As I walked through downtown Dallas, the scene played out like a movie. The assassination of JFK had been a fascination of mine since I was a kid. Now here I was – one of the most life changing historical moments in US history.
As I stared at the grassy knoll, the book depository, the conspiracy theorists outside, and the spot where JFK was shot, goose bumps rose up my arm as tingling sensations moved down my spine. I was filled with anger, excitement, and sadness.
I came to Dallas to see a football game. I was confronted with history.
The assassination of JFK was one of those moments that changed the history of the US. It is one of my top 3 20th century life changing moments in US history, along with 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.
As I toured the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, I learned more about the mysteries, moments, and events of that fateful day. However, the emotions I felt and witnessed put me there on the grassy knoll as I experienced the assassination of JFK.
The life of President John F Kennedy
John F Kennedy was part of a rising family of political power when he was elected President in 1960. Our 35th President, and second youngest ever, was a politician with a Hollywood lifestyle. While he hung out with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy launched America’s fascination with the First Lady due to her beauty, style, and elegance.
President Kennedy’s short term saw some of the most controversial, tension filled moments in US history – the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis and possible war with the USSR, the Civil Rights movement, the space program, and the Vietnam War.
JFK was both popular and controversial. He was the first and only Catholic President and a man who divided the nation. His tough decisions dealt with a number of serious crises during the early 60s.
Whether he was loved or hated, JFK was respected during his short term as President. His Hollywood lifestyle, affairs, and some of the most important decisions in US history made him well known around the world. Unfortunately, his life ended far too soon.
Reliving history – the assassination of JFK
As I entered the museum, my mind flashed back to 1991 and a movie. While studying the assassination of JFK, I became fascinated with the people, tragedy, and controversy.
During the Christmas holidays, I watched the political thriller JFK as it examined the controversies and conspiracies behind the question “Who shot JFK?” As I watched the movie with my dad, my mind raced trying to take in the facts, questions, twists, and characters of John F Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby. 24 hours after watching the movie, I went back to the theater to see it again.
On my visit to Dallas, that movie came to life.
After receiving the headset for the tour, I took the elevator to the 6th floor. Walls, murals, videos, photos, and documents retraced history and tragedy as people watched Kennedy’s life and the tragic events of the assassination of JFK unfold.
The headset narrated the timeline of his rise to Presidency, events and moments in US history during Kennedy’s tenure, and the moments leading up to that day on November 22, 1963. The heart, mind, and emotions wrestled with it all.
As we moved through the displays detailing that fateful day in Dallas, the events unfolded before us through video, interviews, speeches, live audio moments, and photos.
As I walked through the museum and watched the Zapruder film, the video footage of the moments after the assassination, and the live announcement of his death by Walter Cronkite, I was overcome with emotion.
Born years before the assassination of JFK, I lived through the tragedy that day. Tears fell from my eyes, hate surged through my heart, and confusion filled my mind. I felt both compassion and anger for Lee Harvey Oswald as I wandered if he was just a scapegoat in a plot much bigger than the cast of characters.
The awareness of my own pain and feelings made me conscious of the experiences of others. Like a visit to Auschwitz, the reactions to this experience varied.
Some watched in solemn horror while others bawled and cried. For many, they relived that day all over again. For others, they experienced it for the first time.
Young and old, people of all colors, and locals and visitors didn’t just tour a museum that day. They wrestled with history and tragedy.
When the tour was over, I stared at the spot where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the bullets. On the seventh floor, I peered out the window one floor the spot where Lee Harvey Oswald stood. In my mind, I could see the motorcade turning onto Elm Street as the shots were fired.
I was numb.
The life, Presidency, and death of JFK – the Sixth Floor Museum
As I made my way onto the street, I walked to the grassy knoll. Abraham Zapruder had filmed the assassination of JFK in this area. Many others reported that more shots had been fired from here.
As I walked around the area, I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t sure how to process my anger, sadness, or the emotion of that experience.
Like the controversy and tragic events of 9/11, many people still don’t understand why or how the assassination of JFK happened.
Experiences like this may not be considered one of the best travel moments. However, they may be the most unforgettable.
I walked onto Elm Street and stood on the spot where JFK was shot. As I posed for a photo, I smiled. It was the wrong expression for that moment and spot but it was all I knew to do.
Many people were here on November 22, 1963 celebrating and smiling at the arrival of the President. When those shots were fired, the smiles gave way to tears. The assassination of JFK was complete but the history, controversy, and emotions live on.
A fake smile, a numb body, goose bumps, an emotional experience, and the life of a President – this is a day at the Sixth Floor Museum.
Years ago, Guns N’ Roses had some lines from a song called Civil War:
In my first memories, they shot Kennedy
I went numb when I learned to see;
Today, I understood that numb feeling. Nearly 50 years after the assassination of JFK, the experience is as overwhelming as November 22, 1963.
Do you have any memories of the JFK assassination? What historical event or place left a lasting impression on you in your travels?
Thanks to Visit Dallas and The Sixth Floor Museum for setting up my visit. While my admission was free, the experience was priceless. These are my honest opinions, personal stories, and experiences about the assassination of JFK and my visit to The Sixth Floor Museum. If you want to visit, the museum is open 7 days a week with admission ranging from $13 to $16 per person.