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Calendar >  A Visit to the End of America’s Camelot – the Texas Adventure Continues

A Visit to the End of America’s Camelot – the Texas Adventure Continues

By   /  May 23, 2016  /  No Comments

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A Visit to the End of America’s Camelot – the Texas Adventure Continues

 

TR Robertson

TR Robertson

For the third part of my Texas trip was our visit to the scene of one of America’s greatest tragedies and greatest controversies – The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas, located in the former Texas School Book Depository. This building and the surrounding area was the location on November 22, 1963, of the assassination of the America’s 35th President, John F. Kennedy. The museum, located on the 6th floor, is located at the intersection of Elm and Houston Streets. It examines the life, times, death, legacy and subsequent controversies of John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald and all those associated with this national tragedy.

Every person 60 years of age or older remembers where they were on the day television and radio stations around the world interrupted their normal broadcasting to announce that the President of the United States, JFK, had been shot. In those days, there was no internet, cell phones, texting or anything remotely close. There were three TV channels – CBS, NBC and ABC and radio stations. I remember I was having lunch with friends in the Senior Patio at Mission Bay High School when word began to spread. School was let out early and when we arrived home we would become glued for 4-5 straight days to our TV’s as we watched the events of this tragedy unfolded, along with everything else surrounding this event.

Photos by Carolyn  & Tom Robertson

Visitors enter the museum through a ticket area on the bottom floor of the building now known as the Dallas County Administration Building. All guests are given listening devices with a head set that will take you on an audio trip through the exhibits on the 6th floor.  A large elevator takes you up to the 6th floor where you begin the tour and follow the directions on the listening device. The exhibition area used historic films, photographs, artifacts and interpretive displays to document the events of the assassination, the events that followed, the reports by government investigations and the various controversies surrounding the assassination.

The museum was founded by the Dallas County Historical Foundation. It is self-sufficient in funding, relying solely on donations and ticket sales. The museum opened on Presidents’ Day, Feb. 20, 1989. The lobby/ticket area and the 6th floor is rented from the County of Dallas. Cost for entrance is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $13 for youth. The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Over 385,000 people visit the museum annually to go through the museum, which takes about 90 minutes if you follow along with the audio presentation and take time to read through and look at the various displays. You are not allowed to take any pictures inside of the 6th Floor Museum.

On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy was to begin a two day political trip to five Texas cities. On November 22, the President and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, arrived in Dallas. They would set out in a motorcade, headed for the existing Dallas Convention Center for a dinner and speech. As the motorcade reached Dealey Plaza, shots were fired, striking the President and Texas Governor John Connally. Therein the controversy begins. Some felt shots were fired from an area now referred to as the Grassy Knoll. Some felt the shots came from an area across from this grassy knoll. Others thought they saw a rifle sticking out of the southeast corner window of the Texas School Book Depository Building. Dallas law enforcement officials began a search of the 6th floor of the building and within forty-five minutes they discover three spent cartridge shells and what they called a “snipers perch” looking down at an angle toward Elm Street where the motorcade would have passed. The museum has recreated the space where Oswald is said to have shot the President. Inside a sealed off area, through floor to ceiling glass partitions, you can look into the space, including the stacks of boxes Oswald is said to have hide behind. Along the wall you can look through other windows and get an idea of the view Oswald would have had.

All throughout the museum you take an hour by hour, minute by minute, trip through the events of this tragic historic moment. Hundreds of pictures are on display showing all kinds of angles of the scenes happening on the streets. Cameras at that time weren’t as sophisticated as those today, so a lot of the pictures are grainy. There is one display showing 10 or more movie cameras from that time which the police were able to confiscate for evidence. Most of these are representations as the real cameras are locked away. This also included the famous Abraham Zapruder camera and a blown up frame by frame look at the President’s motorcade just prior to and during the assassination as well as the response of Jackie and the Secret Service agent attempting to get in the car to assist. There is a large diorama of the buildings in Dealey Plaza, the motorcade and the angle of the three shots that were fired, which was designed by the FBI.

Forty-five minutes after the shooting, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit is murdered in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. Suspect Lee Harvey Oswald, a temporary employee at the Texas School Book Depository is arrested and charged with both murders. Less than forty-eight hours after the assassination, Oswald is shot in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The displays in the museum take you through a step by step presentation of these occurrences with large pictures showing the events. Artifacts from the Oswald shooting include investigating Officer Jim Leavelle’s light colored suit, Jack Ruby’s recognizable hat, the handcuffs worn by Oswald and the actual camera used by Dallas Times Herald photographer Bob Jackson who captured the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the shooting of Oswald.

Other parts of the museum detail the 889 page Warren Commission’s report of the assassination, the various interpretations and criticism of this report, a video examining acoustical evidence from the shooting, forensic and ballistics tests performed, a ten minute video highlighting JFK’s legacy in the areas of space exploration, civil rights, arts and culture and other accomplishments. There is also an Italian-made Mannlicher-Carcano rifle identical to the one found in the northwest corner of the sixth floor by investigators on the day of the shooting.

The museum does not shy away from the controversies surrounding the shooting and all the theories that have surfaced about the assassination and “who did it”. In a recent survey, 75% of the people survey do not believe Oswald acted alone in the assassination. There has been somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 or more books written about the JFK assassination. Some of the theories that have surfaced about who might have conspired to assassinate JFK range from La Cosa Nostra/Mafia or organized crime, the C.I.A., Cuban exiles, a conspiracy involving Lyndon Johnson (Kennedy’s V.P. who took office after JFK’s assassination), international drug lords and even the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. The list goes on and on with theories of who might have been involved other than or including Oswald.  One interesting mystery is the supposed mysterious deaths of a number of “witnesses” to the shooting of the President. There is also a set of diagrams discussing the bullets found, the angle of the shots and what might have happened other that what was reported in the Warren Commission Report. Thirty-five witness supposedly reported they felt at least one shot at the President’s motorcade came for the “Grassy Knoll”. The museum does an amazing job of presenting all sides to this story and giving you a feeling of stepping back in time to this tragic day.

Outside of the former Texas School Book Depository Building, visitors can walk on the area known today as the Grassy Knoll, so named by a local TV reporter. The wooden picket fence that once existed at the top of the knoll has been rebuilt. The John Neely Bryan pergola, a concrete structure along the top area and extending toward the Depository Building, still exists. There is a plaque in the structure that designates this area as a National Historic Landmark, so dedicated in 1993. Many reports and grainy photos have pointed to people along this area at the time of the motor cade that “might” have somehow been involved. Several reports said people were seen running up the knoll, jumping the fence and heading across the railroad tracks close to this area.

On Elm Street, just at the bottom of the grassy knoll, a large X in the street marks the spot where the “fatal” shot hit the President. As traffic zooms by toward the Triple Underpass, visitors to this site attempt to get a picture of the X and a picture looking up toward the 6th floor window where Oswald is said to have been at the time of the shooting.

For those of us alive at the time of this tragedy, the whole area is an eerie scene. Such a non-descript place in this huge city where such a momentous, historic tragedy occurred. What I noticed in the museum is the large number of young people who quietly walked through the dioramas and displays, learning about this significant moment in our nation’s history. This is one of those places I have always wanted to see, and one I wished had never happened.

 

 

 

 

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