Dallas museum takes visitors back 30 years

November 14, 1993|By Rick Sylvain | Rick Sylvain,Knight-Ridder News Service

In a Dallas museum called the Sixth Floor, visitors fight back tears.

Eyes glazed, they move silently among photographs and TV monitors, reliving one of America's darkest days, then scrawling their emotions into the pages of a guest book.

The Sixth Floor turns you inside out and reopens the raw, emotional wounds of that Friday in Dallas.

Thirty years? Can it be nearly 30 years ago that the bulletin from Dallas jolted a disbelieving country?

America had never known such youthful exuberance as John F. Kennedy's White House. Then suddenly, shockingly, he was dead.

The assassination is frozen in time. People over 40 easily remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when they heard JFK was shot in Dallas.

It happened here, next to the Texas School Book Depository, 12:30 p.m. Dallas time on Nov. 22, 1963. The shooting triggered a numbing swirl of events:

Kennedy rushed to Trauma 1 at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Texas Gov. John Connally, also shot, in Trauma 2. Kennedy pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Dallas policeman J. D. Tippit shot in Oak Cliff, a Dallas neighborhood. Lee Harvey Oswald, an order clerk at the Book Depository, arrested at the Texas Theater in Tippit's murder. Lyndon Johnson sworn in as president. As horrified millions watch on television, Oswald murdered by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby.

Numbing.

Was Oswald the assassin? Did he act alone? Was a shot fired from the grassy knoll? So many answers died with Oswald Nov. 24, answers that have confounded critics and spawned countless conspiracy theories.

Now, 30 years later, the trees around the site have grown taller. Skyscrapers that weren't there in 1963 gleam in the distance. But for that, the view is similar to the one Oswald allegedly had as the presidential motorcade turned onto Houston Street.

Through glass that protects this patch of history, your eyes rivet on the scene. The corner window is half open. Boxes of school books are in stacks on the wood floor.

Was Oswald crouched here, rifle in hand? The white bricks know. The ashen beams know . . .

The Warren Commission said that he was here, that he fired three shots and acted alone. Thirty years later, no one knows for sure.

The Sixth Floor examines the Kennedy era, events leading to his trip to Dallas and the fateful motorcade.

From Warren Commission findings to a whole wall of conspiracy theories, there's a refreshingly balanced view here.

Dramatic events are played out in TV clips, radio cuts, print dispatches, hundreds of photographs and chilling frames from Abraham Zapruder's amateur movie, capturing the assassination. Walter Cronkite narrates a film about reaction overseas.

Each agonizing event is remembered, hour by hour, from a weekend that became a national tragedy.

But it is that view, looking down from the Sixth Floor, that stays with you and, even 30 years later, still chokes you up.

IF YOU GO . . .

The Sixth Floor, at Houston and Elm streets in downtown Dallas, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is$4, seniors 65-plus $3, students 6-18 $2, children under 6 free. An audio tour is an

additional $2. Call (214) 653-6666.

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