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Remember the Day

Visit the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex this year to observe the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
BY RONA DISTENFELD

On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, Ronald Sellers skipped school to stand in the misty rain in front of Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas.

exhibit

Above: The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas examines Kennedy’s assassination with a variety of exhibits. Sixth Floor Museum photo

Below: The John F. Kennedy Tribute in Fort Worth features photographs, quotes, and a life-size statue of the former president. © 2013 David Kozlowski photo

statue

“There were people hanging out of the windows, right behind where President Kennedy was going to speak,” said Sellers, a Houston resident who lived in Fort Worth in 1963. “What struck me, and I don’t know why I thought this, was that if someone wanted to kill the president, all they had to do was stick a gun through one of those windows.”

It was an eerily prescient thought for a teenager. Later that day in Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald–according to government investigations–would do that exact thing, killing John F. Kennedy, America’s youngest president, and plunging the nation into mourning.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of that tragic day, an appropriate time to visit and take advantage of the permanent commemorations and the events scheduled for this anniversary year.

It Began in Fort Worth

President Kennedy began his last day in Fort Worth. He and the first lady spent their last night at the Hotel Texas, now the Hilton Fort Worth (AAA Three Diamonds).

The people of Fort Worth were so excited to have the president in their city that they gathered priceless paintings from private collections to hang in the president’s hotel room.

In the morning, the misty rain stopped just before Kennedy stepped outside the hotel to greet the huge crowd gathered to see him.

“There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” he said during the visit. This quote is engraved on the outer wall of the JFK Tribute that now stands across the street from the hotel. The memorial includes a bronze statue, several photographs, and quotes.

The second floor of the hotel also has its own tribute to Kennedy, with a collection of photographs taken that morning during his appearance in front of the crowd and at the chamber of commerce breakfast that followed in the hotel’s ballroom. These were the president’s last speeches.

The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce will hold a commemorative breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 22 at the Hilton hotel. It is expected to sell out to chamber members.

Other commemorative events include:

• an exhibit, “Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The works installed in the presidential suite of Hotel Texas will be gathered for the first time since Nov. 22, 1963.

• an exhibit, “JFK in Fort Worth: A Lasting Impression,” through Dec. 6 at the public library, 500 W. Third St. On Nov. 15, Bob Schieffer, veteran journalist and host of the CBS news show Face the Nation, will speak about the day the president was assassinated and how it affected history.

• a new play, Oswald: The Actual Interrogation, will be presented Nov. 9–17 at the Casa Manana Theatre, 3101 W. Lancaster. The drama, based on notes from the actual interrogation, looks at the 48 hours Oswald was in the custody of the Dallas Police Department. While being transferred from the city jail to the county jail, Oswald was fatally shot by Jack Ruby.

On to Dallas and Into History

According to official reports, the shots that killed President Kennedy came from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building. In 1989, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza opened in the same building, which is at 411 Elm St.

The museum is more than a memorial to the assassination. It’s a step back in time.

An audio tour comes with admission to the museum and leads visitors through the exhibits, which start with a display of movie posters, record jackets, and theater advertisements. Camelot and Breakfast at Tiffany’s were the hits of the day, and Chubby Checker had teenagers doing the twist.

Pierce Allman, the first reporter to broadcast from the Texas School Book Depository on that fateful day, narrates the tour. He sets the stage with synopses of the economy, the Civil Rights Movement, the Peace Corps, the Cold War, and Kennedy’s mission to land a man on the moon by 1970. The audiotape brings us voices from eyewitnesses and others who were present that day.

The exhibits bring together photographs from many sources, including newspapers, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Massachusetts, and private collections. There are photos of the Kennedy family, as well as photos from the day of the shooting, including frames from a copy of the famous Zapruder film, a color motion picture sequence of the motorcade and assassination shot by private citizen Abraham Zapruder. In 1999, the Zapruder family donated the film to the museum.

The exhibit also includes an ad from that day’s Dallas Morning News that welcomes the president, then lists all the ways that Dallas stands against his policies, a reminder that Kennedy was not universally popular in Texas. In fact, according to information on the museum’s audiotape, Kennedy’s national popularity in November 1963 was at 51 percent, and he had received 400 death threats in the months before his visit to Dallas, facts often forgotten in the shock and mourning that followed.

Other displays show a re-created sniper’s corner where the shots were fired, and the re-created staircase where the gun was found. A model of Dealey Plaza built by the FBI in 1964 and used by the Warren Commission and other investigative bodies also is on display. A special section is devoted to various conspiracy theories, encouraging visitors to draw their own conclusions.

As part of the 50th anniversary commemoration, the museum has been presenting a series of speakers for the 2013 Living History Series. On Nov. 9, Bill and Gayle Newman, and their sons Clayton and Bill, recount that day. They were the closest civilian eyewitnesses to the president when he was shot. On Dec. 6 and 7, Kari-Mette Pigmans, a flight attendant on the press plane who was at Love Field during the shooting, shares her recollections of the president and the times.

Big D, Big Day, Big Memorial Event

On Nov. 22, 2013, Dallas will honor President Kennedy at Dealey Plaza. While attendance in Dealey Plaza to this sold-out event was limited to 5,000 screened ticket-holders–the majority of them Dallas/Fort Worth residents–people can experience the event throughout the city. Video screens set up at several nearby locations will show the ceremony.

At 11:45 a.m., church bells will ring and a moment of silence will be observed. Presidential historian David McCullough will read from Kennedy’s presidential speeches. The U.S. Naval Academy Men’s Glee Club will perform, and area religious leaders will offer prayers and a benediction. A military flyover will conclude the one-hour ceremony.

Fifty years ago, a moment of history was frozen in the minds of so many Americans. Through tributes, museums, and exhibits, we ensure that the generations who follow will remember.

Rona Distenfeld is a contributor from Austin, Texas.

Nov/Dec 2013 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact:

• JFK Tribute/Downtown Fort Worth, www.JFKTribute.com

• Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 433-5747, www.fortworth.com

• Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 232-5527, www.visitdallas.com

• The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, (214) 747-6660, www.jfk.org

• 50th anniversary events, www. 50thHonoringJohnFKennedy.com

To visit Dallas/Fort Worth, first stop by your AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Parkland, a film about the chaotic events at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on the day Kennedy was killed, is in theaters now. Buy discounted movie tickets in advance at AAA.com/tickets.


 


 

Presidential Files

• Born May 29, 1917
• Graduated from Harvard in 1940 and entered the Navy
• When his PT boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer in 1943, an injured Kennedy led
the survivors to safety
• Served in U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate from 1947–1960
• Married Jacqueline Bouvier on Sept. 12, 1953
• Became 35th president in 1961

JFK
Cecil Stoughton/
JFK Library photo

 

Beyond the Sixth Floor

You can easily spend several hours at the Sixth Floor Museum, but there’s more to do near Dealey Plaza, which was named a National Historic Landmark District in 1993.

The John F. Kennedy Memorial is just a few blocks away, and the JFK Trolley Tour leaves from Dealey Plaza every day. The narrated tour drives the president’s motorcade route, then on to Parkland Hospital, where the president was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963. The tour goes on to show you where Lee Harvey Oswald was living, and where he allegedly shot police officer J.D. Tippit less than one hour following Kennedy’s assassination. Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday.

If you’re ready for some lighter fare, the Dallas World Aquarium is close by in the West End Historic District. This area is also full of restaurants for every taste, from local institutions, like Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse for barbecue, to the upscale Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse, to familiar national chains.

Need a new cowboy hat or some chic western wear? Then Wild Bill’s Western Store is worth a stop. You might even meet Wild Bill himself and get to hear some tall stories.

Just a few blocks farther north, on the other side of the Woodall Rogers Expressway, the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a great place for kids of all ages. Learn about animal tracks, minerals, energy, space, earth, and more. You can race a T-Rex and compare your pitch to that of a pro. There’s also the Fort Worth Children’s Museum. Designed specifically for those eight and younger, it is a part of the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History.

–Rona Distenfeld

acquarium
The displays at the Dallas World Aquarium include a 20,000-gallon walk-through tunnel exhibit. Kenny Braun/Texas Tourism photo

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