Putting Myself in Ed Hoffman's Shoes

by Ian Griggs


Introduction
Many researchers, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, are familiar with my published research into the disassembly and reassembly of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. My choice of that as a subject for research was perfectly deliberate. I was concerned that no researcher had reportedly gone to the trouble of physically taking the gun to pieces and then putting it together again so I simply set out to do it. I then published my findings on both sides of the Atlantic.

There is a very similar background to this current article but although I feel it important to re-enact as many aspects of the case as possible, that was not my original intention here. What follows is an account of an hour or so of my life which taught me more about Ed Hoffman's terrifying predicament on 22nd November 1963 than I could possibly imagine.

In some ways, it is a horror story.

How it came about
Prior to attending the October 1995 COPA Conference in Washington, DC, I spoke with fellow British researchers to ask if there was anything they would like me to bring back; books, videos, etc. The usual 'shopping list' was compiled but I was a little surprised by a request from my very good friend and fellow researcher Rob Shaw in London.

Rob told me that his wife Sharon was into her second year of tuition and training to become a signer. Apparently she had done very well in her first year and had topped her class. Totally without Sharon's knowledge, Rob asked me if I could find time to visit Gallaudet University, in Washington. He explained that it is the world's leading university for the deaf and that it would give Sharon a great thrill if I could bring her back a Gallaudet tee-shirt and perhaps a few other souvenir items. This I agreed to do.

In Washington, DC
On arrival in Washington for the conference, I quickly established the location of Gallaudet. I found it to be situated on Florida Avenue on the southeastern outskirts of the city but it did not appear to be particularly well-served by Washington's magnificent metro system. It seemed that a cab would be the only way to get there.

With several fellow British researchers, I played the tourist for a few days and then enjoyed the conference. Our sight-seeing itinerary included the usual places like the White House, the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery and Ford's Theatre but not, alas, Gallaudet University.

I was the last of our group to leave Washington. However I had planned my final day meticulously. I did not need to be at Washington National Airport for my flight home via New York until mid-afternoon so I had the entire morning to myself. This was my chance to visit Gallaudet. I took a cab from the Omni Shoreham Hotel and within 25 minutes I was at the entrance to the university.

A frightening experience
Walking through the gates I found myself confronted not by one enormous building but by a vast complex of buildings of various shapes and sizes. I knew that I needed to locate the Visitors' Center but I had no idea where it was. The university grounds were very pleasant in appearance and atmosphere. There was space, there were trees, there were well-cultivated grassy areas - and there were students everywhere. They were strolling, they were sitting, they were going about their normal business - and they were all perfectly silent.

I was completely out of my normal environment. Within just a few yards of a busy main road, I suddenly found myself in a totally alien situation. Where was the Visitors' Center? How could I find it? Who could I ask? It was a frightening experience.

Within a few seconds, I had entered the equivalent of Ed Hoffman's world. For me, however, it was not a case of being a deaf mute in a hearing and speaking world. No; here I was the person with the powers of speech and hearing who was in a world of signing. There were no obvious sounds apart from footsteps on the paths and the occasional closing of a door. I walked along a few of the university roads and paths, looking for the Visitors' Center.

At one point I came across a workman painting a door. Thinking (hoping!) that he may be an outside contractor with the power of speech, I approached him and asked for directions. To my horror, he did not respond. He did, however, realise my problem and we were able to correspond via a notepad which I had with me. He was very helpful and pointed out the building I required. I think he was pleased when I was able to express my thanks in a way which I had learnt from Ed Hoffman.

I followed my saviour's directions and soon found the Visitors' Center. Here I made the acquaintance of a charming lady who told me (yes, told me) that I needed the University Bookshop for tee-shirts and souvenirs. I stressed how relieved I was to have met somebody who could actually speak with me and I am sure she smiled slighty when she learnt of my problems in the preceding few minutes.

Following her directions, I went to the Bookshop. It was situated in the basement of a large building and was full of souvenirs for sale. I selected a suitable Gallaudet University tee-shirt for Sharon Shaw, together with a few more items, and then proceeded to the cash desk. Once again I found myself in a different world, confronted by a very pleasant young man who did not have the power of speech. He was very used to dealing with people like me, however, and quickly put me at my ease. My experience at communicating with Ed Hoffman served me well and we were able to make our wishes known to one another.

Now you go and do it!
I made my way out of Gallaudet University a very humble man. For the first time, I had some idea of the situation in which Virgil Edward Hoffman had found himself on Friday 22nd November 1963. It is all too easy to say that he could have written down what he had seen. It isn't like that at all. You are totally disorientated, confused and helpless. Even being a member of the silent world for all but the first four years of his life would not have been an advantage in Dealey Plaza that afternoon.

If you don't believe me, I urge yo to pay a visit to Gallaudet University the next time you are in Washington, DC. For a few dollars on cab fares and an hour or two of your time, you will learn a lot about one of the most maligned eyewitnesses in this whole affair. Perhaps you will go there as a sceptic concerning Ed' Hoffman's story. I am sure that you will think differently when you leave the university grounds and return to the speaking and hearing world!

Addendum

On completion of this article, I submitted it to Rev. Ron Friedman, Ed Hoffman's minister and signer. Ron was appreciative of my efforts to convey my feelings at entering Ed's world but he added something which I had not realised. During my brief visit to Gallaudet I had encountered only people who were perfectly happy to try to help me and who gave me their time and attention. Ed's difficulties following the assassination were made even harder due to the fact that people were in a state of shock and did not have the patience to give due attention to a deaf mute.

Ian Griggs,
24 Walton Gardens,
Waltham Abbey,
Essex EN9 1BL,
U.K.

Tel: 01992-719805 (from USA: 011-44-1992-719805)

email: igriggs@hotmail.com

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