Dallas’s role in the national tragedy of JFK’s shooting was something we learned a lot about while I was growing up in Texas. The city had a reputation of being a cold, money-oriented metropolis, miles away from the hippie vibe of Austin or the international oil reputation of Houston. We spent an entire section in my university American history course on Dallas, the city’s collective guilt about the shooting and conspiracy theories .
Then for the most part, the city’s particular role in the tragedy faded for me.
That is, until a few years ago, when we visited Dallas with the children and went to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, downtown Dallas. My English husband was the driving force behind the visit. Now I would recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
The museum in the former book depository where Lee Harvey Oswald was positioned as the President drove by in the open-top convertible. You can stand feet away from where he supposedly sat (the area is glassed off, with a tableau of cardboard boxes and old books) and look down on the route the Presidential calvacade took.
We’ve all seen the picture, the famous Zapruder film. You may have watched Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. What’s striking is that the site looks astonishingly identical to the old clips and photos, accessible and set within the downtown office district. There are white crosses painted on the road marking where the first and second bullets hit. You can drive right over them in your car. Will Self visited Dealey Plaza and describes it as a cramped, workaday urban space. I would describe it more an unexceptional, if you didn’t know its history. There’s a roomy parking lot next to the Museum entrance. There’s a small urban park. There is the grassy knoll topped by a fence — you can go and stand on it.
If the children had been older I would have loved to linger more at the museum. It is appropriate for children although younger ones less engaged with politics will want to scoot through more quickly. It paints a picture of the time period, the world events that occurred before the shooting, the event itself and what unspooled afterward.
I had been worried I would feel like a leering thrill-seeker. Instead it refreshed my memory on the time period and made it more real.
The city is commemorating the anniversary of Kennedy’s death, soem say acknowleding and coming to terms with its role more than it has in the past. the Sixth Floor Museum is an important part of that process.
Sadly, our pictures of our visit were lost when a laptop was stolen.