On this day 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I wrote more about the day in this post from last year.
I started this blog because I believe that learning about history the day it occurred helps us connect to the past. However, last month I visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza on a field trip and realized that learning about history where it occurred can be even more powerful.
The Sixth Floor Museum is located on the sixth and seventh floors of the former Texas School Book Depository at Dealey Plaza, from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy.
The sixth floor of the museum is completely silent save for some films playing throughout the exhibit. Museum-goers move through the museum at their own pace with a free audio guide. First, the guide walks you through the major events of JFK’s presidency leading up to his assassination, such as the Bay of Pigs and the Space Race.
Then, the audio guide talks about Kennedy’s upcoming visit to Dallas. I knew what was going to happen next, but when I turned the corner into the section of the museum describing his assassination, I was overcome with emotion.
I was not expecting to be so affected by the museum because I do not have a connection to this period of time like my parents and grandparents do; I knew the event was devastating, but I always felt removed from it because it happened so long ago. However, the way the museum walks you through the events of his presidency and assassination chronologically makes it feel almost as if you are experiencing it firsthand. Even the best history books cannot create that effect.
Perhaps the most powerful moment for me was when I was looking at an old black and white picture of the window from where Oswald shot Kennedy and then I looked to my right and saw the same window. In that moment, history came alive.
Then the audio guide directs you toward the windows overlooking the grassy knoll, describing the chaotic 1963 scene as you look out at the calm, modern-day area. Some students even saw a retro car driving through Dealey Plaza when they looked out the window.
Afterwards, you can watch a movie about his funeral. As my teacher observed, it conveniently gives you a dark place to discretely cry after going through the most emotional portion of the museum.
The museum continues with the aftermath of the assassination and the mystery surrounding the event. There is even a wall dedicated to alternative theories of his assassination.
In the end, the field trip was a great experience that helped me better understand the pained shock that the nation felt on this day 50 years ago. I would highly recommend the Sixth Floor Museum to anyone who has the opportunity to visit Dallas. The museum does a great job of being both respectful and informative.
Finally, my local news station, WFAA, played their original 1963 broadcast today. I have not gotten the chance to see it yet, but the full coverage is available online.