Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Dallas: Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository

JFK Memorial, Dallas


I'm currently on the final leg of my fellowship, and arrived in Dallas on Saturday afternoon. I travel to Fort Worth tomorrow for a conference, which is the last element of my trip before flying home to London on Sunday.

So this past Sunday was my last chance for what has become a customary Sunday exploration of a new city. I didn't really know what to expect of Dallas. I have never watched the old television series (so had no preconceived ideas from that perspective), and also knew that it wasn't the stereotypical cattle or oil city that people from outside of the US might expect...but other than that, I had little idea of what to expect.

My first observation was that this is a very car oriented city. On Sunday morning I walked from my hotel (which is in the uptown area) to the downtown part of the city ... a walk which only took me about 25 mins - and in that time I only saw one other jogger out on the street. That said, there also weren't many cars around at 10am either. Even later in the day I really only saw people clustered around the more tourist focused sites (e.g. the Dallas Art Museum, Clyde Warren Park and Dealey Plaza). I can only assume that the downtown area is really just business focused, and has very little in the way of residential living. There was certainly a greater number people out and about in the uptown area when I was there later in the afternoon.

My Sunday exploration this week focused on Dealey Plaza and the 6th Floor Museum in the building that in 1963 was the Texas School Book Depository.

Standing in Dealey Plaza looking across at the area which became known as the 'grassy knoll'


This is obviously a very popular visitor site in Dallas - there was a lengthy queue even at 10am when the museum opened. I was most intrigued to hear the recollections of the people around me about where they were when they heard the news that JFK had been shot. Almost 50 years on from the events of that day, it was clear that this was an event that continues to reverberate in the psyche of US citizens, and those from around the world.

The top two floors of the building have now been transformed into the 6th floor museum, and it was a fascinating exhibition. It takes the visitor on a journey - beginning with a synopsis of the various issues that were facing the US at the beginning of the 1960's, through JFK's election campaign, and through the major events of the years of his presidency. The exhibit becomes more specific as it imparts information on Kennedy's visit to Texas in November 1963, and the events of the morning leading up to the motorcade in Dallas. As you wind your way through the exhibit you are gradually drawn towards the corner window from where it is alleged that the fatal shots were fired.

The view from the same angle from the 7th floor of the building


Using a mix of multi-media you are thrust into both the immediate aftermath of the assassination, and the events in the days that followed, leading to moving footage of his funeral and internment, and how the impact was felt around the globe.

The remainder of the exhibition follows the various enquiries that have been established over the years in an attempt to find a definitive answer as to whether Oswald was guilty that day, whether he worked alone, or whether the assassination was part of a great conspiracy.

It was a fascinating way to spend a few hours - and having spoken to a few people since, it has made me realise that the events of 22 November 1963 are still one of the defining characteristics of this city.


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