The images of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have been all over the media this week in anticipation and recognition of the 50th anniversary of that tragic event. One of the most indelible snapshots of the Kennedy saga, Robert Jackson's Pulitzer Prize-winning picture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, will become a familiar sight on TV and the internet this weekend, as Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy's (alleged) assassin. In 1996, Jackson's picture found new life, as a New Jersey software engineer/astrophysicist/disc jockey with a knack for Photoshop turned that moment in American history into a concert.


"Oswald in a Jam"
(Photo Courtesy: George Mahlberg/Cheryl Mahlberg)

George Mahlberg was a friend of mine and colleague at WPRB-FM while I was living in Princeton. George, better known as "Dr. Cosmo" to his listeners, created "Oswald in a Jam" (or, as he like to call it, "Inagaddada-Oswald") one day after surfing the internet and finding Jackson's picture of the Oswald shooting. Forty minutes after discovering the picture on the web, he had created his masterpiece. Ruby no longer had a gun; he had a guitar. Oswald's cry of pain turned into him emphatically singing into a microphone. The policeman escorting Oswald, Jim Leavelle, who was caught in the middle of his reaction to Ruby shooting Oswald, was turned into a keyboard player. George also gave himself a cameo in his work, placing himself in the upper left side of the picture as a bass player. In addition, he worked in a Dead Kennedy's reference on the back wall of the basement.

According to his website (which, thankfully, is preserved by the folks at the Wayback Machine internet archive), George explained his motivation for creating the picture and why he went in the direction he did.

Jack Ruby was in a posture that spoke of conviction and drive and there was something in Oswald’s face–-a look of passion that’s hard to duplicate. The phrase “screamin’ the blues” came to mind because he looked to me like a young Rock ‘n’ Roller belting out a serious tune.

He continued:

Oswald’s face registers the anguish and pain produced by a bullet tearing through his abdomen and damaging nearly every organ. His arms, which had been hanging at his stomach, lurched upward across his chest. Officer Leavelle instinctively recoiled away from the report of the firearm. Jack Ruby, with the pistol thrust forward in his right hand, his left hand clenched in a fist at his side, prepared to fire a second round into Oswald. The heads of a few policemen and reporters turned toward the disturbance, others did not.

"Oswald in a Jam" became a cult sensation after hitting the internet. In fact, Jackson was impressed and pleased with George's work--so much so that the two became friends, occasionally visiting at Jackson's North Carolina home. George often spoke highly of Jackson, his warmth, and his stories of that infamous day on which Lee Harvey Oswald (and, possibly, the truth behind JFK's death) died.

Unfortunately, George's stories are now silent. He died on April 2, 2011, from complications of various medical conditions.

I can only imagine how George would have marked the golden anniversary of JFK's assassination and the other events that took place immediately thereafter. It's a pity he didn't live long enough to commemorate the day in his own special way. Although he's not with us in this realm to remember the events of 50 years ago, "Oswald in a Jam" still allows him to be a part of be part of one of the most important anniversaries in American history.

Yours truly with George Mahlberg, the man behind "Oswald in a Jam," trying to distract another fellow disc jockey, Mike Hunter. Picture taken in 2009. (Photo Courtesy: Cheryl Mahlberg)