We’ve all seen the pictures, First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy in a beautiful pinksuit and hat, the President, John F. Kennedy, in a gray suit and tie. Both smiled and waved to the crowd-lined streets as the motorcade traveled in front of the Texas School Book Depositary.
Then, two seconds, two bullets, and the world changed. A stoic anchorman shed a tear as citizens from around the world stayed glued to their radios and television sets. The unthinkable had happened, John F. Kennedy was assassinated while hundreds of witnesses looked on, stunned, shocked, saddened. Camelot was over.
I visited the Sixth Floor Depository while in Dallas. Even though I’ve watched several documentaries, the area appeared different than the picture in my mind. Standing on the “Grassy Knoll,” crossing Elm Street and realizing the white X’s painted on the road represented where each bullet struck the President, moving across to Dealey Plaza.From that vantage point, I looked up at the sixth floor and wondered how this could have happened.
The museum owns the fifth floor and seventh floor but not the sixth floor. You walk through at your own pace, taking as much time as you need to absorb the enormity of the events on November 22, 1963. On the fifth floor, a maze of large white-board-style billboards and screens that play short newsreels, take you through the Kennedy presidency. From the election to inauguration to the morning at Love Field, where Air Force One landed.From there the information slows down, becoming more detailed until a minute-by-minute description punches your gut with single sentences. After all this time and understanding the final outcome, dread still lingered in the pit of my stomach.
From there you climb one flight of stairs. The Sixth Floor. A guard greets you and tells you to take your time, but no picture taking allowed. Benches are placed along the perimeter. Yet your eye strays to the corner, the only part of the floor burdened with items in an otherwise open area. There was an eerie weight there, as if the tragedy that happened in this place pressed down. The corner, enclosed in Plexiglas, had book boxes stacked the same way it was found forty-nine years ago this month, a gun propped at the angle to delivered those two fatal shots.
On the seventh floor, you can stand in the corner window and see Elm Street below. See what an assassin saw from one floor above. And wander what if… What if the building was secured? What if Lee Harvey Oswald had missed? What if President Kennedy had lived?