The next day my youngest daughter was feeling under the weather so we left her in the room at the hotel while we headed to the Sixth Floor Museum, which is commonly known as Texas School Book Depository. It was the place where the rat-brained mutant Lee Harvey Oswald put an end to the New Frontier and the Hope of the 1960s. When our cab pulled up to the entrance at Daley Plaza, we were mobbed by street vendors hawking photos for three dollars a pop. They street venders also offer guided tours covering the grassy knoll and the spot where Abraham Zapruder was filming the Day the Music Died.
Although I had never been in Dallas before, I recognized Daley Plaza from all the photos, news clips and videos I’ve seen over the years. It doesn’t really matter where any of us were when the shots were fired: the site is burned into all of our memories like a bad acid trip. There is no escaping it: we were all on the Grassy Knoll that day in November when the three shots rang out and President Kennedy was killed.
After we paid our admission and we took the elevator to the sixth floor, I suddenly wondered what in the hell I was doing? What had I gotten myself into? I was only seven months old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and I grew up hearing about it all my life. My mother’s eyes would well up with tears, and she’d tell the same story as if that instant were frozen in time: “Your father came home, he looked at me, and he couldn’t speak.” Because of this, my mother refused to travel to Dallas as if the city itself were somehow to blame or cursed by the event.
Despite being the scene of the most well-known hits in American history, the museum is well constructed. It has a self-guided audio tour that does a good job evoking the events of November 22nd, but it also recalls the presidential campaign of 1960s, the first televised debates when a handsome JFK took on a dog-faced Richard Nixon, and charisma and the hope that the country was ushering in a new era. It certainly looked like a time for new ideas. Kennedy was a young president with a sense of humor; there were children playing in the White House, and young people believed that what they were doing was right, and that the vitality of a new generation would prevail.
The tour through the museum wraps around the sixth floor showing pictures, short videos, audio-recorded personal accounts, and visitors end up in the corner of the building where the sniper’s nest has been reconstructed. It was something I didn’t want to see. At that point, everything was kind of a blur to me, like the fleeting images caught in an eight millimeter movie camera: Air Force One landing at Love Field, the welcome, the motorcade, Jackie’s hat and dress, Governor and Mrs. Connally riding with the President and the First Lady in an open-air limousine, the President waving at the crowd along the streets, the three shots that echoed through downtown, the race to the hospital, the panic-stricken, tear-filled faces of the onlookers, the prayers, dashed dreams and shock. Then, there was Walter Kronkite, America’s voice of reason, somber, breaking up, removing his glasses, and informing the nation that the President was dead.
Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy: http://jimmygabacho.com/?p=623