Stephen E. Lewis © 2001
It was an absolutely beautiful day. September 26th, 2001 will go down as a significant event in my life because it was the day that I finally visited the mecca of my passion – Dealey Plaza.
Having lived in the Orient for the past eight years without returning once to the States, I had an opportunity to do so last month. I had business at Fort Hood, Texas, and hoped for the chance to get to Dallas before returning to Korea. It wasn't looking good until the tragic events of September 11th changed my travel plans and required me to make my getaway from the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. I had to drive the two-plus hours to Dallas and with the help of a map discovered that Dealey Plaza was less than an inch (at least on the map) from I-35E. I had the time.
As soon as I made the turn onto Commerce and went under the Triple Overpass, my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest.
And there it was – just like in the pictures and films I have studied so religiously over the past seven years. With one eye on the road and the other on the Texas School Book Depository (now called the Dallas County Administration Building), I somehow managed to avoid a traffic accident and parked the car.
I crossed Houston and ran head on into a hawker with his arms full of a specially prepared newspaper called the J.F.K. Assassination Historical Journal. I'm sure he noticed the stars in my eyes (and that I had a billfold), so he stopped me dead in my tracks and without so much as a "Howdy, Pardner" went into his soliloquy about what "really happened" that day in November 1963. Ten minutes later (I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was preaching to the choir) I coughed up the five bucks for the paper and started my own guided tour of the plaza.
First stop – the wall where Howard Brennan sat and watched Oswald fire the rifle. Is it close enough to the window to get a good look at someone leaning out? Absolutely.
I then crossed Elm and walked the short (and I emphasize that) distance to the spot where the street is marked with a crude "X" to show the approximate spot where the fatal head shot occurred. There is a historical marker on the side of the road there, but it makes no reference to the assassination – only that it's a historical site.
I checked out the pergola where Abraham Zapruder stood and then moved on to the infamous "grassy knoll". I went behind the picket fence and discovered that it is, in fact, a good spot for a sniper to fire from down to the road. However, I still contend that it would be almost impossible to fire a high-powered rifle from that location without being seen or heard. We are talking about a small place that had a lot of people milling around at the time of the assassination. Okay, back to the tour.
I noticed that the train terminal building where Lee Bowers said he saw the unusual activities, the flash of light and the two men get in a car and leave was still standing. It is completely dilapidated and looks odd amid the newness in the area. I wonder why it hasn't been torn down?
I went back to the spot where the "X" was in the road and looked back at the sixth floor window. A clear shot. Much easier than a shot down to Houston would be.
The most amazing thing (to me) about Dealey Plaza is just how small it really is. People think of Oswald shooting a considerable distance, but it isn't. And with a scope it's even closer. AND. . . it truly is an echo chamber. A neat little bowl of buildings to let a loud report bounce around in.
Last, but not least, it was time to enter the inner sanctum of yet unanswered questions. I paid the $10 admission and piled onto the elevator to the sixth floor with a group of people who were probably alive in 1963 and remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news – just like me.
The sixth floor has been completely refurbished into a very tasteful museum. Gary Mack and crew have done an excellent job in creating a reverent atmosphere without gaudiness or a freak show appearance. A person completely ignorant of the facts surrounding the assassination could leave there quite knowledgeable and most likely intrigued by the many conspiracy theories surrounding the case. I was impressed with the fact that although there are quite a few inferences to conspiracy, it isn't preached or force fed. I appreciate that.
The "sniper's nest" is surrounded by a Plexiglas™ wall and is set up as close as possible to the way it appeared on November 22nd, 1963. It is naturally the highlight of the tour. The EarthCam® in the window is the same one I have watched on my PC for a couple of years and I thought it was interesting that I was now looking right at that camera. I felt an uneasiness as I stared at that corner and imagined Oswald sitting there waiting. I noticed that it was deathly quiet on that end of the building.
All things must come to an end and the last stop was the Museum Bookstore on the first floor. It is filled with souvenirs, books, newspaper reproductions, tee shirts, coffee cups, and just about anything you can think of relating to the Kennedys and the assassination. I didn't buy anything – I've already got it all.
I will probably never return to Dealey Plaza intentionally. Once is enough. It is not a fun place with fond memories…but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Go to Dealey Plaza. Americans owe it to themselves…at least once.