A tomb's mystery is solved

Updated: 2013-08-18 07:50

(The New York Times)

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FORT WORTH, Texas - In a corner of the Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery a patch of ground has been worn free of grass by all who come to stare at one particular gravestone. The marker says it all: OSWALD.

In the half-century since a slight, sallow man named Lee Harvey Oswald killed President John F. Kennedy, the various conspiracy devices and theories are nearly as familiar as the tragic event itself. The Mafia. Fidel Castro. And, of course, Nick Beef.

For the last 15 years, this curious name has vexed the obsessive assassination buffs who make pilgrimages to the Oswald plot. That is because a pinkish granite marker suddenly appeared beside the assassin's grave in 1997. And all it said was Nick Beef.

Who was Nick Beef?

A tomb's mystery is solved

To begin with, Mr. Beef remains happily above the clay, living in New York. And now, with the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination looming, he has decided to reveal himself.

Mr. Beef, 56, is a writer and "nonperforming performance artist" with a penchant for the morbid. He says that Nick Beef is a long-held persona; his given name is Patric Abedin. Here is his story.

On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, landed at the former Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. Among the many gathered for the arrival was young Patric, the 6-year-old asthmatic son of an Air Force navigator. The first couple passed by just a few meters away.

The next morning, the future Mr. Beef regaled his first-grade classmates with his presidential story. Then the principal announced the president had been shot.

A young boy's life continued. His father took him to the World's Fair in New York. His older brother broke his jaw while playing. His parents divorced. At the age of 10, he survived a car crash that killed a 9-year-old friend.

The lesson he was learning: "Things change really quickly."

By the late 1960s, he was living with his mother in Arlington, Texas. Every week they would drive to the Carswell base for his asthma shot, then occasionally stop at the cemetery.

"She'd get out and look at Oswald's grave," he recalls, "and tell me, 'Never forget that you got to see Kennedy the night before he died.'"

When he was 18, he read that the grave beside Oswald's had never been purchased. He put $17.50 down, and promised to make 16 monthly payments of $10. Mr. Beef has often asked himself why. "It meant something to me in life," is the only answer he can come up with.

Life followed its unpredictable course. He worked for a local television station, moved to New York, got involved with a sketch-comedy troupe. He did some freelance humor writing, sometimes using the byline of Nick Beef. He married, had two children, and divorced.

In late 1996, Mr. Beef's mother died, and he returned to Texas for her funeral. During his stay, he visited Rose Hill and decided to buy a gravestone. Assassination buffs swapped theories on the Internet.

Yes, he admits again, he has a penchant for the morbid. But this does not mean that he bought the plot next to Oswald's as a joke or a piece of installation art. It's personal. It's about change.

And no, Nick Beef will not be buried next to the man who killed Kennedy.

"I'd prefer to be cremated," he says.

The New York Times

(China Daily 08/18/2013 page9)