DALLAS — Everyone’s heard this story. It’s just after 12:30 p.m., Nov. 22, 1963. Mrs. Nellie Connally, the First Lady of Texas, turns to President Kennedy. “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you,” she says.
Then three shots ring out.
One strikes Kennedy in the upper back and sails through Gov. John Connally. Another hits Kennedy in the head, striking him dead. Then the manhunt begins.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, located in what was the Texas School Book Depository, recreates that day — a day that has been fodder for films, TV, comic books and other media from “JFK” to “Red Dwarf” — with audioguides, props, documentary films and preserved scenes.
Visitors trail through a maze of people who stand at displays and listen to faux iPhones. Pierce Allman, the first newsman to report live on the scene, narrates each exhibit with a grim, almost detached steadiness, until he casually mentions meeting a young man as he rushed into the Book Depository, with Allman desperately asking where the phone was so he could deliver his report. The young man jerked his thumb in a particular direction and said, “In there,” before disappearing, and Allman only recognized the man when he saw him on the news some time later. It was Lee Harvey Oswald.
The exhibits detail the Kennedys’ trip to Texas, including a stopover in Fort Worth, with newspaper clippings and wall-sized photos of adoring crowds. Allman sometimes picks out particular figures. “That kid in the Boy Scout uniform would go on to…” “That man in the lower left would later say…” Cue grainy interview clip.
Visitors are led through a tunnel of photographs detailing the parade, enlarged to inhuman size until finally they reach the “Zapruder film” frames — 312, 313, 314. The car speeds off on its way to Parkland Hospital, and visitors are left with nothing but the evidence of the shooting and Kennedy’s legacy.
The window — purported by witnesses to be Lee Harvey Oswald’s sniper nest — sits behind a wall of glass with boxes carefully arranged as they were on Nov. 22. A Carcano M91/38, the same model of rifle found discarded on the sixth floor just after the shooting, is propped up near the exit stairwell behind another wall of glass. Oswald’s wedding ring and an original Associated Press machine, along with a printed report of the shooting, are on display for visitors to mull over, while two films about JFK’s funeral and eventual legacy are on view in small theaters throughout the maze.
Conspiracy theories also get their fair shake. Was there a second shooter? Did the mafia pay Cuban sharpshooters to triangulate the shot? Was it aliens? A giant diagram near the end of the floor maze shows every possible conspiracy — including one lone entry that says simply, “Lone shooter: Lee Harvey Oswald.”
The museum includes a gift shop with $5 reprints of the Dallas Morning News of Nov. 26, 1963, proclaiming, “35TH PRESIDENT FINDS HIS PEACE ON SLOPE IN ARLINGTON CEMETERY.” Jackie Kennedy paper dolls, gold chocolate-filled coins with JFK’s face and at least three different types of coffee mug are for sale, including various books and magnets.
It’s hard to understate how important Nov. 22, 1963, was to the United States. The Civil Rights Act, the largest civil rights bill yet passed, was swept through Congress thanks to JFK’s successor and Texan, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins landed on the Moon seven years after Kennedy said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Kennedy’s 1960 opponent, Richard Nixon, resigned his office just ten years later in disgrace thanks to a break-in at the Watergate.
That one moment in history is so widely important that visiting the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is like hearing a pop song on the radio and thinking, “Haven’t I heard this song before?” — or revisiting a childhood classroom that only exists in that fuzzy part of the memory where the details are forgotten.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza acts as a recreation of that fateful day in Dallas, but it’s hard to tell how faithfully the recreation stands. After all, the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository has been heavily modified since 1963. Exhibits and television screens have been installed, complete with dark-lit mood lighting, all the boxes piled by the “Assassin’s Nest” window are just props and cars slither quietly by outside over the X where JFK was killed.
Still, it’s not bad for 16 bucks.
UP managing editor