I was 3 months old when the assassination of President John F. Kennedy took place Nov. 22, 1963. While I was nestled within the safety of my home during the shooting and aftermath, I could not say the same for this country's citizens as they experienced tremendous grief, confusion and disbelief.
In the years that have passed I have read history books and watched documentaries and movies about the assassination, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience when I traveled to Dallas earlier this month.
While planning our trip, I knew one of the stops would be Dealey Plaza, the location of the assassination, and the Sixth Floor Museum, the former Texas School Book Depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald reportedly shot the president.
Despite the rain, we encountered groups of people walking around Dealey Plaza before the museum opened. Usually the museum opens at 10 a.m., but on Mondays it is noon. I, my husband, Dave, and Dave's cousin walked around in the rain, and his cousin pointed out items of interest as I snapped photos.
One of these items of interest proved to be a little much for me as Dave's cousin pointed into Elm Street. I looked in that direction but didn't see anything at first. He told me to look at the street itself, and I saw a big white “X” painted in the center of three lanes. He said, “That was the kill shot.”
I stood in disbelief while staring at the “X.” I never imagined an “X” would literally mark the spot where the president was fatally shot. I hadn't felt this way since visiting the 9/11 Memorial a couple of years ago. It's eerie, yet it's emotional at the same to know these people last drew their breath at these locations.
His cousin also pointed out the big white “X” located up the street and closer to the former site of the Texas School Book Depository, which is now the Dallas County Administration Building. He said, “That was the first shot.”
Now I'm not getting into any debates about how many shots were fired or how many shooters there were or where they were, but clearly the first “X” was much closer to the former depository, and I thought to myself that someone could very easily have shot the president from that location.
His cousin also pointed out the grassy knoll where many believe the kill shot was fired, and was surprised at how small an area it really is. I also saw faded rain-washed chalk sayings on the sidewalks along the knoll, and was able to make out one that said, “50 years fed lies.”
By the time we were done outside, it was a little after noon, and we decided to obtain our timed tickets to the Sixth Floor Museum.
The lines were extremely long outside and inside the building. We inadvertently stood in the outside line, which really was for people who already had tickets and were awaiting entry into the museum. The line inside was to purchase tickets.
The wait was long, and by the time we purchased our tickets, our timed entry was 1:30 p.m. An employee there explained 125 people are admitted every half-hour, and the line showed no signs of relenting. I figured the timed tickets would go quickly on that day.
I also asked this employee if it was always busy on Mondays or if it was because of the time of year. She said it was a combination of the two. Because the museum opens later on Mondays, timed entries fill rather quickly, and the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death certainly has brought more people to Dallas.
While we waited for our entry time, we perused the books in the store, which also sold a variety of souvenirs and memorabilia: Kennedy thimbles, keychains, magnets, ornaments and spoons. I found quite interesting the reprinted souvenir newspapers that flashed the headlines from the day of the assassination. Another museum store across the street also sold a lot of the same souvenirs as well as pop culture items.
When our time had come to enter the museum, we each received an audio headset and headed up the elevator to the sixth floor. With the guided audiotape tour, we walked to each display that focused on Kennedy, the assassination and afterward: the 1960 election; the political atmosphere in Dallas in 1963; the 1964 election, his death; Lee Harvey Oswald; the Warren Commission; the conspiracy theories; and Kennedy's legacy.
There were a few places to sit and watch films, and I must admit I cried while watching the president's funeral. I have seen the salute by John-John, John F. Kennedy Jr.'s nickname, a dozen times, but I had never watched the funeral itself. The somber tone of the film's music paralleled the scenes of grieving people who lined the streets as the carriage rode by, and it gave me a sense of the sadness that gripped this country.
Other films included news footage of the assassination, Kennedy's quest to travel to the moon, Oswald's assassination, conspiracy theories and other newsworthy stories relating to Kennedy.
By the famed end window, Plexiglas separated visitors from the scene exactly as it was found Nov. 22, 1963, which included cardboard boxes and a replica of the rifle. The rifle – or maybe even another replica – was nearby in another case.
Another Plexiglas display in that vicinity showed an impressive re-creation of Dealey Plaza. In another was the suit worn by Jim Leavelle, the detective handcuffed to Oswald when he was shot to death by Jack Ruby.
I was surprised by the number of displays, photos, film footage and artifacts that filled the museum's one floor. The museum's website said it features 40,000 items, and I believe it. It's impossible to remember everything featured.
I found the visit to Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum fascinating and emotional all at the same time. I experienced far more than I ever anticipated and caught a glimpse of what others had in 1963, even if it was 50 years later.