Of course we had to stop at the JFK Museum at the old Texas Book Depository and walk through Dealey Plaza & up over the Grassy Knoll. I didn’t even find it odd the Dallas had never been there before despite living in the area her whole life, I mean I’ve never even been to the Statue of Liberty myself.
The museum itself was nothing more than a maze of billboards of photos and quotes outlining John F Kennedy’s rise to the presidency, snippets of speeches, and framed photographs of him handling the Cuban Missile crisis, being at the White House with his family, and just generally being the handsome young vibrant president that I learned about in school.
The years progressed through the displays until finally it centered around the trip to Dallas. The photos of him landing at Love Field were neatly placed underneath a quote by Nellie Connally, wife of the Texas Governor, “You can’t say the people of Dallas don’t love you!”. Dallas and I read that and she tightly gripped my arm.
Well apparently one of them didn’t. Or a few of them. Or whatever. I really don’t want to go drifting into the netherworld of conspiracies and who did what to whom or how or why. I drifted away from Dallas as she looked at the frame by frame display of the Zapruder film. I found myself being drawn closer to the corner of the builder. Against the very edge of the building, behind a large plexiglass floor to ceiling divider, were stacks of boxes, the same kind of boxes, and in the same arrangement as they were that day.
This is where they say he shot from.
The mood of the museum changed for me after seeing that. It became a bit less whimsical and a tad more somber. Minutes earlier Dallas and I joked around on the elevator upstairs and she jokingly mocked me for not wearing my headphones which would guide me through the exhibits, but now all we talked about was that day. Our moods had grown less whimsical and more somber as well. I gazed out the window, down to the streets below, a similar view that the assassin had that day. Glancing at the photos on the walls I noticed how little had changed, although being a thoroughfare, there really wasn’t much to change.
I realized Dallas had moved on, and I found her in an area of exhibits profiling the aftermath. A small TV in the column played Walter Cronkite breaking the news over and over. I thought about how difficult it must have been to get the words “We are being told now, the president is dead.” out to the rest of the nation. We silently moved past photos of the world at morning. I paused at a the photo of John Jr saluting his father’s coffin and remember my father once telling me that image always moved him. The power of photography.
The photos of sadness were replaced with ones of anger as we moved on to another display, this one of Oswald under arrest, being questioned and finally being killed himself. Dallas broke the silence, which I didn’t even realize we had held since looking out the windows by telling me the detective there was once her landlord, but couldn’t remember his name. (hey, was it Leavelle?) We moved from there into displays of the Warren commission and the hearings that followed.
A short time later we were down on the street, entering Dealey Plaza itself. As we walked along, we noticed someone had painted “x”s in the street, making the two places where bullets struck President Kennedy. Dallas I were shocked yet amused that someone would need to be so macabre as to pinpoint these exact spots. It seemed every tourist there wanted to take their photo on these “x”s, dodging into the street as soon as there was a break in traffic.
We continued up, along to the Grassy Knoll, which has been taken over by a steady troop of conspiracy theorists. Unimpressed, we walked back down to the street and back towards the book depository / parking lot. I saw a break in traffic, stepped out into the street to the “X” that was painted there, raised my camera and took a shot.
For a moment, time seemed to stop around me. I looked down and noticed my foot was on the “x”.
This was the spot.
This is where it happened.
This is where the bullet pieced his brain.
This is where the President was killed.
This is where a man, a husband, a father, lost his life.
This is where that handsome, young, vibrant hope for the future took his last breath.
The traffic resumed and I scurried to the curb, yet a bit of chill was still inside me. Dallas took my hand, not even sensing that was exactly what I needed at that moment and suggested we walk around a bit “to look for these cows.” I agreed, mostly wanting more than anything to shake the chill from my bones, and the oppressive heat of the Texas sun soon did the trick. Soon we were laughing again. The chill was gone. That moment 45 years ago slipped quietly back into the past.