Looking from the sixth-floor window of the former Texas School Book Depository, it would be nearly impossible to accurately fire two shots into a moving car on the Dealey Plaza roadway below. In 2022, a flourishing elm tree obscures the view as the road curves around and descends towards the underpass. But the third shot? Well, the line of sight for this one remains as clear as it would have been on that day in November 1963.
The view is halfway through the exhibit, known as the Sixth Floor Museum. It’s a moment recreated to make it feel like the assassination of a president stops time. Boxes of books, neatly stacked in the corner to create a sniper’s nest, with a single box angled at the corner window to be the resting point for the Carcano Model 38 rifle, complete with scope, which Lee -Harvey Oswald used to fire these three shots.
Clear glass covers the spot from which Oswald took aim, but visitors can stand at the immediately adjacent window and gaze beyond this thriving elm tree which, for 60 years, has seen countless others gaze upon how Oswald changed history.
Like the view, the seven-story red brick building on the plaza’s north side remains nearly the same, save for the missing Hertz sign on top and a new name: Dallas County Administration Building. Inside, the low ceiling marked by large wooden beams preserves the look and feel of the dimly lit space. The museum’s route winds through exhibits chronicling all aspects of the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963, but also the political landscape that led up to it.
A posting names at least nine groups suspected of wanting President John F Kennedy killed, but anyone looking for definitive proof that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone won’t find it here. In terms of who exactly planned the murder, how and why, the museum leaves visitors guessing.
In addition to conspiracy theories, the museum also allows you to think about “what if?”. Even in the mid-1990s, polls of Americans ranked JFK as one of America’s greatest presidents, despite only 22 months in office.
After the assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed more than 30 Kennedy bills through the House and Senate to become law, including civil rights legislation and the Mass Transportation Act. Books, movies, and essays have all speculated on a future if Oswald had been missed.
But he did not do it. And now tourists rush down the busy road between traffic light footage to snap a photo of the three large white crosses marked on the road, signifying the three gunshots fired at the presidential motorcade.
Eyes are on this sixth-story corner window, to gauge the accuracy of shots at a moving vehicle. Turn around, and there’s the grassy knoll, a short hill topped by a wooden palisade that’s been rebuilt multiple times to make sure it looks like the day JFK was killed.
Behind this is a parking lot, from where conspiracy theorists claim a second shooter fired the fatal shot and then fled into a waiting car.
Scariest of all is standing where Abraham Zapruder captured the footage of the assassination on his Bell & Howell 44PD Zoomatic camera. Frame 312 of his film reel captures the moment the fatal blow struck the 35th US President.
The film is not shown at the Sixth Floor Museum, where only still images are shown. It does, however, present the stark view of Oswald’s death, taken from a time when live television was in its infancy.
Local nightclub owner Jack Ruby shoots him at the police guardhouse and in the chaotic scenes that follow, Oswald is thrown onto a medical stretcher and thrown into the back of an ambulance. It’s especially harrowing to watch now, knowing that he would take his secrets to the grave.
Trains still rumble past over the bridge just 150 yards from where the third shot struck President Kennedy. A few more seconds and his motorcade would have entered the underpass and been clear of the shooter.
An old man sitting nearby is spreading his version of the conspiracy theory and selling books and videos about the assassination to anyone who listens. And then the traffic light turns green and the white crosses disappear under the Wednesday rush hour flood. Because time didn’t really stand still that day in 1963, after all.
The Sixth Floor Museum is located in the historic West End district at the corner of North Houston and Elm streets. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can only be purchased online at www.jfk.org and cost US$18 for adults, US$16 for seniors and US$14 for children ages 6-18.