Cross-Country Trip V, Day 6: Texas ~ JFK assassination site

Texas Book Depository and Dealey Plaza as seen from overpassEver since junior high, when I learned about the JFK assassination in social studies class with Mr. Mazzoni, I’ve been wanting to visit Dealey Plaza and the Texas Book Depository. Today I finally had the opportunity.

The former Texas Book Depository is now a county building used for other purposes, but the 6th and 7th floors house the “Sixth Floor Museum“, dedicated to the Kennedy assassination.

Visitors enter through an add-on to the building, purchase tickets, receive audio tour equipment, then take the elevator up to the 6th floor.

Texas Book DepositoryI wasn’t that impressed with the museum design. The audio tour goes too fast for the exhibits. The layout is confusing, so it’s not intuitive to know what direction the tour will go next, even when the audio tour is giving directions.

The information was really good, though. It starts with some information about the John and Jackie Kennedy, the campaign, and the administration. Then it goes into the details of what happened at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. There is a lot of detail, and there are quite a few opportunities to pause to watch videos.

The best aspects of the display are 3D. The corner of the 6th floor is set up as a reproduction of what the “snipers nest” might have looked like, where the assassin sat, aimed his weapon, and shot at the president. It is a helpful way to see what angle the gun might have been pointed, compared with the streets below.

Also very interesting was a scale model of the neighborhood that the FBI put together during the investigation. It included several models of cars, and strings from the 6th floor window down to those cars, to indicate what the bullets’ paths might have been.

The really good thing about the exhibit is that it didn’t dodge the controversy. (Contrast to Graceland, which barely discussed Elvis’ death, much less the conspiracy theories.) There were a number of panels and audio tour discussions about the problems with the investigation, the various commissions, and the different conspiracy theories regarding the assassin(s).

One thing is clear: It was a very sloppy investigation. It’s no wonder that the public has been wondering about the truth of the details ever since 1963 – the public record kept changing from Day One. It doesn’t help that the alleged “sole gunman” was killed just days afterward.

On the 7th floor was a spacious exhibit space, but a tiny exhibit in the corner. Apparently this is a rotating exhibit, and the current subject was Jack Ruby, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. It was somewhat interesting. We were actually glad it wasn’t a whole lot of information, because we were pretty tapped out from all the info that we’d learned on the 6th floor.

The 7th floor does offer an opportunity to see the street from the corner of the building in which the sniper would have sat (which is not an option on the 6th floor, as the sniper’s nest reproduction there is behind glass walls). It made it easier to try to picture what might have occurred.

View from the Grassy KnollAfter we were done with the inside tour, we signed up for the outdoor cell phone tour (for $2.50). This is a great way to walk around Dealey Plaza and learn additional details about specific sites in and around the plaza. (There are also random self-appointed docents standing around the plaza just waiting to be helpful… not sure how much they would want as a gratuity.) It was awfully hot, though, so we tried to stick to the shade as much as possible, or sit in one place for a few “stops” instead of walking around. it was totally worth doing, though.

JFK MemorialThe walking tour included the JFK memorial built a couple of blocks away, a giant hollow concrete cube. Very 60s modernist.

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