Today was a presidential museum day and the first stop on our tour was The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza or, as it was previously known, the Texas School Book Depository. The 6th floor is located in what is now the Dallas County Administration Building. The cost to park was $7.00 and entry fees to the exhibit is $16 per person. This is where, after 4 different investigations by several different bodies and many conspiracy theories, it was agreed Lee Harvey Oswald set up his gun at a corner window on the 6th floor behind stacks of boxes to shoot and kill President John F Kennedy. He had the opportunity to do this as the presidential motorcade passed by the building. For those of you too young to remember, this unfortunate and senseless event took place on November 22, 1963.
Even though I was a quite young I remember the events well. So deep is the imprint in my memory of that day and the days after many of the photographic exhibits seemed like they came from my photo album.
As well as focusing on all parts of the assassination and the investigations into the assassination the museum chronicles the life of JFK, other events/happenings/culture of the 1960’s, including the music, the presidential campaign details and his legacy. One part of the exhibit focused on Jacqueline Kennedy and the fashion icon she became.
It’s certainly comprehensive and has more than 75 exhibits on this floor including photographs, recordings and other memorabilia such as the invitation to the luncheon he was to attend. A number of exhibits (photographs and film footage) were donated by ordinary people that were part of the crowds waiting for the president’s motorcade to pass by.
One person to capture the most comprehensive view of the shooting was a clothing manufacturer named Abraham Zapruder who was standing on a raised section of concrete almost directly in line with the car carrying the President and his wife. Zapruder was using his colour home movie camera….it was a silent movie camera. This piece of film was used as part of the investigation and most of it is the footage we’re used to seeing. Zapruder’s film captures the 2nd shot to the Presidents’ head.
The area where the shooter hid to carry out this dreadful deed has been recreated and sits behind a class wall…naturally the FBI took away the boxes he had stacked around him and some he used as a kneeling pad. Consequently visitors aren’t able to stand at the 6th floor window but are able to look out nearby and see what the shooter saw. The gun used by Oswald is also on show behind a glass case. I thought it a little strange that one exhibit item was the suit Detective Leavelle, handcuffed to Oswald when Oswald was shot by Ruby, was wearing. The suit was on a mannequin in a glass case with an explanation about the suit, what it was made of, how it was given/lent to him by a family member and so on. It also included the shoes he was wearing on the day. Perhaps Leavelle donated it and it may be of interest for the style of suit worn in 1963.
We weren’t permitted to photograph any part of the artefacts, documents or photographs in the museum. Security staff walk in and around the visitors and the exhibits constantly so as notorious as they are for ignoring ‘no photograph’ rules not even a Japanese visitor with a camera could get away with taking a sneaky photo.
However the 7th floor was all accessible and this floor healed information about the 1960 election campaigns. We weren’t really interested in this and Ty said ‘There’s no point in going up the stairs it’s only information about the campaigns’. I looked at him and continued to walk towards the stairs. ‘Are you going up the stairs?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I am’ I replied as I walked towards the first step.
He was correct; there were posters and documents regarding the political campaigns but looking past that there was a security guard leaning against a wall and behind her was an area with nothing in it but floorboards and a couple of windows. This was above the window where Oswald sat….I could see a man over by the window and as I looked back the security guard said ‘ You can go over there and look out the last window you’ll see the whole scene and you can take photos’. ‘Thank you’ I said as I walked on past her towards the window. Ty followed…we looked out the window at the corner of Elm St and Dealey Place and could see the white X a little further down the road in the middle lane of the 3 lane one way street. X marks the spot where the 2nd shot hit JFK in the back of the head.
I don’t think too many others looking at the campaign exhibits realised that from these 2 windows we could see where the motorcade traveled along N Houston, turned into Elm and passed by Dealey Place. The famous grassy knoll was in view as well. We wandered around outside for a short time taking more photos of the surrounding area which look pretty much as it did in 1963.
It was time for lunch before our next museum – the George W Bush Jnr Presidential Museum & Path to the Presidency. There are 13 Presidential libraries in the US and these are mainly in the areas each President represented not necessarily where they were born or grew up. GWB was neither born or grew up in Texas but he married a Texan and made Texas his home.
This is the first Presidential Museum and Library we have visited…not something I’d think of doing given I don’t have a lot of interest in US politics. Visiting the JFK museum is a little different. However, our friend CA, from Denver suggested we visit GWB museum for the artefacts and other interesting pieces on show here. So we’re on our way to SMU as the museum and library stands within the grounds of the Southern Methodist University. The buildings within the University themselves are well worth a drive through!
We arrive at the designated parking area and take a ticket…$5 for the first hour and .75 cents for each half hour after that. Ok, ticket in hand we look for a parking spot that is a little shaded from the 105 degree F heat….good luck with that….most of the spaces with a touch of shade have a sign stipulating the spot is for hybrid or electric vehicles! How many hybrid or electric vehicles do museum visitors drive we wondered. Eventually we found a spot with a tree at the side and one at the front which would hopefully provide enough shade to stop the car from becoming a furnace.
Walking up to the building I think to myself have large and imposing the building is and how amazing those windows and doors are…..they’re huge. There’s that adage coming to mind again – everything is bigger in Texas! Pushing open the giant timber and glass door we stepped into a massive tiled atrium with a wall listing every person or group that donated money to build this Library/Museum. The cost to visit was $17 per adult.
Tickets in hand we walked down to the other end of a very large hall to be met by two members of the museum staff. These ladies were very friendly and one lady asked where we came from, when we told them the taller lady said her neighbour came from Brisbane. So this lady knew quite a lot about Australia which was very nice.
More than 10 minutes later we were still chatting about Australia, the US, dangerous snakes, travel and all sorts of other things and probably would have been there longer but there were other museum visitors they needed to attend to. My husband is Mr Have a Chat so best we move on or these ladies wouldn’t get any work done! This part of travel is great, being able to meet people and having a chat you learn so much about their country, cit or town and themselves as well. We certainly did that with these ladies..they were lovely with a great sense of humour. Eventually we thought we’d better take in the museum…lol. Unfortunately we never exchanged names but Ty did give one of the ladies our card, if you happen to read this blog ladies, thank you for your hospitality and the information you bestowed on us about Texas and the GWB!!
For those not really aware of George W Bush he first took office in January 2001 and was the 43rd President of the USA. He was not born in Texas but grew up in Texas and was the Texas State Governor prior to being President. The library and museum holds millions of records from his administration. The first section of the museum included the election campaign, early days in office and the world events happening at the time. Lots of photographs to look at and articles to read.
There is a very informative and moving display on the tragic events of 9/11. The exhibit is centred around four themes; Compassion, Freedom, Opportunity and Responsibility. The first part of the display is highly emotive as it shows the planes flying into the North and South Towers, The Pentagon and the last plane that didn’t make it’s destination because the passengers heroically tried to disband the terrorists. There are the voices of the passengers as they made phone calls to loved ones saying their goodbyes, the images of the faces of New Yorkers on that morning as they watched in disbelief as the planes hit each tower. Further images of people escaping though the dust and dirt in downtown Manhattan. Images we had seen a hundred times but it doesn’t matter how many times you see them you still have to stand and watch in horror as this dark day unfolded. Probably, for me, the most memorable part of this room was the list of every persons’ name that died that day and the huge steel beam is 22 feet tall and stands in the centre of the exhibit all twisted and disfigured by the extreme heat of the inferno.
I suppose you think it odd I didn’t say the phone calls or the images of the people running away covered in dust but those images aren’t new to me. As raw and disturbing as they are it’s the piece of metal and the names that adds another dimension to the horror. We’ve visited the 9/11 memorial in New York as well and that’s an extremely sad experience as well.
The next exhibit was the Decision Points Theatre which covered the crises during the Presidency. These included the Iraq and subsequent war, Hurricane Katrina, Americas worsening economic woes and takes us through his decision process for all of these and more.
A fun and uplifting part of the visit was walking into a full size replica of the Oval Office when George W Bush was President. Each President, or his wife, redecorates and changes some features of the Oval Office. In this museum many of the artefacts in the room came from the Oval Office. Family photographs sit in the same places they sat in the real office, a painting of Abraham Lincoln given to Bush hangs on one wall, the Presidential desk (named the Resolute desk) is a replica of the desk used by many of the Presidents. When Truman was in the White House he had a moveable piece of sculptured timber added to the middle section of the desk to his the fact he was in a wheelchair. This piece can be slid across if the President wishes or, as in the case of the Kennedy children, it was a good place for a game whilst dad was working.hide.
Every visitor is able to take the opportunity to sit in the Presidents chair for a photograph. George Washington’s portrait looks on from the opposite end of the room.
After taking the touristy photos in the Oval Office we moved on to another theatre and exhibit featuring the Bush family and their dogs and cat. The short film featured their daughters speaking about their parents and it also showed some funny situations as George W Jnr was a practical joker putting a very human perspective to the person with a number of photos of him on the Oval Office playing jokes on his staff. This film portrayed them showed as any regular family and George B poked fun at himself quite regularly.
We chose not to visit the campaigns exhibit , as with Kennedy, we aren’t really interested in the history of US Presidential campaigns. We stepped out into the huge hallway again and I could see something running along the frieze of the hall I looked up and saw an amazing display of people in different dress through the ages. As I pointed it out to Ty one of our lovely ladies wandered over and told us about the wall – it’s a 360 HD screen that is one of a kind. It is 20 foot tall and one section of the video shows all 44 US Presidents. We looked around to see how many we could recognise but 360 degrees but the human neck is not designed to swivel 360 degrees so we missed many I’m sure. Why didn’t I turn my whole body around in a circle? Because I would’ve fallen in a dizzy heap on the floor.
Time to leave, we had another short chat with the ladies, bid them good bye and walked back out into the 105 degree day. Thank goodness the trees were now shading a large portion of the car however it was still like an oven in there just a hot oven rather that a frying pan.
Thank you CA for suggesting we visit GWB’s library we gained new insight into a President’s daily life and learned a few more interesting facts about the US.
If you’re visiting Dallas put these 2 places on your itinerary….well worth it especially for historical value.