November 22, 1963 is a day in a person’s life they always remember. Much like 9-11 to many, people recall where they were on the day President Kennedy was shot. I was in elementary school, and soon thereafter racing home on my bike to watch TV.
Those were the television days of no cable and no 24-hour news channels; just three major networks brought into our home by rooftop antennae. Actually, some historians say that this event and the days that followed was the one news item that ushered in the age of television news.
Our lives across this country stopped over those days. Everyone was shocked. Events of dismay and support came from all over the world, but we couldn’t see them live as today. The memory of watching Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald as it happened forever lives in my mind.
I visited downtown Dallas for the first time in the summer of 2007 as I had to visit Dealy Plaza. There they were: the plaza, the Texas Book Depository, the grassy knoll, and the railroad overpass the motorcade raced under. Together a must smaller place than I envisioned.
For sure an eerie place; then I noticed the two painted Xs in the road marking the JFK’s location: shot 1 and then shot 2.
Today, the Texas Book Depository houses the wonder Sixth Floor Museum. The many photos, films, and displays tell the story of President Kennedy’s life and presidency; as well as depicting the days prior coming to Dallas, the day of, and the days after. It also depicted the mood of the times. And yes, the conspiracy theory is included; and yes I left the building still wondering.
Many people were in the museum that afternoon, yet I was taken by the overall quietness of the low mummer. I recall a similar feeling twice in my life; when walking down the ramp at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington and when visiting Ground Zero – but different for me because I spend two hours within the museum itself.
Whether seeing the Zapruder film or the glassed-in corner with boxes and the window where Oswald stood, noticing the names that I recall as Officer Tippit, or seeing the many images that stimulated by memory, this museum stands as a memorial for that point in time we easily remember – a time when life seemed to stop.
My visit didn’t bring closure, but it actually deepened my understanding of the event and the circumstances surrounding it. After all, no longer being that young kid in elementary school allowed me to reflect back to that day and to those times through lens of all the history I’ve lived since that fatal day.