EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this story originally ran on Nov. 21, 2010. It has been updated for the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
DALLAS — The 1961 Lincoln Continental rolls toward Dealey Plaza. The president and his first lady wave. The music throbs, and the scene slows.
And you, the viewer, have the knowledge of this man’s immediate future.
Time crawls on the screen and in the present moment.
It’s a sinking feeling, knowing you are about to bear witness to an indelible American moment. And it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen it because there is nothing you can do to stop it.
You are about to watch a man die.
You can’t tear your eyes from the video display until you are saved at the last moment by the screen going black.
It was five minutes of watching happy spectators wave as President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, arrived at Love Field and rolled through Dallas almost 50 years ago.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza documents the life and death of Kennedy at the site of his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination. The museum is housed on the floor where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed the president.
The displays fuse photographs and newspaper clippings with videos and artifacts. The collection details the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination and the conspiracy theories.
The sniper’s nest, where Oswald is said to have fired the fatal shots, is glassed in, but from the floor’s domed windows, the X marking the spot the bullet struck Kennedy is visible. The area has boxes and bullet casings to re-create the scene as it was found by investigators.
The audio guide — included with admission — leads visitors through the exhibits introducing the visitor to the era that led to Kennedy’s presidency. As the exhibit continues, the audio mixes the voices of Kennedy and the era into the narration, including those who witnessed history, creating the illusion of including the visitor in moments of history.
The narrator is Pierce Allman, the first reporter to broadcast from the scene. The guide includes clear instructions on what is next and how to operate the player while not removing the visitor from the mood.
Audio guides are available in English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, Japanese and a family version (English only). Transcripts are available for the hearing impaired.
Early on, the Cuban missile crisis and Kennedy’s call for public service are highlighted before moving on to the trip to Texas. Video clips show the first lady speaking in San Antonio and the couple’s arrival at Love Field.
Still frames and photographs from the infamous Abraham Zapruder film and other bystanders dot the second half of the experience, illustrating the day’s events. One aerial shot pinpoints the location where each captured their images. Throughout the museum, eyewitness testimony brings the visitors back to that November day.
In one area, The Associated Press wire machine’s ticker from that day showcases the reporter’s attempts to send the news across the country repeatedly and how it was scrambled among other outlets sending stories of lesser importance.
Finally, a bulletin was sent for all non-Dallas outlets to stop sending alerts, all but telling them to shut up. After three or four jumbled attempts, the news of Kennedy’s assassination was clear and unmistakable.
Two longer films are set in small theaters. One features the global reaction to Kennedy’s death and the nation in mourning. The other showcases his legacy.
The forensics of the ensuing investigation and subsequent conspiracy theories are delved into, including a scale replica of Dealey Plaza and the surrounding area. Other displays discuss Kennedy’s impact on the country and those who followed him.
The seventh floor features rotating exhibits.
Through Oct. 27, “The American President: Photographs from the Archives of The Associated Press” features 71 photographs taken by Associated Press photographers throughout a 100-year span.
Leading up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination, the museum is one of many venues offering related events, such as panel discussions and an author series.
Visit jfk50theevents.org for an interactive calendar.
The museum isn’t about telling you what happened, why it happened or even how it happened; it’s about marking the spot where one moment changed a generation. Its proximity to East Texas is reason enough to bear witness to American history. No matter how much you think you know about Kennedy, there is always something new, something different.
The museum is open Mondays from noon to 6 p.m. and Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Throughout October and November, the museum is offering extended admission hours on Fridays and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $14 for youth. Admission includes the audio guide.
The museum now offers a timed-entry system to reduce wait time, which may be purchased online up to two hours in advance.
Tickets through November are available for purchase online.
The museum will be open Nov. 22, but hours have not been confirmed, so tickets are not available.
The museum recommends purchasing tickets online if you are planning to visit during the 50th anniversary week, Nov. 16 through 24.
Visit www.jfk.org for more information.
Parking is adjacent to the building, 411 Elm St., for $5 a day, and other spots are available in the West End.