Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy New Delhi's Flickr page - President John F. Kennedy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usembassynewdelhi/5386861182/in/photolist-9d259W-tmwAo-cWtMa-7a4Byr-f2QNxR-6T4jUP-9D8P7N-fNDPna-owAEr7-cMia3q-byZ3sQ-5nUjps-3BNPpE-dejPUc-dejPeY-6BmWcm-6599wx-xvZgh6-3BXC4T-7a7U2J-fsx31D-fswNCz-dejP8o-nKsnKa-9d2AYA-nsYcM8-bLpmLn-e6FRc4-5X3TCf-hTFK4N-5FTTUx-Abf3GV-a1ExFz-621Udq-7UJoDn-6zdUWD-dS84z5-6zhYzo-mszAN8-msyXcP-msyWZe-mszAtk-msyWLZ-msATFA-msyWzg-mszxVV-dEmU38-fstNe2-bLoGDz-8VE5tv
So, yes, my son and I visited Dealey Plaza earlier this year, during our larger trip out west. The visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area was originally supposed to be for roughly three or four hours, but the airline changed our itinerary, and we kind of had to accept. So, we wound up getting around 24 hours (just shy of it, actually) in that particular region, instead. Not that I was complaining, as it is always interesting to see something new, something different, and of interest.
Dallas was always of a strange, unique interest to me. Texas has long seemed strange to me, almost like a foreign country of sorts. And chief among the places that I wanted to visit there was Dallas, Texas. More specifically, Dealey Plaza, which held a kind of morbid fascination for me. You see, I feel that within the span of just seconds in 1963, the country, and perhaps the world, was changed forever, and not for the better.
Of course, it is no secret that I am speaking of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. It was supposed to be one of those moments in time when everyone remembered exactly what they were doing when they found out. This singular event cast a shadow of sorts over the world as I knew it growing up, even though I popped into the world more than a decade after this event. It seemed to me that the United States was an unbelievably happy and prosperous place, that the country enjoyed a standard of living and quality of life that was second to none, and which was the envy of the entire world. To boot, the collective world memory of the United States having helped to liberate Europe and Asia from the chains of tyranny and forceful occupation was still relatively fresh, and so the United States was legitimately looked up to the world over. No country had ever enjoyed such high prestige, nor was any nation before or since in quite a privileged and powerful place.
Yes, that was the world, and the United State specifically, as it then existed. the perfect embodiment of that seeming happiness and success was the "Camelot" days of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Here was a young and dashing leader with incredible wit, intelligence, and a seeming vision for the country that truly inspired. He spoke eloquently (albeit probably a little vaguely) about great things, and seemed to give the country a sense of direction and purpose. Elected in 1960, he led for approximately 1,000 days, before his life was cut short, as he was gunned down in Dallas, in Dealey Plaza, on this day in 1963.
Truly, the world, and especially the United States, has never been the same since.
Prior to this singular event, Americans seemed to have a faith in themselves, in their country, and in their elected officials which has since very clearly has gone away. This belief seems almost naive by today's standards, although I cannot help but feel that we also lost something in the process, and that we have turned irrevocably cynical towards everything. Although I was not there on that particular day, it seems to me that the beginning of all of this cynicism came on that fateful day, and the events that followed. Kennedy, the leader who made us all proud, and was the face of the country for his all-too brief tenure in the Oval Office, seemed to represent the very best that the country had to offer. His assassination was like a national Pandora's Box. From this event, not only did Americans grieve their stricken leader, but they came to disbelieve the Warren Commission, the official government report of what exactly happened on that day. Conspiracy theories came to dominate perceptions of that event, with some raising some serious questions, and others showing a less savory, borderline lunatic fringe element to the country. The divisions of the country, which certainly had existed while Kennedy was in office, grew ever more apparent, and the Vietnam War cast yet more doubts about what government told us. Add to that Watergate some years later, and you had a country growing ever more cynical, almost by the minute. We have reached a point where almost no major event can happen without some people claiming that it is false, that it is not real news, but somehow orchestrated by higher powers that be, some evil force in control of everything. After all, the conspiracy theories may have begun with the events at Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, but they certainly did not end there. Many people believe that the government was behind the September 11th attacks, and that the moon landing was a fake.
And so, despite the tragedy of this event, it always held a sort of somber reminder of what we lost on that day. Not just a president, a leader, but also a way of life. A way of looking at the world, with a boldness and confidence that we just have never been able to get back since, try as we may. Now, we have so-called leaders who speak in tones that sometimes echo Kennedy and his style, and his words, but which pale by comparison, because those words are met by the brick wall of our collective cynicism.
Coming to Dealey Plaza was not unlike visiting the site in a cemetery where a loved one is buried. There is this sense of a major, major loss - one that the whole country has not entirely been able to fully get over since. The fact that I, and millions of people who, like me, were born well after these events, nonetheless also feel like they lost something, some kind of lightning in a bottle that can never quite be recaptured again.
The images, and especially the infamous Zapruder video of the assassination itself, have come to represent a turning point in the country's history. Like with September 11th, things can never be quite put whole again, and our lives have certainly changed following both of those events. The unbelievable violence of the actual assassination, captured by Abraham Zapruder's camera on that fateful day, still has the power to shock, even though we have all seen the video time and time again, and know the outcome. Seeing that leader - a real President for all Americans - literally get his head blown off in front of the cameras is still shocking and emotional. And it all seems to come back to life (pardon the expression) especially here in Dealey Plaza, where in some way, it remains eerily similar to the way that it looked in 1963.
My son is still too young to fully appreciate the gravitas of the place, although I was not. We arrived in the late afternoon/early summer evening, and it felt unusually quiet. Fittingly, as close to being a cemetery site as you are apt to get in a large, modern city.
Below are some of the words I already shared of these experiences in earlier blog entries, but which I thought seemed appropriate to post again on this most solemn of anniversaries - the anniversary of not just the untimely death of a president, but of an event that forever changed a country, and indeed the world, and not necessarily for the better.
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:
Parkland Hospital Display:
Friday, August 26 - The last day of the trip, period. We woke up a bit later than usual, but enjoyed a very hearty breakfast. The hotel had what appeared to be an actual restaurant inside, and breakfast was complimentary. They had fresh fruit, real eggs, sausages, toast, English muffins, cereal, do-it-yourself waffles, milk, coffee, and juices. Naturally, my son's eyes were bigger than his stomach, and quite typically, he took too much. One thing that he did was the waffles, and when I saw his on his plate, it kind of made me in the mood for it, too. When I went up to make my own, I saw two different waffle makers, and one was making them in the shape of Texas, so I went for that. Predictably, my son's eyes widened, and he was jealous, and asked if he could have mine. No problem, although I made sure to take a picture of him with it (see below). We finished our breakfast (although he was taking a long time), then got ready. We barely had brought anything to the hotel, so it did not take long for us to leave after checking out. We then headed towards Fort Worth. I had wanted to visit the Sixth Floor Museum back at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, although I could already tell that time was going to be too tight to do everything, and that was likely going to have to be scrapped. My girlfriend had spent some time in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and when I asked her what there was that could appeal to a ten-year old boy, she immediately mentioned the Active Fountains in Fort Worth, as well as the longhorns, which are marched through the streets of the city. Upon doing some further research, I learned that, indeed, the longhorns took two walks everyday in the Fort Worth Stockyards, once at 11:30 and again at 4:30. Obviously, we were going to try and catch the 11:30 one, since by 4:30, we would be either at the airport awaiting boarding, or on a plane. So, we drove to Fort Worth, and went straight to the Stockyards, and watched the longhorns. The horns really were amazingly long, and seemed on each side to be the length of the width of the cars that they passed! That was surprising! My son enjoyed this quite a bit. After that, we went to the Active Fountains. My son ran straight to the fountains, although I made a quick call, just to make sure that I could drop the rental car off later than the noon time when we were slated to. As it turned out, since we had picked it up at roughly 5 pm the day before, we did not have to worry about extra charges until after that 24 hour period, and we would have to drop the car off earlier than that to make the flight! So, my worries on that front went away, and we enjoyed the fountains quite a lot. He really went kind of wild there, and later, he said that this was one of the highlights of his trip! I was glad that we went there, although we had to cut it short when a thunderstorm approached. Suddenly, there was thunder and lightning, and we were drenched in heavy rainfall. So, we went back to the car, and then went to the Kennedy Memorial outside of the former Hotel Texas (Now the Fort Worth Hilton Hotel) in General Worth Square. We parked and waited for the rain to subside. And waited. And waited. After a while, it dawned on me that it was getting a bit late, and that if I was going to take some pictures, it would apparently have to be in the rain. After all, we had this one day here, and really, only for a few more hours. So, I braved the heavy rains and menacing thunder, which sounded too close for comfort, and took pictures of, admittedly, yet another site with some Kennedy significance to it. It was strange, looking up at the building where President Kennedy spent his last night of his life, and I recalled a very good article that told of how three presidents were in the city of Dallas on that fateful morning, as a light rain fell. There was nothing light about this rain, however, and wearing my sandals as I was, had to jump over some of the big puddles to get to the memorial. Then, it was time to go. Predictably, the rain stopped maybe five minutes after I took all of those pictures, but by then, we were almost on the highway that would take us out of Fort Worth and back towards Dallas, and to Love Field. There was one more Kennedy thing that I wanted to see before we left. It had been a billboard, of all things, but it looked to be an old Kennedy for President campaign billboard. Thinking of the two walking, talking, breathing mediocrities currently running for the highest office in the land, I wished that we indeed did have a John F. Kennedy as an option to vote for. In any case, we filled up the gas tank (we had not used much gas on our trip, certainly not in comparison to the other places we had visited, and the massive miles that we had put on), and I stopped and snapped some pictures of this billboard. Then, we went to Love Field Airport. I tried to find out if there were any plaques or statues recognizing the airport's historical significance during the Kennedy Assassination, although I was not met with any success. Still, I tried to imagine what this relatively small airport might have been like back in the 1960's. Of course, we arrived relatively early, because it seemed unnecessary to take any risks, which meant that we had time to kill. So, I treated my son to the closest thing to a Texas-style meal that was available. He chose a barbecue meal, as did I, and we ate well. It was good, and then I went to the souvenir shops and looked around, not having had a chance to look at Texas souvenirs elsewhere. Before long, we went to our terminal and waited it out, before finally boarding the plane, more or less on time. That said, we ended up waiting on the tarmac because of an enormous storm front, and that was believable, having seen the heavy rains that we had seen in Fort Worth. So, it took a bit longer, although before too long, we nonetheless did get up in the air, and wound up landing at LaGuardia more or less on time. We flew over Flushing Meadows and saw the grounds where the US Open would be played in the next couple of days, as well as Citi Field, where the lights were on and a crowd assembled, presumably for a Mets game. It was one little last bit of excitement for my son to see before we landed. The trip was now over.