Much has been written about the assassination of our 35th President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as his motorcade traveled through Dallas’ Dealey Plaza. Dallas became known derisively by the rest of the country as “The town that killed Kennedy.” The course of history of the United States changed when a sniper’s bullets echoed through downtown Dallas the afternoon of November 22, 1963.
Of course, one of the largest challenges for Dallas, became how to appropriately commemorate the death of an American President. We’ve seen the same conflicting ideals play out in the last decade in New York City where the 9/11 Memorial had to properly balance the need to remember and reflect while the business of a city still carried on around the site.
We spent Saturday, November 7, 2015 on a walking/bus tour of Dallas’ Kennedy related sites.
We headed to downtown Dallas on the DART Light Rail system. The West End Station will drop you right by the Sixth Floor Museum and services all DART Light Rail lines (If you’re riding the TRE from Irving and points west, get off at Victory and connect to Green or Orange line trains heading south, Denton A-Train users will connect to the DART Green Line at Carrollton’s Trinity Mills Station. We were in downtown well in advance of the Sixth Floor Museum’s 10 AM opening so we walked to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial located at Main Street and Market Street, directly east of Dallas’ Old Red Courthouse. At the memorial, you will find only a granite slab encased by an “open tomb” of concrete walls that are intended to shelter visitors from the noise and activity of downtown Dallas. It is said that the granite slab with no monument upon it is intended to cast recollections on a life and presidency cut short before they could be fully realized.
Leaving the memorial, we essentially followed the route of Kennedy’s motorcade down Main Street to Dealey Plaza (note I say essentially because we walked on the sidewalk!). At Dealey Plaza, the motorcade turned north on Houston for one block before making that fateful turn onto Elm Street to head towards Interstate 35. As you face north, you come face to face with history. The red brick building located on the corner of Elm and Houston is the Texas State School Book Depository. The Sixth Floor corner window on the south side of the building is where Lee Harvey Oswald made his sniper’s nest and awaited the President’s arrival. Here, take a moment to take in Dealey Plaza. A Dallas City Park, built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1940, looks in many ways as it did in 1963. In 1993, the entire park was declared a National Historical Landmark because of the significance of the Kennedy assassination to American history and to help forever preserve the Plaza’s environs. You’ll find interpretive markers pointing out places such as where Abraham Zapruder stood while filming the motorcade, the location of the Grassy Knoll where some believe a second shooter fired a shot at the motorcade, and more. Unofficial “X”s mark the spots on Elm Street where the motorcade was during each shot. Try to avoid the conspiracy theorists who are peddling their theories to anyone that will listen, and please, don’t venture into the middle of Elm Street to have your picture taken on the X!
Now, here’s a little pro tip for you on a busy day. Of course, you can purchase Sixth Floor Museum tickets on the JFK.org website and print them at home, but the Sixth Floor Museum has two gift shops. The one located on the northeast corner of Elm and Houston (across the street from the Depository) has a cafe, but more importantly sells admission tickets for the museum. Adults are $16, children 6-18 are $13, Senior Citizens are $14.00. Children 5 and under are free unless they also want an audio tour (there’s a family friendly audio tour in addition to the standard tour) in which case their admission is $4. Tickets include audio tours. We found buying tickets across the street to be helpful as when we entered the museum’s ground floor, there was already quite a line forming. We were ushered directly to the service counter and given our audio tours and pointed upstairs. (Note, tickets include a timed entry (30 minute windows) to help with crowding on the Sixth Floor.)
The main exhibit is of course the Sixth Floor. Photography is expressly prohibited on the Sixth Floor (and vigorously enforced by security staff). The audio tour does a great job of describing President Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, the social undercurrents in the city that preceded it, including then-UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s assault several months prior at a Dallas event. The southeast corner of the floor, where Oswald’s sniper nest was found, has been restored to how it was found that November afternoon. A webcam broadcasting what would have been Oswald’s perspective is set up at the location and broadcasts 24 hours a day here. I took the picture to the right from the seventh floor of the museum (where photography is allowed) directly above Oswald’s window.
As you continue through the rest of the exhibit hall, you learn of the immediate reaction when President Kennedy was taken to Parkland Hospital, the arrest of Oswald, President Kennedy’s funeral, the murder of Oswald by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live television, and finally the Warren Commission and the various conspiracy theories. On the seventh floor, photography is allowed as previously mentioned, and rotating exhibits are on display.
We left the museum and headed out for Oak Cliff. DART’s D-Link (Route 722) will take you to Madison & Jefferson, home to the Texas Theatre. The Texas Theatre is where Oswald was arrested by Dallas Police for the assassination of President Kennedy as well as the murder of Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit. The theater has been restored in recent years and shows new releases as well as restored classics. On the day we visited, the building was not open. For those that choose to, a seven block walk to the northeast side of Adamson High School will take you to the intersection of Tenth and Patton. A Texas Historical Commission marker marks the intersection as where Officer Tippit encountered Oswald and seeing that he matched the suspect description of the President’s assassin tried to stop and question him. Oswald shot Officer Tippit and left him for dead. A neighborhood resident used Officer Tippit’s radio to call for help. After killing Tippit, Oswald went to the Texas Theatre, entered a double feature of Cry of Battle and War is Hell without paying, prompting theater staff to call Dallas police.
The rest, as they say, is history. Oswald was arrested and taken to the Dallas City Jail. When being transferred to the custody of the Dallas County Sheriff two days later, Jack Ruby entered the jail garage and fatally wounded Oswald.
This photo of the Parkland Emergency Room entrance was taken in March 2015, before Parkland relocated to a new one billion dollar facility across Harry Hines Blvd. President Kennedy was declared dead in Trauma Room #1 at 1:00 PM. Prior to the closure of the “old” Parkland, a plaque in the building marked the site of Trauma Room #1. It’s status is currently uncertain.
We did not get the opportunity to visit Dallas Love Field, but in the Fall of 2015, a plaque marking the location of Air Force One when Stonewall native Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States. President Johnson’s inauguration marked the first time a President was sworn in west of the Mississippi River and the first time it was conducted by a woman (US District Judge for the Northern District of Texas Sarah T. Hughes, a Kennedy appointee). A replica of the plaque will be installed later this year at the Fly Bar on the second level of Love Field. A special beacon has also been placed in the tarmac so the location is visible to viewers at the Fly Bar. (Note: The viewing area is NOT in the secured area of Love Field and is generally open to the public. Contact Love Field on Twitter @DallasLoveField or by phone at 214-670-LOVE (5683) to confirm)