Tuesday, March 22: This morning, Martha and I head to downtown Dallas to visit The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, housed in the former Texas School Book Depository Building. Following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Friday, November 22, 1963, this building became the primary crime scene for the shooting after evidence of a sniper, later determined to be Depository employee Lee Harvey Oswald, was found on the sixth floor (History of the Texas School Book Depository Building).
We’re not allowed to take pictures inside the museum except on the 7th floor; from the window directly above where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly fired at the president, we have an excellent view of the assassination route on that tragic day. For some reason, I’m surprised by the route and the lay of the land, which I remember seeing on TV so many times over the years from varying angles. I never pictured the site looking like it does.
The excellent museum presents the social and political landscape of the early 1960s, chronicles President Kennedy’s assassination and its aftermath, offers up numerous conspiracy theories, and reflects the president’s lasting impact on our country and world (Visit Dallas: Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza). It’s a very moving exhibit and brings back a lot of memories for those of us who were alive at that sad time.
As for me, I was 8 years old and in 2nd grade at Reservoir Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia. I remember getting dismissed from school early and coming home to find my mother sobbing in front of the black & white television, mesmerized by the news coverage. I was too young to understand the details, but I knew with certainty this was a tragic and sad event in our history. I even remember crying with my mother. Much later, when we experienced the September 11, 2001 catastrophe from the relative safety of our living rooms, it was much the same déjà vu experience as on that November day in 1963, except that the events of 2001 were in color rather than black & white.
Across from the park is the Old Dallas County Criminal Courts Building, which in 1963 housed on its upper floors the Dallas County Jail. Alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was being taken to this jail from the Dallas City Jail, on the 5th floor of the old Municipal Building on Harwood Street, when he was shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby on Sunday, November 24, 1963. This murder, which occurred in the old Municipal Building’s basement, was captured on live television.
According to Steven R. Butler, a Dallas historian, Jack Ruby was incarcerated in the Dallas County Jail and his trial took place here in 1964. Found guilty and sentenced to death, Ruby died of natural causes while his verdict was on appeal in 1967. Ruby died at Parkland Hospital, where both JFK and Oswald died (A Guide to the History of Dallas Texas).
From the Historic Park, we can see the famous grassy knoll, a small, sloping hill inside the plaza that became well-known following the president’s assassination. The knoll was above Kennedy and to his right (west and north) as his motorcade drove by. You can see it below, with the bunch of trees to the left and the pergola to the right.
According to Wikipedia: Dealey Plaza: The words “grassy knoll” to describe this area were first used by UPI reporter Albert Merriman Smith, in his second dispatch from the radio-telephone in the press car: “Some of the Secret Service agents thought the gunfire was from an automatic weapon fired to the right rear of the president’s car, probably from a grassy knoll to which police rushed.” These words were then repeated on national television by Walter Cronkite in his second CBS News bulletin.
According to Wikipedia: Dealey Plaza, of the 104 Dealey Plaza ear-witness reports published by the Warren Commission and elsewhere:
- 56 recorded testimony that they remembered hearing at least one shot fired from the direction of the Depository or from near its Houston and Elm Streets intersection that was to the rear of the President
- 35 witnesses recorded testimony of at least one shot fired from the direction of the grassy knoll or the triple underpass located to the right and front of the President
- 8 witnesses gave statements of shots fired from elsewhere
- 5 ear-witnesses testified that the shots were fired from two different directions.
Conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination suggest that many people or organizations could have been involved in the assassination, with possible players ranging from President Fidel Castro of Cuba to sitting VP Lyndon Johnson to the CIA to the Mafia to the KGB. There are claims that the U.S. Government covered up vital information in the aftermath. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Americans believe there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. For more on this, see Wikipedia: John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
Because of persistent debate, unanswered questions, and conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination and the possible related role of the grassy knoll, the term “grassy knoll” has come to also be a modern slang expression indicating suspicion, conspiracy, or a cover-up (Wikipedia: Dealey Plaza).
The wooden stockade fence at the top of the Grassy Knoll has been rebuilt several times since 1963 and is a reproduction of the original fence.
Martha and I walk up to the grassy knoll to see the view. The “X” on the road marks the spot where Kennedy was shot the second time.
We walk behind the wooden fence and check out the view from behind it. It seems like it would have been an easy enough place to hide and shoot a gun. Not that I’m experienced in that sort of thing, mind you!
We walk on the bridge crossing the triple underpass and get a view of Elm Street, where Kennedy was shot, on the left and the Dallas County Criminal Courts Building straight ahead. To the right is the Old Courthouse.
During my visit to this part of the country, I end up experiencing several monuments to tragic events in American history, from the 9/11 exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum to the exhibit of JFK’s assassination at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which we’ll visit later this week.
After leaving downtown, we head to one of Martha’s favorite lunch spots in the Trinity Design District: The Meddlesome Moth.
At this classy restaurant, we both enjoy delicious Jumbo Lump Crab salads with celery root, arugula and meyer lemon.
After lunch, we visit Martha’s mom in her nursing home. It’s nice to see her as I’ve known her for a long time; she was a part of my childhood since 1967, when Martha and I became friends.
Later in the evening, we relax with some wine in Martha’s backyard spa and then she prepares a delicious chicken and walnut stir-fry for dinner.
Tomorrow, we’ll drive about 3 hours to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where we’ll meet up with our other friends and have dinner with our friend Rosie and her husband-to-be, Jim. Let the wedding festivities begin! 🙂