Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The X in the Road: Reliving a Tragedy

[In which the author loses her head entirely]

When I first found out that we were going to Texas, on the pretext of seeing a Dallas Cowboys football game, my heart leapt into my throat.
And it had nothing to do with sports.

I knew that I was finally going to have the opportunity to see Dealey Plaza, where President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

For those who don't know,
I have spent years of my life researching and writing on the Kennedy clan, namely Jack and Bobby.
I wrote my college dissertation on the three brothers--Jack, Bobby, and Teddy--
and how they made the 1960s the apex of Kennedy fame, creating a polemic among the American public.  I delved into the curious love/hate divide that people have for the Kennedy family (which originated with me growing up in a house where one parent adored the family and the other parent loathed them).

Obviously Jack's murder was a crucial part of this thesis, and it piqued my interest, and since then I have continued my research purely for personal pleasure.
I actually met Robert F. Kennedy Jr. a few years ago and tried to speak with him on the matter, and he recommended a book to me that fueled the fire and is my go-to tome on the assassination and causation behind it!

I always dreamed about visiting Dealey Plaza and seeing history for myself, wanting to understand the layout of the park and how that influences the various conspiracy theories.
So this, my first trip to Texas, help special meaning for me!

When we arrived and the Texans asked what we wanted to do and see, I said all I cared about was making sure I got to see Dealey Plaza.
They rolled their eyes at me and drawled " 're you a Demacraaat?"
They offered to take me there on our way back to the airport, but I couldn't explain that this wasn't a site I wanted to drive past and snap a picture of.  I wanted to walk every inch of it and see the museum they built in the Book Depository.
Most of them having never seen the plaza themselves, they just didn't get it and reminded us that Dallas was about an hour and a half drive away.  I said "that's closer than Salt Lake City...."

And I tugged on Eli's sleeve every few hours going "when will we get to go to Dallas?!"
Then, on our second morning there, while everyone was lazing around in their pajamas by the fire munching on biscuits and gravy, Eli whispered "go get ready."
He said he has never seen me spring into action so quickly!
He arranged for us to borrow the car and go, just the two of us (like I preferred), into Dallas and meet up with the others for lunch.
It only took us about an hour to drive into Dallas and it was like a deja vu history nerd's dream; as we neared the metropolis, we saw signs for Love Field (the airport Jack and Jackie flew in to), and drove past Parkland Memorial (the hospital he was taken to and declared dead at).
I got butterflies in my stomach as we exited off the highway and the GPS said we were nearly there.
Then I looked up and saw Stemmons Freeway, and behind it, the Texas School Book Depository (which is the brick building the Warren Commission declared Lee Harvey Oswald shot from).

I started shaking and crying all at once, and when Eli looked over to see what was the matter, he thought I was having a seizure or something! He said "What's wrong?! Are you okay?"
And I couldn't speak--all I could do was point incoherently at the building until he looked and realized what I was blubbering about.
It felt surreal, after years of studying a place, to finally be present in it.  I felt like I had jumped into a book's page, especially because in the last 49 years they have kept Dealey Plaza the same.
Because they continue to film period pieces about the assassination there, and study possible conspiracies to explain how it happened, they haven't built or removed anything that wasn't there in 1963, so you feel like you've gone back in time.

They were repainting the original white structures to make them look as fresh as they did 49 years ago because they're filming a new movie there, Legacy of Secrecy, starring Leonardo DiCaprio...who, unfortunately, wasn't there.

We circled around, trying to find a parking spot, and ended up behind the Texas School Book Depository, near the train tracks.  I burst out laughing, realizing that where we were parking had been a parking lot 49 years ago, and supposedly an escape route for the assassins.
We walked through the plaza, and I stood on the outcrop where Abraham Zapruder shot his famous film of the assassination,

We ran up the infamous Grassy Knoll to the fence where the other shooters were and my breath left my body.
We could not believe how close the fence where they stood was to the road where Kennedy's motorcade was.  I would feel comfortable taking a shot that close--it was only about 20 feet away.
If you compare that to the awkward and difficult shot from the window of the Depository, you can't help but know there was a conspiracy.

Following a tradition I had heard of on one of the many JFK conspiracy blogs,
I brought along a fat permanent marker and left my own scrawl on the fence.
It is an Aeschylus quote, and what Bobby said got him through Jack's death.
It is also the quote that Bobby extemporaneously recited when he had to announce the awful death  of Martin Luther King, Jr. at a campaign rally in 1968.

They have an X painted on the road there in Dealey
where the President was shot.
An X for the first shot,
and another for the fatal head shot.
When we were there I had to be completely removed and try for objectivity,
because even squinting my eyes a bit I could visualize the motorcade and the crack of a gun and flying blood and Jackie in a pink suit crawling on the trunk of the car.
I couldn't go there--it made me too distraught and the whole experience overwhelming,
so I tried to observe it as calmly as possible and not dwell on the tragedy of the matter,
which I've done before and knew I would do again in the privacy of my own home.

Because who wants to see a whimpering crybaby standing in the middle of the street?

After traipsing through the Plaza for an hour, we decided to hit up the museum they've built on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
They don't let you go in the original main entrance, or use the stairs, because these are involved in what the Warren Commission put out and a variety of conspiracies.
And waiting in line to buy tickets (which were $16 a piece...OUCH!) we had 30 cameras trained on us; the security there was intense and certainly said a lot.

Also, you're not allowed to take any photos in the museum, but I snuck a couple with the cell phone of the model the Warren Commission used to explain their crack ass crazy theory and the supposed window Oswald shot out of.
This window is curious, because it is entirely glassed off and they've put up boxes around it which they claim is to maintain the historicity of it (even though they cleared all those boxes out years ago, and then put them back) when we all know it's to prevent people from looking out of the window and going "NO ONE COULD MAKE A SHOT FROM HERE! I COULDN'T HIT THE BROADSIDE OF A BARN ON ELM STREET!" and the especially crazy ones would probably try to chip pieces out of the floor and test them for gun powder or something.

It was spooky up there, but it certainly was a nice museum.
They had all kinds of information and objects about Kennedy and his campaign.
On the 7th floor, which is an open space probably used for events, they had giant portraits of Jack and Jackie that were made of millions of miniature images of the other (so Jack's was made of small portraits of Jackie).  Very neat.

Afterward, we walked a block behind Dealey to see the cenotaph they put up for JFK.
From images, I expected it to be smaller, about the size of a large tomb, but it was huuuuuuge.It was so concrete and cold and I felt claustrophobic being inside.
I didn't like it much, and I don't think Jack would have either.
The beautiful orange butterfly dipping its wings over the reflecting pool in the plaza was a much better homage to him.

All in all, we spent about 3 glorious hours there and walked every inch of the space.
I saw everything I wanted and Eli, who has patiently listened to my ramblings and watched documentaries with me, also thoroughly enjoyed himself.

History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.  ~Winston Churchill

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