The Sixth Floor

Image Credit; Michael Berman

“A View from the Grassy Knoll” Dealey Plaza, Dallas, texas
Image Credit; Michael Berman

Friday afternoon I did something I rarely do when traveling for a conference: sightseeing. While I was driving into Dallas Wednesday the great Matt Crosslin (he is a total mensch) pointed out Dealey Plaza, the infamous spot where JFK was assassinated. I was immediately struck. I’m familiar with the details of JFK’s assassination—I read both Don DeLillo’s Libra and James Ellroy’s American Tabloidbut it never occurred to me that you could actually visit the site of the assassination.

I forgot about Dealey Plaza soon after arriving at the conference hotel because there was work to be done on my presentation. The following day Laura Pasquini (who totally rules) mentioned that there’s a museum on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. Trippy, right?

It’s called The Sixth Floor Museum and it opened its doors in 1989. And, as it turns out, it’s quite a compelling experience. You are guided through the sixth floor of the museum by way of an audio tour narrated, I believe,  by Pierce Allman—who came face to face with Oswald when running into the Depository to call-in the news. The museum sets up the Kennedy presidency by framing the times (Cold War, Space Race, Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.), his family (Jackie O, the kids, the youthful promise for the future), and a broader civil unrest in the nation around the question of racial equality. All done at the beginning of the audio tour. It then moves towards Kennedy’s re-election campaign tour in Texas that was to visit several cities, Dallas being the one most of his advisors urged him to avoid.

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The museum moves from the general to the specific events of November 22nd, 1963 quite seamlessly, and focuses into the moment by moment narrative of their arrival at Love Airfield and the proceeding motorcade around Dallas. It also does a pretty remarkable job of taking you through the details of the assassination using three big photos as well as frame by frame breakdown of the Zapruder film. It was chilling without seeming exploitative, and once you pass through this walkway you finally see the dreaded corner window where the shots were fired. It was framed by plexiglass and re-created exactly as it was on the day of the assassination. The trees are taller so you don’t have a totally unobstructed view, but there are two “X”s  on the road where the president was hit. And, having been on the site it does seem very strange that Oswald could have gotten three shots off so quickly.

Installation at the Sixth Floor Museum of the recreated corner window from which Oswald fired.

What was so compelling about this museum? The idea that spaces and places matter. I found it interesting that the museum was so adamant about prohibiting cameras and the like. Pictures, videos, and text can’t fully capture being there in the space and walking up to the window and looking down on the street adjacent to the grassy knoll. It was a moment that forced you to think deeply and contextualize more broadly how that moment in 1963 sent shockwaves around the world that we are still very much in the gravitational orbit of to this day. It was a sobering and profound exploration of not only the moment, but the cultural confusion that emerged from it and still very much resonates fifty years later.

If you ever find yourself in Dallas with an afternoon to spare, I highly recommend take a trip up to The Sixth Floor.

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8 Responses to The Sixth Floor

  1. Pingback: EduGeek Journal » MakerSpace Instructional Design

  2. Pat says:

    When I went to Dallas, half an hour to kill before the rent a car went back

    • Reverend says:

      That’s another way to get a sense of how easy it is to miss Dealey Plaza, I had no idea how close it was to the Freeway entrance and how strategic a location it was for an assassination. Bizarre.

  3. Did you see the “x” on the street where the car was when the bullets struck? When I was there a local told me that the city keeps washing it off and the conspiracy buffs keep painting it back on.

    • Reverend says:

      I think at this point the Xs are a part of the infrastructure because they are mentioned repeatedly in the museum. They also demonstrate how crazy the idea of getting three shots off was in such a short distance, yet I digress 🙂

  4. A very strange, powerful place to visit. Nicely documented, Rev.

    When I visited – during an Educause conference – I walked on the grassy knoll, ogled the overpass, looked up at Oswald’s perch, visited the museum, etc. It was weirdly… non-resonant, just part of a southern city. But telling Baby Boomers about it was always good for a buzz.

    Ever see Bill Hicks’ routines about the assassination?

    • Reverend says:


      What was truppy to me about Dealey Plaza is how it empties out into the freeway system, it was truly on the edge of the city, and the Grassy Knoll is effectively overlooking a highway. What resonated for me when i was there was the cultural confusion, the idea there could be so many readings and possibilities. Te idea that place does capture a sense of the unknowable of a situation that is oddly reassuring. I guess it did resonate for me in that regard, I’d love to get your take on the non-resonant—is it because it was already so overblown?

      I’ll have to chek out th Bill Hicks’s routines. In fact, I have heard about Bill Hicks a few times over the last couple of years, and I haven;t seen anything by him. Guess I need to change that very quickly.

      • Non-resonant… perhaps because I didn’t live through the experience (born 1967). Also because there was a lack of, well, formal ceremony. A president gets gunned down, and two plain Xes mark the spot, repeatedly driven over as I watched? You’d think they’d have sealed off the road for all time, and rerouted traffic.
        Similarly, the grassy knoll was just a patch of earth, nothing special.

        Ah, the sainted Bill Hicks. Here’s one sample:

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