My 8th grade English teacher first introduced us to the JFK Assassination and the various conspiracy theories that came with it. The effect of this lesson and mock courtroom trial and study to follow was an obsession that lasted years. I think we can all agree that us “History Nerds” go through phases. For me, it alternates between the American Civil War and World War II, and occasionally something else pops its head in for a while. Well, for more than ten years, that “something else” has been the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and of course, whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
I had seen the Zapruder Film clips over and over, and had poured through hundreds of pictures and documents over the years, so in a way, when I finally visited Dealey Plaza yesterday, I almost felt as if I had been there before. It was a strange feeling. For an area that really is not overly large, I briefly felt overcome with emotion, that choked up feeling someones gets when they are experiencing something special. Here I am. This is where it happened. All those years of studying, and there it is. Walking around the plaza, gazing up at the Texas School Book Depository, and yes, stalking the Grassy Knoll and trying to find where a perfect kill shot could come from if indeed there was a conspiracy.
Only one other time in my life did I have this feeling, this experience, and that too was in Texas, when I visited the Alamo in 2007 as a 15 year old. It was as if years of dreams and obsession finally reached some kind of culmination. Yesterday was that feeling. Why was I fighting back tears? There are many more historical moments more sadder and important to me than the JFK Assassination. But yet, there they were, ready to flow. I just kept on walking and they went away.
The two X’s they have painted on the street to mark the shots that hit and fatally wounded Kennedy really sunk home. I was able to run over real quick in between bursts of traffic to get a close-up. When I did this, flashes of the Zapruder film played in my head. This is where it was. I don’t know how anyone with a heart can’t stand there in the spot where the motorcade was at the time of the kill-shot, and look up at the sixth floor window or grassy knoll and not get chills. There’s something wrong with you if you don’t. It was then that all the conspiracy talk was thrust out of my mind. It was just the straight-up act and result. Shots fired, and a death. That was all.
The actual museum of the sixth and seventh floors wasn’t bad. It was well put-together, featuring audio narration and a headset for free with your ticket purchase. My one gripe was the no photographs rule, which especially applied to the window area where Oswald allegedly carried out the killing. They had it set up in such a way, with book crates all over, that unless you really know your stuff, you can’t get an idea of what the view was. Accurate or not, perhaps they should have left it empty, with a chance for people to take a peek through the window. Instead, you can go up to the seventh floor, directly above, and take pictures out that window, which is similar, though just not the same.
I can’t say I would wholeheartedly recommend the museum to everyone visiting Dallas. I estimate that the first 75% of the walk-through displays on the sixth floor are all JFK background information, and not directly related to the assassination. For the die-hard history lover, its fine, but I honestly feel like most people will be bored. The website recommends you buy tickets in advance, which we didn’t. I suggest you do if you ever visit, because we waited in line for about an hour and the line was out the door by the time we left. The walking area upstairs is a little narrower than what would be optimal, and most times you are crammed in like sardines when trying to read the displays or watch videos.
Surprisingly, there were a few boards devoted to conspiracy theories. One included the reopening of the case in the late 70’s when a government commission deemed it 95% possible that there was a second gunman. Another board goes through the individual theories themselves (CIA, Cubans, Russians, Mafia, etc). The museum does not officially have a stance on the conspiracy, which I understand, but at least they did give some space to the possibility.
The one thing I hated about Dealey Plaza was the amount of people selling books and trying to get money out of you for souvenirs. These are separate from the gift shop. They literally just show up with a table and start hawking their books. Some appear like decent projects and guys I’d like to have a coffee with, but others are wacky. As I walked up the stairs near the grassy knoll area, I heard a guy with a microphone going off on conspiracies, and thought to myself, “How odd that the tour guide is talking about it like that.” Sure enough, it was just some guy trying to sell his book, and talking to anyone as they walked by. I was told that the main conspiracy guy who frequents the plaza is not in town at this time.
Overall, it was a good experience. I went there again today early in the morning to beat the crowds, and its definitely so much better when you can just stand there and try to put yourself back in 1963.
P.S: Do I need to write a separate article on the people who choose to take selfies as well as act stupid and fool around while standing on the X where Kennedy was killed? First of all, its in the middle of the street, so you could very well end up being the second person killed in that spot if you’re not careful. Secondly, its just a disrespectful and dumb thing to do, and I’ll leave it at that.