I was born and raised in Dallas, but up until just recently I had never been to the Sixth Floor Museum, which tells the story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I knew a lot about JFK’s assassination, having written an essay on it back in elementary school. Whenever we went downtown, we would point out the stretch of road JFK was driving on when he was shot. All that was a while ago, so about time for me to refresh my memory and learn more about what many people call Dallas’s darkest day.
The Sixth Floor Museum is located in the old Texas School Book Depository Building, where most people believe the shots were fired from. Luckily, we bought our tickets online in advance and avoided the long line to buy tickets. When buying online you have to choose a 30 minute arrival window. An audio tour is included in your admission price. I would recommend allocating 2-3 hours to see the exhibits.
After breezing past the line, we took the elevator to the sixth floor where unfortunately they don’t allow any pictures. The exhibit starts out by giving you some background on time period. There were a lot of issues facing the country – segregation, communism and Cuba, and the space race to name a few. I was inspired learning about JFK’s drive for service and starting of the Peace Corps.
Next, you learn about the plans for JFK’s trip to Texas. The day of November 22, 1963 he would first visit Fort Worth and then fly to Dallas Love Field (which I thought was odd because it is about 30 miles). Then the motorcade would go through downtown Dallas before heading to a luncheon at Market Hall. The route was well publicized and JFK insisted that they ride in an open top vehicle so he could better connect with the crowd.
Then the worst happened. JFK was shot twice and rushed to Parkland hospital nearby. He was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived. The photos at the museum were really interesting, but to me the most impactful piece was the place setting from the luncheon, that he never made it to.
Then you see the actual corner of the building where the shots were fired. There is a glass wall around the area, so that you can see it, but the crime scene remains preserved. Next to the corner area are other windows with computer screens showing the route that the motorcade took and where the shots hit. From the windows, you can see these two spots marked on the road with “X”es. I saw lots of people running into the middle of the street to take pictures by the “X”es, but I wouldn’t recommend this!
A large section of the exhibit is dedicated to aftermath and the investigation. They arrested Lee Harvey Oswald but not before he shot and killed a Dallas Police Officer, J.D Tippit. Then on November 24th he was shot by Jack Ruby at the Police Headquarters. There is an iconic photo of Lee Harvey Oswald right before this happened. The suit worn be the police officer escorting Oswald is on display at the museum.
There have been a lot of theories about what actually happened – were there also shots from another location (the grassy knoll) and was this part of a larger conspiracy? There were five different formal investigations; the Warren Commission being the most famous. The museum does a good job of providing information to let you form your own opinion.
There is a lot of information that does point to Lee Harvey Oswald. The most convincing being the forensic evidence around the gun – photographs of Oswald holding the rifle, a palmprint found on the rifle, and evidence that Oswald purchased the rifle.
Then there are the questions….
One of the most interesting points was the pristine bullet, which is one bullet that hit both JFK and John Connelly, the Texas Governor, who was riding in the car with him. Could the bullet really have gone through 15 layers of clothing, 7 layers of skin, and approximately 15 inches of tissue, struck a necktie knot, removed 4 inches of rib, and shattered a radius bone? There were also witnesses that claimed they heard gunshots from other directions. It really is hard to believe that someone so inconsequential could kill someone as consequential as John F. Kennedy.
After you go through the exhibits on the sixth floor, go up the stairs to the seventh floor. There are temporary exhibits to see, but the highlight was being able to go to the corner (one floor above) where the shot was fired and get a picture!
There is also the JFK memorial, a few blocks away. It is a very simple memorial, so I was a little disappointed. The walls are high but plain and inside is a black square with the President’s name. It is supposed to be a place for contemplation, so I would have liked to see some quotes or artistic details.
I really enjoyed seeing the artifacts and photographs at the Sixth Floor Museum. I feel like I definitely learned more about the time period, the assassination, and the investigation. The museum is very popular, so there were a lot of people and you had to be patient to see some things. Also, in some cases it was a little confusing to figure out the next panel and determine if there was a corresponding audio guide segment. But overall, I thought the museum did a great job presenting the story and giving visitors food for thought.
So what do you think happened? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone or was there a conspiracy?
- Buy your tickets online to avoid the line.
- Go to the seventh floor to get your pictures from the corner window.