Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kennedy Assassination Museum


One of my clearest memories is from November 22, 1963, walking up the steps of Parker Hall with a friend when Bob Callis came down the steps to tell us that President John Kennedy had just been shot.   Many old timers will probably be able to tell you where they were when they heard the news of the assassination.  The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas captures that moment of history along with the lead-in and the legacy. 

            Photographs, radio comments and television clips retell in detail what happened. The story starts with Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign and finishes with comments on his legacy.   The admission fee to the museum includes an audio tour wand that I appreciated as it provided additional speeches by Kennedy and commentary by others. 

Visitors are introduced to the Kennedy White House, his programs and the brilliance of his speeches.  He was a very talented, charismatic president with great plans to change our relations with Russia, advance racial equality and get us to the moon.  Then came the trip to Dallas covered here in electrifying detail.  Films show us the start of his drive with the crowds lining the streets. 

Then we hear the shots and audio broadcast as the announcer realizes that something significant has happened.  We follow the story in the hospital room and then hear the announcement by an emotional Walter Cronkite that our president has died.  A movie shows the national and worldwide mourning and Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office. 

The “sniper’s perch” has been re-created in the corner room on the sixth floor of this building, then called the Texas School Book Depository.   The suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a clerk at the Depository.   We can see the wooden book boxes that he allegedly used as a rest for his rifle as he delivered the three shots that killed Kennedy and wounded Texas Governor John Connally.  From this room we could view the path of the motorcade when Kennedy was hit.    

Time is taken to thoroughly investigate the killing: weapons and various camera shots are shown and arguments are given as to whether there was a conspiracy or only a single shooter.  The first report says a single, another says a second shooter.  A final movie has Walter Cronkite as the narrator talking about Kennedy’s legacy and the tributes to him from around the world

On the seventh floor a display on Jack Ruby gives his background as a local nightclub operator and some guesses as to the reasons he shot Oswald.  A film, Jack Ruby: The Man in That Hat, shows a hat in slow motion, less than 48 hours after the assassination, moving toward Oswald, and then we hear the shots and see the action as Ruby is subdued.  This display is called a collections spotlight; museum personnel plan to take materials from their archives for special exhibits of which this is the first.

 A historical marker, a red X on Houston Street, indicates the spot where Kennedy was hit.  Some people stand on the spot to have their pictures taken (but given the moving traffic this is not recommended).  However, the crowds indicate that with modern technology this museum is excelling in reminding us dramatically of an important moment in history.  

SixthFloor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas