Although streets are narrow and buildings are tall, parking is reasonably easy at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, TX. There is museum parking (at $5 a day), municipal parking (at $4 a day) and another municipal lot that we found that was free. All three of them are within easy walking distance of the entrance to the museum.
The museum is housed in the Book Depository, infamous as the site from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed President Kennedy. The building was constructed in 1901 and leased to the Texas School Book Depository in 1963. It was a housing and distributing point for the distribution of textbooks to public schools in Texas. The company leased the first four floors to publishers and used the 5th, 6th, and 7th floors as warehouse space. The depository moved to new quarters in 1970 and the building went through several owners and a fire until 1977 when Dallas County voters approved funding to purchase and restore the building. Floors 1 through 5 are currently county administrative offices. The Sixth Floor Museum houses the cultural exhibit examining the assassination and legacy of President Kennedy.
The museum opened to the public on Presidents Day 1989. The average annual attendance exceeds 350,000.
Entering the admission / gift shop area on the first floor, we found helpful security personnel that directed us to the appropriate counter. It was clear that at times there are large crowds and admission to the museum occurs every 30 minutes allowing the lineup of persons viewing the exhibits to spread out some. The museum opened at 10 AM and we got there just after 10:30. The 10:30 entry had just been completed and we had clear sailing through admissions to the elevator that takes attendees to the 6th floor. As we passed by one of the counters, an attendant gave us an audio tour device and explained to us how to use it.
Immediately in front of the elevator on the 6th if a bronze bust of Kennedy. It was created in 1964 by Tennyson Fairbanks and marks the beginning of the audio tour. There are some 40 pages to progress through on the audio tour. Some of the general pages are broken down further into subsets. Each page on the audio tour is in front of photo and drawing displays to illustrate what you are hearing.
The tour begins with information about the Kennedy/Nixon campaigns prior to his election. It covers the televised debates since they were historically significant and progresses through his narrow margin of victory. In many areas of the country, including Texas, emotions ran high about the quality of the government during this time of Kennedy leadership. There are several displays showing the enthusiastic support of the president as well as the rabid disapproval.
There is not much information about the assassin but the area from which he fired the shots has been recreated and is behind a glass enclosure so that a complete sense of what happened can be had. The windows that run along Elm Street (the street where President Kennedy was killed) have video displays in front of them so that the attendee can follow the motorcade as it proceeded past the building. Much of this part of the exhibit is devoted to displaying the complete adoration of President Kennedy’s admirers as well as the obvious hate displayed by his distractors. After the assassination the world was in mourning.
There is a display case that contains the cameras used by the spectators at the time of President Kennedy’s visit. Some of them are very much candid cameras while some have a professional look to them. There are two theaters. One shows a short collage of film about the Nation and World Response. The second explores the lasting impact of President Kennedy on all generations.
Exhibit space has been added on the 7th floor of the building. When we visited, there were several works of art but the exhibit space had been recently used for a large meeting and most of the exhibits had been temporarily stored.
After leaving the museum through the gift shop, we walked to the grassy knoll. It’s about a city block from the museum and an easy walk. We were surprised about how small the area is. In seeing movies and reproductions of the occurrences it gave the appearance of much more size but a crowd of 500 people would be an overflowing one.
The Museum sponsors a Living History Series. Each month a different speaker recounts his personal experiences in relation to Dallas and to the Kennedy family. There is a Reading Room on the 1st floor of the Museum which houses some 35,000 items and are available via reservation at www.jfk.org/go/reading-room. The Museum sponsors an Oral History Project and many of these histories are available online at their collection’s library..
We spent about 2 1/2 hours in touring the museum and the knoll. Picture taking is not allowed on the 6th floor but we used our camera outside the building. There is an admission charge that is described at http://www.jfk.org/go/visit as are the open hours.