For of those to whom much is given, much is expected.
– John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
My father was a huge Kennedy fan. We had one of those 1960s thick-padded, pleather ottomans in the family room closet that held my father’s Kennedy paraphernalia, which was mostly soft-cover, color books about the life and times – and assassination – of our 35th president. I don’t know whatever happened to those books, but I imagine my mother got rid of them, being the person who decluttered and constantly battled with my father’s Depression-era-induced hoarder mentality.
It was only fitting, then, that when I asked my sister, Heidi, what one thing I should see while in Dallas, she responded without hesitation – the Texas School Book Depository – now named the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (411 Elm Street, Dallas, 214.747.6660, $16 entrance fee for adults). This November marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. I was only 21 months old at the time, but I remember the funeral processions of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., on television years later. My father, of course, remembered and talked of the great tragedy. He was a New Deal FDR guy and like many people in the early 1960s was enchanted by the youth, charm, and vigor brought to the White House by Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy and their young children.The museum takes its name from the floor of the book depository where Oswald had shot the President.
Everything is on the sixth floor, though the seventh floor – which is the only area where you are allowed to take photographs – has a few more artifacts and informational placards. What is amazing is that the sixth floor holds approximately 40,000 artifacts, chronicling the JFK’s life and legacy. Everyone gets a headset to guide you through the maze of information. You get a very detailed history of the era from a political, cultural, and global perspective. And, of course, you get a very detailed accounting of that fateful day, which was poignant and left me bereft.The infamous corner was recreated, a large diorama depicts the location of the motorcade at the time of the shooting, and the conspiracy theories and the Warren Commission findings were treated thoroughly. The short films put you right at the center of times. The oral histories of eyewitness accounts were especially moving. One display held photos that eyewitnesses had taken, along with their cameras. And, of course, Abraham Zapruder‘s film of the assassination was displayed frame by frame. I confess that as I moved along in the museum, prompted by the audio recording, a sense of impending dread and agitation crept in the closer I got to the actual moment in time. It speaks to how well conceived and developed the museum is.
I was struck by Jackie Kennedy‘s grace and composure. I had forgotten how stunning and naturally beautiful she was, especially in her youth. When I looked at the many photos of the First Family and couple, it was easy to see why the nation was transfixed by them and buoyed by their love and support of the arts, her simple yet elegant sense of style, and their youthful idealism that spurred the younger generation to make better the world. On the seventh floor, two large-scale portraits hang. These photomosaics by Alex Guofeng Cao feature pixels of pictures that comprise the overall portrait. JFK’s portrait comprises pixels of Jackie, and her portrait comprises pixels of her husband.
As I looked out the sixth floor window, onto the street where the motorcade passed and the grassy knoll farther out, I couldn’t help but wonder where we as a nation would be had JFK not been stricken. As one news report noted, it wasn’t just JFK who was shot, it was the President. And therefore the nation. I wandered around outside in the bright sunshine for a few moments, trying to get my bearings. The museum carefully, painfully records a historic moment in our history, and indeed the world. You come out of the Sixth Floor Museum somber and thoughtful. But if you are inspired by the many famous lines spoken by JFK and on display throughout the museum, you begin to walk forward briskly, with the notion that JFK’s legacy lives on in the good deeds you and I can do to sustain and respect our environment, help those less fortunate than we, appreciate our family and friends even more, and set worthy examples for our children. As JFK once said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Words to live by.
Post script: Other points of interest
From the seventh floor of the museum, you can see the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which was designed by the world-famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, connects downtown to West Dallas. Rising above the Trinity River, the steel bridge spans 1,870 feet long and 400 feet high at its tallest point. If you are familiar with Calatrava’s work (I had to write a brief summary of him for a SHPE Magazine feature article on famous Hispanic engineers several years ago), you will recognize his innovative point of view and how his creations are imbued with a sense of movement, rhythm, and freedom.
Top Chef aficionados know that past chefs Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox, and Casey Thompson hail from Dallas. Also, this season’s Dallas Top Chef contestants included John Tesar (Spoon Bar & Kitchen, 8220 Westchester Dr., Plaza at Preston Center, 214.368.8220), Joshua Valentine (pastry chef at FT33, 1617 Hi Line Drive, 214.741.2629), and Danyele McPherson (The Grape, 2808 Greenville Ave Dallas, 214.828.1981). Apparently, Wilcox resigned last week from his position of executive chef from the Village Marquee Grill & Bar (33 Highland Park Village, Dallas, 214.522.6035) to spend more time with his 11-year-old daughter. I didn’t get a chance to check out Derry’s restaurant, Private | Social (3232 McKinney Avenue, Dallas, 214.754.4744), which is a combination of soul food, Asian fusion, and global. Perhaps on the next visit!