Travel: Historical dates loom large in Dallas – Lifestyle – The Repository
Lee Harvey Oswald shot from this building, the former Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas, at President Kennedy. [Steve Stephens]▲
George W. Bush tells his own stories in many videos in his Presidential Museum in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is located on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
The old Dallas County Courthouse is now the Old Red Museum, a city museum adjacent to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
Visitors view micrographs embedded in portraits of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
Dealey Plaza, where JFK was murdered, from the window directly above that used by Lee Harvey Oswald, Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
The Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza are part of the historic West End neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
An exhibit at the Bush Museum examines the 9/11 attack and its aftermath in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
Many of the exhibits at the Bush Museum focus on former first lady Laura Bush, Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
Exhibits in the Bush Presidential Library and Museum tell of the life and administration of the former president in Dallas, Texas. [Steve Stephens]▲
DALLAS – Two memorably tragic dates in American history – November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001 – top the list at two of the President’s historic sites in Dallas.
Every year, thousands of visitors make their way to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza to see the site from which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated nearly 55 years ago.
And for more presidential history, Dallas visitors can stop at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which in part examines another turning point in American history: the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Dealey Plaza will likely look familiar to most Americans, even those making their first visit to Dallas. The location of Kennedy’s assassination, featured in countless photos and films from that fateful day nearly 55 years ago, is remarkably unchanged.
Dealey Plaza is a public park established in 1940 near the place where the city was founded. Today the square is usually full of visitors and vendors selling memorabilia and literature. The vendors are also responsible for placing two “X” s on Elm Street to mark the spots where Kennedy, who was riding in his presidential limo, was hit by bullets.
I often “saw” the assassination in documentaries and pop culture replicas. But standing in the actual spot was enlightening and even haunting, despite the street vendors and tourist crowds. The space, which I always imagined as a small, almost claustrophobic space, is larger and more open than I had imagined.
I was able to stand where Abraham Zapruder made his famous 26-second home film, which would be so important to the investigation that follows, and where some investigators believe a second assassin was hidden.
The former Texas School Book Depository doesn’t physically dominate the place as much as I imagined. Instead, the building Lee Harvey Oswald fired his shots from is just a pretty nondescript building, many of which line the streets. Today it is home to the Sixth Floor Museum, which deals with Kennedy’s life and mysticism, and most importantly, his death and its aftermath.
Admission includes a must-have audio guide posted at the museum’s various stops. The sound uses many historical broadcasts and the voices of reporters, police officers and witnesses who were on the scene in Dallas. It is told by the reporter Pierce Allman, the first reporter to broadcast from the book depot after the attack.
Exhibits examine Kennedy’s life and political achievements, as well as the mood in America. The focus of the museum, however, is a detailed and sometimes intensive retelling of the events before, during and immediately after the attack.
Visitors will hear many of the day’s reports and see many real and replica objects linked to the assassination, including Oswald’s rifle, Zapruder’s camera, and a large-scale model of the area created for the FBI investigation.
You’ll also see the “sniper bass” – the place where Oswald, hidden behind boxes of books, fired from a window on the sixth floor.
While the museum offers a sober and sobering look at Kennedy and the assassination attempt, it doesn’t shy away from addressing some of the conspiracy theories that hold on to the event.
Several exhibits deal with investigations into the assassination, including one by the Warren Commission, which found Oswald was a lone gunman, and one by the Select Committee on Assassinations of the US House of Representatives, which concluded that at least one other rifleman located in the “grassy hill” was likely involved.
About two blocks from Dealey Plaza, visitors will find the JFK Memorial, a stark white open cube designed by a friend of the Kennedy family, the architect Philip Johnson. Next to the plaza is the Old Red Museum, a local history museum in Dallas in the former Dallas County Courthouse, a magnificent Romanesque-style building by Richardson that was completed in 1892.
The Bush Museum is located on the Southern Methodist University campus, about ten kilometers from Dealey Plaza. Like other contemporary presidential libraries, the Bush Museum has extensive (and mostly flattering) exhibits on the life, family, and administration of the former president.
One of the most interesting presentations is the interactive Decision Points Theater, which examines some of Bush’s key decisions, such as his responses to Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial crisis. Attendees receive video briefings from competing advisors and then have to choose a course of action . Bush then appears on a video screen to explain his actual policies.
One focus of the museum is of course the terrorist attacks of September 11th, a day that changed not only the course of the Bush administration, but all of America and the world. Large girders from the fallen World Trade Center towers are displayed in a room with walls engraved with the names of those who died in the attack. Screens around the room show video images of the immediate aftermath of the attacks, including the fall of the towers.
The “Responding September 11th” and “Defending Freedom” galleries look at the subsequent invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq and examine some of the other responses, such as the passage of the USA Patriot Act and other such issues relevant to political Debate in the US continues to be central.
– Steve Stephens can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SteveStephens.