November 22, 1963, is a day Dallas can't live down and the world can't forget. A sniper assassinated the nation's 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in Dallas as his motorcade traveled west on Elm Street. Whether or not there was a single shooter or more camped out on the grassy knoll below, and whether or not the Cubans or the Russians or the CIA were involved, the Warren Commission concluded that 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle at least three times from a window perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, killing JFK and critically injuring the Texas governor, John Connally. (Oswald had days earlier secured a menial job at the School Book offices.)
The redbrick building overlooks Dealey Plaza, an otherwise unremarkable spot that is ingrained in the memory of most Americans and people across the globe. The museum, the top draw in North Texas, preserves the spot where Oswald crouched and fired his rifle (now encased in Plexiglas), but it also examines the life, times, and legacy of the Kennedy presidency. The exhibit provides a moment-by-moment account of the day of the assassination and a day-by-day recollection of that harrowing November week. The display, which includes documentary film footage and more than 400 photos, summons the "Camelot" White House before getting to the event that put Dallas on the quivering lips of people across the globe. On view are images from the famous Zapruder film, whose frames have been isolated and examined more than any footage in history. However, there is no original evidence on display; everything examined by the Warren Commission forms part of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The JFK assassination has been so hashed over and occupies such a place in pop culture that few visitors are likely to discover much in the way of new information. It is, however, a place to revisit the tragic episode, as children's drawings from the period and visitor remarks inscribed in "Memory Books" at the museum's exit attest. Unless the information here is new to you or you want to relive the episode in great detail, spending no more than a couple of hours here should be plenty.
Dealey Plaza, which draws two million curious visitors annually, remains a stark public square at the junction of a triple underpass, virtually unchanged from 4 decades ago. A red X marks the spot on the asphalt of Elm Street where Kennedy was struck; incredibly, many visitors to Dallas feel compelled to dodge traffic and have their pictures taken while standing on the X as cars hurtle by. Unless you really want to follow in the footsteps of JFK, however, I strongly advise against such reckless participation in our nation's history.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Highly Recommended 2010