Dallas, Texas: John F. Kennedy Assassination Site Museum
Book Depository Transition to Museum
The museum is housed in the Book Depository, infamous as the site from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed President Kennedy. The building was constructed in 1901 and leased to the Texas School Book Depository in 1963. It was originally a storage and distribution point for public school textbooks. The company leased the first four floors to publishers and used the fifth, sixth, and seventh floors as warehouse space.
The depository moved to new quarters in 1970 and the building went through several owners and a fire until 1977 when Dallas County voters approved funding to purchase and restore the building. Floors one through five are currently county administrative offices. The Sixth Floor Museum houses the cultural exhibit examining the assassination and legacy of President Kennedy. It occupies the 6th and the 7th floor of the building.
The museum opened to the public on Presidents Day 1989. The average annual attendance exceeds 350,000.
The entry to the museum is on the ground floor in the southwest corner of the building. There is a reasonably long covered area outdoors to provide shelter in times of inclement weather and large crowds. The lobby area is large and also provides space to hold patrons prior to entry into the museum through the ticketing area. In the northwest corner of the lobby is the gift shop and security station. A large ticket counter and entry area constitutes the center of the room.
Entering the admission / gift shop area on the first floor, we found helpful security personnel that directed us to the appropriate counter. It was clear that at times there are large crowds and admission to the museum occurs every 30 minutes allowing the lineup of persons viewing the exhibits to spread out some. The museum opened at 10 AM and we got there just after 10:30. The 10:30 entry had just been completed and we had clear sailing through the ticket counter rea to the elevator that takes attendees to the 6th floor. As we passed by one of the counters, an attendant gave us an audio tour device and explained to us how to use it.
Immediately in front of the elevator on the 6th if a bronze bust of Kennedy. It was created in 1964 by Tennyson Fairbanks and marks the beginning of the audio tour. There are some 40 pages to progress through on the audio tour. Some of the general pages are broken down further into subsets. Each page on the audio tour is in front of photo and drawing displays to illustrate what you are hearing.
Touring the Assassination Museum
When we began the tour we were at the back end of the previous time group and were able to dawdle and look as we wished. If we speeded up our progress, we would run into a crowd and quickly found it best to be a little idle in our viewing to avoid a mass of people.
The tour begins with information about the Kennedy/Nixon campaigns prior to his election. It covers the televised debates since they were historically significant and progresses through his narrow margin of victory. In many areas of the country, including Texas, emotions ran high about the quality of the government during this time of Kennedy leadership. There are several displays showing the enthusiastic support of the president as well as the rabid disapproval.
There is not much information about the assassin but the area from which he fired the shots has been recreated and is behind a glass enclosure so that a complete sense of what happened can be had. The windows that run along Elm Street (the street where President Kennedy was killed) have video displays in front of them so that the attendee can follow the motorcade as it proceeded past the building.
The exhibits are concerned with the activities of the police in the Dallas area to apprehend Lee Harvey Oswald and there is quite a bit of information about his lodging and his family. The exhibit doesn't trace his history too thoroughly.
Much of this part of the exhibit is devoted to displaying the complete adoration of President Kennedy's admirers as well as the obvious hate displayed by his distractors. After the assassination the world was in mourning.
There is a display case that contains the cameras used by the spectators at the time of President Kennedy's visit. Some of them are very much candid cameras while some have a professional look to them.
There are two theaters. One shows a short collage of film about the Nation and World Response. The second explores the lasting impact of President Kennedy on all generations.
Additional Exhibit Space
Exhibit space has been added on the 7th floor of the building. When we visited, there were several works of art. One of the most impressive was a large portrait of John Kennedy that had been created from small portraits of Jackie Kennedy. A process called phtomosaics is one where each pixel within the portrait is a much smaller picture of another figure. The portrait of John Kennedy is created from 50,000 smaller portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy. There is a portrait next to it of Jackie Kennedy that was created from 50,000 smaller portraits of John Kennedy.
The exhibit space had been recently used for a large meeting, however, and most of the exhibits had been temporarily stored and weren't available for public viewing.
Additional Museum Facilities and Programs
The Museum sponsors a Living History Series. Each month a different speaker recounts his personal experiences in relation to Dallas and to the Kennedy family.
There is a Reading Room on the 1st floor of the Museum which houses some 35,000 items and are available via reservation at Kennedy Reading Room.
The Museum sponsors an Oral History Project and many of these histories are available at Kennedy Oral History Collection.
The Grassy Knoll
After leaving the museum through the gift shop, we walked to the grassy knoll. It's about a city block from the museum and an easy walk.
As described and seen, it is an area of land that gently swells away from the road where the motorcade was passing. There is not a lot of space and we were surprised about how small the area is. In seeing movies and reproductions of the occurrences it gave the appearance of much more space but a crowd of 500 people would be an overflowing one.
Getting to the Museum
We stayed at a motel between Dallas and Ft. Worth and drove into the downtown Dallas area via the expressway system. As with most major cities, most of the time, it was being expanded to accommodate more traffic. Taking Exit 429A (or B) from I35 deposits the driver in the vicinity of Houston and Elm where the museum is located.
Although streets are narrow and buildings are tall, parking is reasonably easy at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, TX. There is museum parking (at $5 a day), municipal parking (at $4 a day), and another municipal lot that was free. All three of them are within easy walking distance of the entrance to the museum.
We spent about 2 1/2 hours in touring the museum and the knoll. Picture taking is not allowed on the 6th floor. It is allowed on the 7th floor and we used our camera outside the building and at the grassy knoll.
Ticket prices and admission hours can be found on the museum's website.