Where JFK Was Shot … and Where I Got a Ticket: Dallas

In Sina's Posts, Trips on May 20, 2012 by SN

Many images come to my mind when I think of Texas’ largest city Dallas. Most prominently the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, but also the widely popular 1980s TV series Dallas, and of course uns’  Dirk Nowitzki playing for the successful Dallas Mavericks basketball team. The 2-million city in the app. 6 million Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is certainly the highlight of my trip!

First things first: The first trip lead me to the JFK memorial site in the western end of downtown Dallas. I took the opportunity to use my wonderful Airbnb host Duriye’s racing bike to explore the city. As it turns out this was a bad idea for two reasons.

  1. Dallas is by no means a city of cyclists! There are no bike lanes but wide 4 lane one-way streets. I felt highly intimidated riding with hundreds of other cars in downtown. My biggest fear was that they would not notice me and hit me.
  2. Dallas prevents downtown cycling by giving out tickets to cyclists who do not wear a helmet. Ok, wearing a helmet has been municipal law since 1996. But it is the only city in Texas where the bicycle patrol sharply enforces it while ironically neglecting the safety of some of the bikes I have seen out there.

When I was one block away from The Sixth Floor Museum on Lamar Street, the place to learn about Kennedy’s presidency, assassination, and aftermath, the Dallas PD pulled me over and the cop gave me a ticket for not wearing a helmet. The $10-ticket itself is pretty decent, but the so-called “court fees” are outrageous for my taste: $ 64!

This incident tells me much about Dallas’ spatial politics. On the one hand, the city is toying around with paving parts of the Trinity River in order to build another highway aiming at easing the dense traffic congestion. At the other hand, cycling as an alternative to get around the city is systematically repressed. This incident left a bitter aftertaste over my Dallas trip so far.

But back to visiting the site where JFK was shot in November 1963. Surprisingly, the former crime scene is an ordinary three-lane road today:

Nightmare on Elm Street: Where Oswald Shot Kennedy.

Every once in a while when the traffic light is green, a flood of cars rushes down Elm Street sternly ignoring the big white X in the middle lane where the President got shot three times. On both sides of the street tourists and visitors line up to look at the X and reminisce about what would have been if he had not died that fateful day. They are only interrupted by mostly African American street vendors who sell a historic newspaper that promises to tell the “truth” about JFK’s assassination.

CSI Dallas: Commemorators, Conspirators, and Veterans.

Standing at the Grassy Knoll, the adjacent green square, my gaze goes up the red brick building to the north end of this part of the street (see first photograph). This building is the former Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald positioned himself for the assassination. Today, this very place is the Sixth Floor Museum.

The Sixth Floor Museum starts off contextualizing the 1960s political and cultural climate. Then it introduces the key points in Kennedy’s Presidency before zooming in from hour to hour to second by second what happened on 22 November 1963. The moment of the assassination is mapped by the only available video going from millisecond to millisecond. I liked this zooming in a lot because it slows down time and enables me to imagine how it must have happened. Of course, this slow mapping intensifies the emotional impact of the murder even 49 years after it happened. It left many of the visitors moved and some even sniffed, contemplating, or even remembering that day. After the zooming in on the moments of the murder, it zooms out on the rescue efforts, JFK’s death, Oswald’s subsequent assassination by night club owner Jack Ruby, and the global response to the murder. The museum also features a chart of nine possible conspiracy theories ranging from Soviet agents over fundamentalists (left- and right-wing) to organized crime.

While historians still debate on the legacy of Kennedy’s Presidency (to paraphrase American journalist Walter Cronkite’s words in the last video of the exhibit), he did have a huge impact on the people. Visiting the exhibit and observing the visitors from different cultural backgrounds and ages I am convinced that this still holds true until today. And I include myself: Although the one-floor museum is quite small, I spent three hours there reading all of the panels, examining closely all of the photographs, and absorbing all the videos available.

Kennedy Memorial, Downtown Dallas.


2 Responses to “Where JFK Was Shot … and Where I Got a Ticket: Dallas”

  1. […] to the last possible station in Plano and then jump into a cab or get on a bike for that matter. Well, bike was not an option. I decided to ask my Airbnb host Duriye instead if she knew someone in her group of friends who […]

  2. […] almost all of the residents are Hispanics. The desert city is certainly a lot different from the Metroplex Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, but also San Antonio. “Western Landscape”: Franklin […]

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