The Sixth Floor Museum opened to the public in 1989 as a place for visitors to explore the circumstances and events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The museum is housed in downtown Dallas on the sixth floor of the Dallas County Administration Building, formerly known as the Texas School Book Depository, overlooking Dealey Plaza. Having never been to the site of the assassination of JFK, I decided to visit the museum and the historic plaza.
Visiting the Sixth Floor Museum
As I expected, the museum was very crowded on the Saturday afternoon when we visited. Planning ahead, we bought tickets earlier in the day and returned at the designated time, lining up with other ticketed visitors and entering the museum as a large group (advance tickets also available online).
An audio guide/headphone set is included with admission and is necessary to follow the narrative. The museum consists of seven, well-curated display areas that detail chronological events. It takes about 90 minutes to listen to all of the content, but it is self-paced so you can pause or replay the audio at any time. No photography is allowed in the museum (so no interesting photos to share).
The main exhibit is John F. Kennedy and the Memory of a Nation. Here are some of the main topics.
President Kennedy’s Trip to Texas
The exhibit begins with an introduction to the early 1960’s and the political climate. Because Kennedy wanted to increase his support in Texas, a two-day trip to five Texas cities was scheduled. On November 22, 1963, the President and his wife Jackie arrived in Dallas and were joined by Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, and they rode in the presidential motorcade in an open-top limousine through downtown Dallas on their way to a lunch event.
The motorcade drove through the crowded streets of downtown Dallas and arrived at Dealey Plaza, turning onto Elm Street and passing the Texas School Book Depository. Shots were fired, striking the President multiple times including a shot to his head. Governor Connally had also been shot and had serious but survivable injuries.
The presidential limousine and police motorcycles then sped away quickly to Parkland Hospital, where doctors attempted to save the President. He was soon pronounced dead and the nation and world were stunned.
In addition to photographs and videos of the motorcade, the exhibit includes eyewitness reports and news footage reports of the shooting.
The Crime Scene
A man and rifle had been seen by witnesses in an upper window of the Texas School Book Depository, and a search of the building resulted in the discovery of a rifle with a scope and three cartridges that traced back to a temporary employee, Lee Harvey Oswald. The Texas School Book Depository became the primary crime scene.
The rifle was found by the staircase and three shells were found among stacked book boxes in the southeast corner of the sixth floor by an open window. This area of the museum, the “sniper’s perch,” is recreated with book boxes as they appeared in crime scene photos and is glassed off for viewing. The museum displays an identical rifle.
You can look out of the adjacent window onto Elm Street below. Interactive touch screens by the window show details on the plaza. X’s have been placed on the road where shots hit the President. There’s a live webcam view of Dealey Plaza from the gunman’s window.
The police were searching for Lee Harvey Oswald, who was seen in the building but left after the shooting. Within two hours of the assassination, Oswald was apprehended in a theater and arrested.
Two days later, Oswald was being transferred to a county jail and was gunned down by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live television in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters! With his death, many questions have remained unanswered such as his motive and whether he acted as a “lone gunman” or as part of a conspiracy? Was there another gunman on the grassy knoll? Speculation and debate were only beginning!!!
A short video explores the investigations and a display shows some of the evidence and photographs. One of the most impressive items in the museum is a scale model of Dealey Plaza that was prepared by the FBI for use by the Warren Commission (who investigated the assassination in 1963-64).
Even though it has been investigated for years, JFK’s assassination continues to be one of the most controversial events in U.S. history. A visit to the Sixth Floor Museum is an opportunity to learn about President Kennedy and review and explore historical artifacts, photographs, videos, and news footage for yourself.
Access to the seventh floor is included, and some additional videos were being shown there. Photography was allowed, so I took this photo from the window that is one floor above the shooter’s location.
After leaving the museum, I walked around Dealey Plaza which has been designated a National Historic Landmark District. It’s a high-traffic area and crowded with tourists, street vendors, and casual visitors.
I found it interesting that the city has preserved how the plaza looked in 1963 in remembrance of JFK, including street lights and signs. The whole scene was vintage Dallas, and Dealey Plaza seemed frozen in time.
I stood by the reflecting pools and took it all in. Visiting the museum and viewing the actual location where the events took place provided a somber remembrance and quiet reflection of a tragic event. To review this piece of history, I recommend visiting Dallas’ Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza.