Road Trip: Day Nineteen

Today was going to be a special day. Today we were going to drive into Dallas, to The Grassy Knoll, and to the Texas School Book Depository. To the very spot where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. As we made our way into the downtown area, we quickly found a place to park. I had a weird feeling as we pulled into the lot and I turned to Brian and said, “I think we’re parking behind the Grassy Knoll!” We were. Maybe 40 ft. away from the picket fence, to be exact. It was rather eerie. We parked, and headed off to the museum.

We did a cursory walk-through of the Grassy Knoll area, knowing we would come back later for more complete photo documentation. As we got to the Book Depository, there was a plaque on the wall outside the door. It described the events of that day, and I noticed that people had outlined the word “allegedly” when Oswald’s name was mentioned as the shooter. The events of that day are surrounded in controversy and conspiracy. Ask anyone what they think happened that day and you’re bound to get a few different responses.

As we made our way inside, there were signs stating that no photography was allowed. I can respect this request, and dutifully lugged my closed 28 lb. camera bag around for the next 2 or so hours. Once inside and ticket purchased, you are given a small audio player device and some headphones to listen to the self-guided tour. There is an elevator with 3 buttons on it. First floor, 6th floor, 7th floor. Up we went to the 6th floor and the museum.

Amazing. That’s really the only way I can describe this place. The only thing “new” about it is the carpet and the museum displays. All the wood beams and wood plank ceiling are all intact. I saw some graffiti on the beams written by former warehouse employees, and when I asked a museum employee about it, he said it was “original” to the building and not added later for “effect.” There were many photos and a few short films describing the events of the day as it unfolded. When you made your over to the “sniper’s nest” you were stopped short by a Plexiglas “box” that surrounded the corner where the shooter was stationed. Reproduction cardboard boxes were in the exact position as they were that day in 1963. You could walk around this glass “box” and see pretty much everything, including the open window where the shooter was sitting. The window was in fact, open, but a piece of Plexiglas was in place to protect the room from the elements. I was later told that the box used to help support the shooter’s rifle now conceals a live webcam which is pointed down into Dealey Plaza so you can see perhaps what the shooter saw. I felt pretty emotional as I looked out the window, down onto the street where Kennedy was shot. Unlike some other places I’ve visited (Oklahoma City Memorial), this particular piece of history is still intact. There isn’t a new construction in its place. Everything is still there, pretty much as it was on that day, November 22, 1963.

After finishing the 6th floor museum tour, we made our way up to the 7th floor. Here we found some artwork and paintings that some artists have submitted into this makeshift “gallery.” Also on this floor was the original “TEXAS SCHOOL BOOK DEPOSITORY” sign. Not much else to see, so we left and hit the gift shop.

The 7th floor of the museum.

The 7th floor of the museum.

After the gift shop we set out in search for the JFK memorial, just 2 blocks away. A large white, “Lego” brick is how I liken it. But it was more than that. Basically an open “box,” inside was a large square on the floor with the name John Fitzgerald Kennedy on the side. It was somewhat quieter in this “open box” memorial. Peaceful.

On the way back to the car, I took some time to take photos of the Grassy Knoll and the Book Depository. They actually have a white “X” marked on the roadway to indicate the exact spot…where Kennedy was killed. Just off to the side of the road is a plaque to commemorate this fact. As I stood on the X, I looked back at the Book Depository 6th floor window. And took a photo. I turned to face the fence behind the Grassy Knoll. And took a photo. Traffic was bearing down on me, so I got out of the middle of the road and made my way up the stairs of the Grassy Knoll.

I stood in the same general spot that Abraham Zapruder stood with his home movie camera, as he filmed the assassination as it actually happened. I took out my iPhone and tried to simulate that event with one of my camera apps. Trying to imagine what Zapruder was feeling at that very moment. Just behind me was the wooden picket fence. I walked back there and took a closer look. It was covered in graffiti, mostly pen and markers, no spray paint. I raised my camera to my eye and could clearly see the white “X” on the road below me. Was there a second shooter from the Grassy Knoll?

The story has it that Oswald “went to see a movie” after allegedly shooting the President. Seems like an odd thing to do, but that’s where police found him and subsequently arrested him. The Texas Theater. Does this theater still exist? We went out to find it. And…we found it. If you weren’t up on your history, you might mistake this for some old “historic” theater and just walk right past it. It is still open and showing films, but was closed when we arrived. I heard that Oswald’s chair was pulled out and on display inside the lobby. I took a few more photos outside and then walked up to the box office where I found a historic plaque.

I would say this has definitely been a highlight of this road trip. So much history and conversation about this location, and it’s all still here for anyone to view and ponder. An important event that changed the world. And the way we view it today.I could have spent a few more days in Dallas, trying to follow the footsteps of Oswald on that fateful day, but we had spent way too much time there as it was, and had to get back on the road.

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Thom BriggsComment