I recently was able to finish reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King, a book about a man who travels back in time to attempt to stop the assignation of John F. Kennedy. (Read my blog about the book here.) While driving to Fort Worth last weekend, I was listening to the end of the book and realized I would be close enough to justify a trip to the iconic area. Although I was born and raised in Texas and have been to the Dallas area more times than I can count, I had never journeyed to the infamous Dealey Plaza. I later found out when asking around that many other people I know had not taken this detour either. What I saw was… Enlightening.
When you first get to the area, you will notice a few things: big structures that you probably can’t identify, a yellow sign reading “grassy knoll”, and that the street where Kennedy was shot is an active street that is still used.
The big structures that I saw were not for Kennedy but were just Dealey Plaza. I hadn’t seen many pictures at this time so I didn’t initially realize what the area looked like originally. I was surprised when looking for parking to realize what road I was on exactly. I was unexpectedly on the road where the President of the United States was shot. And I knew this from a really crappy sign marked “Grassy Knoll”. I took the picture below later walking up on it so you can see how awful this sign really is.
The Plaza is beautiful, fountains, trees, benches… There are plenty of people around enjoying themselves in what seems like a normal park.
Now for the upsetting part of my trip…
I say this as someone who has never taken much of an interest in history. I, like many other Americans I’m sure, usually don’t take an interest in historical events until some movie or TV show makes me interested. But this book has points where the reader is shown how human the Kennedys are. Remember that Kennedy wasn’t just the leader of our country but a human, a father, and a husband as well. The places I visited are famous because that man, not a fictional character like people tend to act, was shot in the head while sitting next to his wife, who crawled to the back of the car to pick up a piece of his brain because that’s what made sense to her in her moment of shock. Regardless of who did it or why, those are the facts and they are terrible. A man died in a horrible manner and this area should be treated as such. Not as a “selfie spot”, but more on that later…
Once I (finally) found parking, I walked towards the Kennedy Memorial first. Before I even got there, I saw a similar blue Lincoln Continental from that terrible day. People are encouraged to get in the backseat, complete with Presidential seals and pillows and flags on the front to further the image of being the same car that the President took his final ride in. I had to wait until people got out of the car after smiling and waving to snap a picture.
I don’t know who brings this car or who gets paid to stand next to it and encourage people to get in and “smile and wave,” but I didn’t like it. It just felt disrespectful to me so I snapped a picture and moved on.
The next structure that I saw was the Kennedy Memorial. The memorial is located around the corner from Dealey Plaza, within walking distance but where there was more space for a big memorial, I guess. The memorial is massive but simple.
Once you walk in, the atmosphere becomes eerie and unsettling, even with the tons of people just outside enjoying their day. There is a large black pedestal with the name John Fitzgerald Kennedy etched into it but nothing on top of it. Almost as if something is missing..
Across the street is Dealey Plaza where families and students sit and read or walk and talk. It’s spacious and welcoming, as it was back in 1963 as well I’m sure. And across from Dealey Plaza is the former Texas School Book Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald was perched on the 6th floor to fire his shots at the President. Before heading into the museum though, I headed to the part of Dealey Plaza that is next to the now-called Grassy Knoll, where many consiracy theorists begin their cases.
The sign that I posted earlier is atrocious. It’s literally a tarp with words on it that is apparently not even from the city. I read up on it and found that the sign is put up by a man, Robert Groden, who sells his movies and literature to tourists and is an avid conspiracy theorist. The city has written him numerous tickets for both his selling and his banner, none of which have stuck. As the Grassy Knoll is a well known spot and an obvious part of the story, it seems odd that the city doesn’t replace the sign themselves with something more permanent and less of an eye sore.
Within the area of the plaza by the Grassy Knoll is a quote from the speech that Kennedy was on his way to give. It’s a beautiful quote and quite fitting for the location.
I also took a trip to the Sixth Floor museum where you can pay $16 for a walk-around audio tour and see the exact location where Lee Harvey Oswald was set up with his rifle. The museum is full of facts and recreations and is worth the time in my opinion.
What bothered me the most was not the consiracy theorists (those people and stories are fascinating honestly) nor the sign but the lack of decorum that people in this area exude when in the area of an event that was so tragic to this man, his family, and our country as a whole. Again, a man died here. This is not a place to be celebrated but to be acknowledged as a terrible yet historical site. Much like Pearl Harbour or the World Trade Center, this place is where a tragedy happened, not a celebration. While the street is still active, I witnessed many people waiting for the light to turn red so the road would clear and the group of people would run out into “that spot” and take a picture together. This is not an appropriate “selfie” spot. Pardon my anger for a minute but what do you plan on doing with that photo? Posting it on Instagram with a hashtag? Framing it? Are there not 1,000 other places in the immediately surrounding area where this kind of picture would be at least a little bit more acceptable? I worry that our generation has and continues to lose more empathy and worries more about a stupid picture to post on their profile. Again, our President’s head was blown off here! This should not be celebrated and memorialized with a stupid group photo.
I don’t mean to sound demeaning (okay maybe a little) but we, as Americans, need to really understand what “all men are created equally” really means. How would you feel if people acted like this at your site of death? What about your loved ones? Just because we may not have been alive in the time that this happened, does not mean it shouldn’t be revered as the site of a tragedy. This site will forever be marked as a place where history was changed forever, and should be treated as such.