Though that may seem like a morbid reason to visit Dallas (the scene of the murder), many will next year, thanks to the enduring mysteries surrounding the event; as well as the esteem with which Kennedy continues to be held. The assassination has been drawing tourists to the city for years. “We’re the second most-visited historic site in Texas, after the Alamo,” notes Nicola Longford, the Executive Director of the Sixth Floor Museum (www.jfk.org), which is set in the Texas Book Depository, the building from which assassin Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots (or so most believe).
And it’s at this remarkable museum that any JFK-focused visit should start because it’s on the President that the museum focuses its attention. Before visitors delve into the shooting, they’re taken on a tour of Kennedy’s life, from his marriage to Jackie to his accomplishments (the Peace Corps) and challenges (the Cuban Missile Crisis) while in office. Doing this, and learning more about the era in which JFK reigned, makes the discussion of his killing all that much more poignant. On my recent visit, I found myself fighting back tears, despite the fact I was a mere zygote when Kennedy died.
In honor of the anniversary, the Museum will be expanding its award-winning exhibition, in place since 1988. A new audio guide will allow visitors to stop and learn more about the artifacts that interest them, whether those are the stills from the famous Zapruder home movie that captured the last moments of the motorcade; the FBI’s chilling diorama of Dealey Plaza; or the glassed-in corner where Oswald crouched with his rifle, boxes of books still in the same spots they were in on the day of the shooting. Monthly “living history” colloquies, featuring witnesses to both the assassinations of Kennedy and Oswald, have been planned. When I visited, I was lucky enough to hear Bill and Gayle Newman, the civilians closest to Kennedy when he was shot, talk about what they saw, and how being witnesses to history changed the course of their lives.
Next on the agenda—and I know, it sounds hokey—should be the JFK Trolley Tour (www.BigDfuntours.com) which was launched in August of 2012 and begins a block from the museum. Guided by the charismatic Michael Scott Aston, a Navy veteran and Dallas native who’s a born storyteller, the tour follows the motorcade route before cutting away to the path Oswald took when he tried to escape. It ends at the jail where Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Yes, some of the material echoes that of the museum, but Aston weaves it into a compelling “true crime” narrative, and adds wonderfully quirky, insidery details (for example, his uncle was the man with the umbrella on the grassy knoll that many thought—wrongly--was signaling a second shooter).
A committee of government officials and leading citizens is meeting, as I write this, to decide how the city should mark the anniversary. No word yet, but there should be some additional events.
We do know that the Dallas Museum of Art (http://dallasmuseumofart.com), in collaboration with the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in nearby Fort Worth, will be throwing an artsy tribute. Called “Hotel Texas”, it will exhibit the art that was placed in the President’s suite the night before his death by a group of Fort Worth collectors. The works include pieces by Picasso, Monet, Thomas Eakins and others; this will be the first time, since 1963, that these art works have been grouped together.
If you go:
The Sixth Floor Museum (411 Elm St. at Houston St.) is open from 10am-6pm Tuesdays through Sundays and noon-6pm on Mondays. Admission is $16/adults and includes the audio tour.
The JFK Trolly Tour runs Wednesdays through Sundays and takes 1 hour. Tours leave at 10am, 11:30am, 1pm and 2:30pm and cost $20/adult. Advance reservations are recommended; call 214/400-9020.
The Dallas Museum of Art is closed Mondays. Its open from 11am-5pm every day except Thursday, when it keeps its doors open until 9pm. Admission is $10/adult. The “Hotel Texas” exhibit will be here from May 26-Sept 15. After that it moves to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (go to www.cartermuseum.org for details) from Oct 12-Jan 14, 2014.