Tourist in my hometown

By Nancy Black

I had never been. My son had never been. So, when his friend from the Navy who was visiting us during the holidays mentioned going to The Sixth Floor Museum, we were game for the adventure. And an adventure it was.

I attended Arts Magnet High School in the 80s, which is on the edge of Woodall Rogers Freeway, so I’m familiar with downtown. But, boy, things have changed a lot in 40 years.

Visiting downtown Dallas as a tourist opened my eyes to a different downtown, one where you pay huge amounts of money for parking, walk blocks and blocks to find a convenience store to buy water and stand in long lines waiting for entrance to the only real tourist attraction known to non-locals in downtown Dallas — The Sixth Floor Museum. 

Why are there so many people fascinated with the assassination of John F. Kennedy? I guess the same way people are addicted to true crime shows and “Court TV.” It’s the mindset. Everyone wants to try and figure out what the assassin was thinking and why they acted the way they did. And everyone in our tour group couldn’t wait to see “the gun.”

It’s actually a rifle, and it’s not the real one. The real rifle Lee Harvey Oswald used is in the National Archives. But positioned behind glass, they had a replica of a rifle similar to the one used to fire three shots from a sixth-floor window toward the presidential motorcade below.

Then there are the three Xs; the areas on Commerce Street marked off where the actual shots hit the cars and the president. When the traffic light would turn red, tourists (including my son and his friend) would run out into the street to snap selfies of themselves in the exact spots. After taking their shots (that’s a bad pun!), we all strolled over to see the full-time conspiracy theorists who plant themselves on the Grassy Knoll and make a living talking up tourists about the different possibilities. Did Oswald work alone? Was the Mafia involved? Cuba? Almost 60 years later, and people are still mesmerized by the event.

I was born seven days after Kennedy was killed, but my older brother and father were actually a big part of that day. My brother was a photographer who snapped pictures of Jackie and the president at Love Field that morning. And my father was at the Dallas Trade Mart waiting, along with 2000 other civic leaders, to have lunch with the President and first lady. My mother was at the doctor’s office having a pregnancy check-up for me. She remembers one nurse crying out, “The President has been shot,” and then another nurse saying, “Good, I hope they killed him.” It was a divisive time in our country.

So now I can say I’ve been to The Sixth Floor Museum. Congratulations to the hard-working men and women who run the place. You do a great job (the place was packed and sold out for the day), and it is a very moving experience. But it was kind of depressing. Next time an out-of-town friend is visiting, and they want to go to The Sixth Floor Museum, I’m going to insist we visit The Dallas Arboretum afterward. That way, we can experience the good and the bad — the ying and yang — of Dallas history.