After arriving in Dallas yesterday afternoon, our group took a trip downtown to visit the Sixth Floor Museum. The sixth floor, that is, of the Texas Schoolbook Depository. Right in front of Dealey Plaza. Right across from “the grassy knoll.” The very building from where Lee Harvey Oswald took aim and shot President John F. Kennedy nearly 50 years ago.
The museum itself is a bit basic, with some good displays and an informative audioguide. The real strength of the place, however, is its location. Few Americans of any age have not seen the footage of that fateful day in Dallas: an open convertible, a slow parade procession, and–out of nowhere–chaos.
To be able to stand on the same floor Oswald stood mere feet from where the shots were fired is a truly powerful experience. Dealey Plaza, for its part, seems mostly unchanged from the infamous Zapruder film. Looking out the window, one suddenly understands so much more about the mechanics of the assassination. Even more powerful is the seventh floor of the building, with an empty floorplan that is both haunting and elegaic.
Standing in that place it is hard not to be moved by the tragedy of it all. The emotion surrounding the past we all know and the new experience of the present the Sixth Floor Museum has to offer represents the best of what “public history” can be, and is worth a trip if you ever make it to Dallas.
P.S. Stephen King has a new book in which a time traveler attempts to avert the events of 22 November 1963. I have much more interest in reading it after having visited the museum…