazon

This LEGO set is based on the White House design by James Hoban, which was selected by George Washington back on July 16, 1792. And now, with over 500 pieces, you can recreate your own version of this iconic building. And when you're done, the set also includes a booklet highlighting interesting facts about the White House.

Buy It: Amazon

12. A History of New York in 27 Buildings; $20

NYC buildings book
Amazon

Stories behind such famous NYC icons as the Flatiron Building or the Empire State Building are well known. Those skyline staples appear in this book, but author Sam Roberts also dives deeper into other notable buildings that changed the course of the city’s history—like the Tweed Courthouse, the Marble Palace, and the Coney Island Boardwalk. (For a similar approach to urban history, see the new book The Seine: The River That Made Paris).

Buy It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER