Saturday, August 27, 2016

Dallas - The Kennedy Assassination Sites

We arrived in Dallas just a little bit later than expected, because our flight was delayed by one hour.

Yet, it was still daylight, and we did not arrive fully one hour after expected, but maybe half an hour, or so. And it was far and away the smoothest landing that I ever remember experiencing, very smooth and quick, and right to the terminal.

We were out of the airplane easily within ten minutes, and possibly five minutes, after we had been in the air, just after landing. Again, it was as smooth as I can ever remember a landing like that being.

Just like that, we were in Dallas, in the Lone Star State.

Frankly, the main thing that I personally associate with the city of Dallas is the assassination, and despite the city's tremendous efforts to change it's image since then, which includes the flashy show matching the name of the city, as well as the flashiest American football team, if not sports team in general, the reality is that this singular event put Dallas at the front and center of something that came to change the country in some fundamental way. Some people came to associate the city of Dallas afterwards as a city filled with hate (remember, that Texas was a southern, Dixiecrat state with official Jim Crow segregation at the time). Ever since then, the city has tried to disassociate itself with that event, with only partial success. For some people, far more significant than the self-described "America's Team" or some popular television show, the Kennedy Assassination really showed the city as symbolic of a certain mentality, or perhaps a lingering resentment, that some people (including Stephen King in his novel, 11/22/63) have never entirely forgiven it for. After all, Texas has always been known for having this swashbuckling, arrogant, entitled mentality that some find attractive, and others find repugnant. But whatever the truth may be behind the killing of Kennedy, it somehow feels fitting that such a tragic event should have happened in this state, and perhaps particularly in this city. 

I was a bit surprised when I first learned that we were not going to get just a few hours in Dallas, but a whole day. It was not the original plan, but I made the most of it, deciding to use this as an opportunity to explore the city a little bit. And the one thing that immediately comes to mind when you think of Dallas (at least for many people, including myself) is the Kennedy Assassination. When I first learned that it would be Love Field where we would be landing, there was something that sounded familiar about it, but I could not place my finger on it. Then it came to me, all of a sudden, that this was the airport that predated the much bigger, more modern Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. This was the airport that Kennedy landed at on November 22, 1963, and from which he greeted the crowd and then entered the motorcade that would, unfortunately, carry him to his death just minutes later. And it was to Love Field that his body was returned thereafter, and it was at this airport that Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office shortly after Kennedy's death became official. So, given the historical significance of this particular airport, I was pleased to be visiting it in particular. What is more, it proved to be a very pleasant experience!

The luggage was easy to find, and it was easy to see the convenience of such a relatively small airport as Dallas Love Field. We got the luggage - no issues this time - and headed straight for the car rental place, which we had passed along the way, and which is also easily in view from the baggage.

Everything was going so swimmingly, and this after the previous twelve to twenty hours had been filled with so many complications and nuisances, that I had began to expect them to just keep on coming.

However, things were apparently looking better for us. Things were improving.

The car rental went smoothly, as well. He tried to sell me coverage, but I told him that my insurance was covering. Then, he tried to sell me on an upgrade, telling me that there was a car that was slightly bigger than the compact or economy that I had originally ordered. I made it clear that I was not interested, and did not want any extra expenses. No interest in a bigger car, just the same economy car that I had ordered a couple of weeks before, please.

That ended up being no problem.

We exited, and the shuttle was right there. No long waits, no massive amounts of people, like I have seen at some other airports. Again, everything was going more smoothly than I felt I had a right to expect.

This was good, so far!

We got the car, which had a few dings and such, and I showed that to the guy as we were leaving. He marked that, and then we were off!

Here we were, in Dallas, Texas! I turned left and then took a right onto Mockingbird Drive, and within minutes, rather ironically, I was stunned to see a "Kennedy for President" sign on a billboard. Since I was preoccupied with driving, I could not see what it was all about, but promised to leave myself a few minutes the next day to take a picture and find out. 

It was just the first of numerous reminders of the events on one fateful day in November of 1963 that have continued to live on ever since. That event is like an open wound, and it feels like there is simply a lack of closure regarding this singular event. A lot of people feel that the United States lost not only a president, but lost something else, perhaps even something more - a certain level of innocence or even greatness on that day. And yet here in Dallas, there seems to be a strange mixture of reactions towards this event, which will forever be linked to Dallas (and to a lesser extent, Fort Worth), one way or the other. The assassination site itself is a mixture of an outdoor museum and Kennedy Memorial, while there are other makeshift memorials at Parkland Hospital (where Kennedy was taken and pronounced dead on that day) and in Fort Worth, where he spent his final night in Room 850, at what was then Hotel Texas, and is now the Hilton Fort Worth.

Here's the picture of the "Kennedy for President" billboard, which I believe was for either a television show, or a museum exhibit - cannot remember which.

It was ironic because the first place that we headed towards was Dealey Plaza (which was by choice, of course). That was the main site that I wanted to definitely see while we were in Dallas. True, it was too late to visit the Sixth Floor Museum, and frankly, I did not know how we were going to fit everything that we wanted to the next day in Fort Worth, and still get to visit the Sixth Floor Museum, although I certainly wanted to. 

Still, just seeing the actual site where Kennedy was assassinated was a surreal experience. Predictably, it was not exactly like I expected. Somehow, it seemed a lot smaller in real life than what the pictures and footage had made it seem.

Yet, everything was there. The former Texas School Book Depository, and the sixth floor. I could even see the boxes from the sniper's nest that Oswald had built for himself for the shooting (unless you truly believe that Oswald had nothing to do with it, which is really hard for any rational person to believe). There was the grassy knoll, and the overpass that Kennedy's motorcade had passed by on the way to nearby Parkland Hospital (Yes, I went there, too)/.There were all of the same structures that stood on that day, lending this plaza the feel that time had stood still to some degree since that day, well over half a century ago. There were the two X's that marked the spot of where Kennedy had actually been shot. It was a little more difficult to see the first X at first, but that was probably because it was so much closer to the building than I had expected it to be. I had familiarized myself somewhat with some of the countless conspiracy theories involved with the assassination. So, that gave me the mistaken impression that the first X marking the spot where Kennedy had first been shot (the one where he reaches for his throat in the Zapruder film) was much farther away from the building than it actually proved to be. In fact, it was actually quite close. Again, in large part, perhaps this is just because the whole plaza was quite a bit smaller than I had somehow expected it to be.

The thing is, we all have seen that footage hundreds, if not thousands, of times, over the course of years. Saw it in countless documentaries, saw it in movies, or perhaps television shows. On the internet, perhaps on Youtube, and almost assuredly accompanied by some kind of "proof" for this or that conspiracy theory. So, when you see that kind of thing over and over again, you kind of have certain expectations, and perhaps it grows in your imagination. Then, when you finally actually do see it, it just somehow seems, or feels, much different than you expected it to.

We walked around. I explained to my young son the significance of this place, how Kennedy had been literally gunned down here. How he had arrived in Dallas, and at the time, represented hope and youth and idealism, and how all of that had ended so abruptly, so unexpectedly, on that November afternoon. Of course, I spoke about it in a way that might have suggested I had actually been there, although I would not yet be born for well over a decade afterwards.

Still, the significance of this place was not lost on me, and I hoped that he would get a sense of just how big that day was, how much the events in Dallas on that fateful day had shaped America. Without trying to be overly pessimistic, I told him that it seemed that this singular event had shaped America ever since, and that somehow, this had marked a kind of turn for the worst. The country had still largely been enjoying it's golden age to that point and, if anything, Kennedy seemed to epitomize that more than any single other American at the time. He was what everyone wanted to be - young, seemingly filled with vitality, good-looking, rich, and hugely successful. He had wit and charm, and his speeches inspired the entire country. That famous Kennedy style that was so evident in his brothers Bobby and Ted were, at that time, represented in no less than the biggest office in the land, if not the world.

And it all came to an end here, in this city, in Dealey Plaza. He seemed to understand, although you can never really tell when kids are just nodding their head to agree, with their thoughts elsewhere, or if he really was grasping this.

Not surprisingly, there were several guys there specifically to talk to tourists, and to try and push not only their conspiracy theories onto people visiting, but also to push products, including DVD's, CD Roms, magazines, and exact replicas of newspapers that came out on that day. I had expected this, but was a bit surprised that they would still be out there literally into the evening hours - for it was getting late, and daylight was slowly but surely running out.

If there is one thing that Dealey Plaza has represented since that day in 1963, it is that this is the mother of all conspiracy theories. No matter what you believe about the Kennedy Assassination, and who was responsible, there are some things that remain grounded in undeniable fact. The young and popular President Kennedy was shot and killed here on that day, and a majority of Americans did not believe the Warren Commision Report.

Yes, despite the Warren Commission being the official government investigation into this case, never has it been the case that a majority of Americans have actually believed the official version.

And, let's face it: this is not without some good reason. there just seems to be so many doubts, so many weird situations that occurred on that day, and strange coincidences since. Things like the Secret Service being called off from being so close to Kennedy's actual vehicle, which may have saved him that day had they been tighter around him. Or, the fact that he does indeed appear to have been struck in such a way that he was violently thrust back and to the left, even though experts who support the Warren Commision Report counter that this is just a trick of the camera, and that this really was not the case. Things like the "three " who were there and arrested, then let go, and who happen to resemble some prominent government individuals capable of pulling off such a coup d'etat, which is what this amounted to according to many conspiracies. Or that quite a decent percentage of people there on that day heard the shots ring out from the area of the grassy knoll.

So many question marks about that day that have never been resolved. At least not fully to the satisfaction of a majority of people. This thing has never been fully settled.

Whatever the truth, the coincidences have been strong enough that they have allowed the doubts - reasonable doubts, I think, to persist.

Yet, the major problem is that there have been some truly crazy conspiracy theories out there. There are some really, really wild theories involving numerous responsible parties, from the mob to the CIA, the FBI, the Soviets and the Cubans and future presidents, to various sites where the fatal shots supposedly came from, which includes at least one theory that the shots came from the sewer! It is hard to take all of these theories seriously and, frankly, if one were a conspiracy theorist about all of these conspiracy theories, it might be enough to make you believe that some of these theories were planted there to discredit all others, to essentially discredit the very idea of their having been a conspiracy theory. 

But again, there just seems to be a few lingering, nagging inadequacies with the official version, and that is enough to keep this whole thing going.

Now, I cannot come to any conclusions with the whole assassination simply by having visited some of the sites associated with that day. However, I did get the sense that Dallas finally seems to be coming around to the role that the city played regarding this event, even if it rather dragged it's feet in so doing. This is the one event that many people - both those who subscribe to conspiracy theories and those who do not alike - seem to believe was somehow symbolic of a definite yet defining loss for the entire country, and perhaps, on some level, the wider world in general. Kennedy seemed to represent a certain hope, and untapped potential, that was lost forever with an assassination that, perhaps fittingly, has remained shrouded in mystery ever since.

So I cannot claim to have come up with any answers as to who was responsible, although I did bring a copy of Case Closed with me, and started reading it in Dealey Plaza itself, allowing a certain symbolic significance. This is supposed to be the defining work on this event, and so I will give it a shot, and will hope to finish it by November 22nd of this year. 

In the meantime, I am posting pictures from my visit to Dallas, which included four sites that had some significance with the events of that fateful weekend in the Dallas-Fort Worth area more than half a century ago. 

Parkland Hospital Display:

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