Dallas: 50 years on, JFK's killing still resonates

By Jamie Stengle

Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, Texas.
Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, Texas.

A 1930s-era movie theatre. A county hospital. An old brick rooming house. A bustling airport.

Sites associated with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 are scattered throughout Dallas and beyond.

"These were just ordinary places - an airport, a hospital, a movie theatre, a house, city streets - that were all of a sudden, literally in a blink of an eye, catapulted into this national spotlight," said Mark Doty, historic preservation officer for the city.

As America marks the 50th anniversary of the murder, the places connected to Kennedy's final hours - and to his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald - still resonate.

"I like to think of it as ordinary places with extraordinary stories," said city archivist John Slate.

"People really want to walk history, touch history, see history. Good history or bad, people want to see it. That's why walking down 10th and Patton streets (where Oswald shot a police officer) is a way of getting close to history, even though the landscape has completely changed," he said.

DALLAS LOVE FIELD

The president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy landed at Dallas Love Field at 11.37am. They greeted those waiting at the airport, then headed downtown with their motorcade. Kennedy was shot at 12.30pm. At 2.38pm, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president aboard Air Force One as it sat on the Love Field tarmac.

A marker on the road to the terminal notes the airport's place in history, and a recent renovation added a window with a view of where Air Force One was parked that day. Plans are underway to place markers at the window and on the tarmac. An old tower and a world map on the lobby floor are among the few landmarks that remain from the early 1960s airport.

THE SIXTH FLOOR MUSEUM AT DEALEY PLAZA

Shots rang out as Kennedy's motorcade passed by the Texas School Book Depository building while travelling down Elm Street, through Dealey Plaza, a grassy area marking Dallas' birthplace in 1841. Oswald worked at the book depository and shot Kennedy from a sixth floor window there. The site instantly became a pilgrimage point, but the fate of the building remained uncertain for years.

Eventually, the county bought the building and used the first five floors for office space. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which tells the story of Kennedy's life and death, opened as an exhibit on the sixth floor in 1989. It's now a major tourist destination with 350,000 visitors expected this year.

PARKLAND MEMORIAL HOSPITAL

The president's limousine sped to Parkland Memorial Hospital. He was taken to Trauma Room 1. The room no longer exists, but a plaque in what is now radiology marks its location. (The contents of the room are stored at a National Archives facility in Kansas.)

A hospital hallway features a bust of Kennedy, portraits of Kennedy and Johnson, and the presidential seal.

When a new Parkland hospital opens in 2015, a timeline in the lobby will include the events of November 22, 1963. The Kennedy bust will be displayed there, and a memorial garden will be dedicated to Kennedy.

OSWALD ROOMING HOUSE

On October 14, 1963, the day before Oswald was hired at the school book depository, he rented a room for US$8 a week from Gladys Johnson in her brick rooming house at 1026 North Beckley Avenue, in the Oak Cliff area southwest of downtown. He stayed there weeknights, in a nook with just enough space for a twin bed. He visited his wife on weekends in suburban Irving, where she lived with a friend, Ruth Paine.

About 30 minutes after the assassination, Oswald stopped by the rooming house, grabbed a jacket and headed out on foot.

The rooming house was eventually passed down to Johnson's granddaughter, Patricia Hall, who put it up for sale for $500,000 this year. Her grandmother and her mother refused to let tourists in, but Hall offers tours.

SITE WHERE POLICEMAN WAS SHOT

A marker went up last year at 10th Street and Patton Avenue, near the site where Police Officer J.D. Tippit was killed. Tippit was on patrol about 45 minutes after JFK was shot when he spotted a man who resembled the vague description of the assassination suspect. When Tippit got out of his car, Oswald fired, killing him instantly.

THE TEXAS THEATRE

The Texas Theatre, at 231 W. Jefferson Boulevard, was playing War Is Hell when a harried Oswald rushed in without paying and sat near the back. He was followed by John Brewer, who managed a shoe store a few doors down. Brewer had been listening to reports of Tippit's shooting and noticed Oswald staring at a shoe display as police cars rushed to the shooting scene nearby. Brewer thought Oswald's behavior was suspicious and he had a theatre employee call police. The lights went up and Oswald was arrested.

In the decades since, the theatre - which opened in 1931 - has survived a fire, escaped the wrecking ball and even hosted raves. For the last three years it's been run by a group of filmmakers who show art house and classic films.

Like the other sites, it continues to be a draw for its link to the assassination. Eric Steele, one of the filmmakers, recalls the day he encountered a breathless man clutching a stopwatch, retracing Oswald's route. The man's mother, also making the trek, followed 10 minutes later.

"We get anything you can imagine. We've heard every potential conspiracy theory," Steele said.

Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, Texas.
Lee Harvey Oswald is arrested at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, Texas.

RUTH PAINE HOUSE

The night before the assassination, Oswald made a surprise weekday visit to his wife, who was living at her friend Ruth Paine's house with the Oswalds' two daughters. The home has changed hands several times but is now owned by the city of Irving and opened for its first-ever public tours this month.

The house has been restored to look as it would have on November 22, 1963: Toys are scattered in a corner of the living room, dishes dry by the kitchen sink and baby bottles sit on the counter. Lying amid boxes in the garage is a recreation of the rolled-up blanket where Oswald stored his rifle.

TRADE MART

As Kennedy was rushed to Parkland, a roomful of people awaited his speech at the Trade Mart, part of the Dallas Market Center, a market for buyers from around the world for everything from furniture to clothing. A bronze eagle sits in the circle drive where the president would have arrived.

Other sites

The Dallas Municipal Building: Oswald was held in a jail in this building at 106 South Harwood. As authorities took him through an underground garage, he was fatally shot by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The building served as city hall until the late 1970s and included the police department and jail. It still houses the Municipal Court but the Oswald-related spots are not accessible to the public.

Oswald's grave: Oswald is buried at Shannon Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. Per the family's request, the cemetery doesn't supply directions to the gravesite and doesn't allow photos or video of his grave.

The Oswald home on Neely: Oswald lived for two months in the spring of 1963 in a duplex in Oak Cliff at 214 West Neely Street. He posed in the backyard there for a picture with a rifle, with the home's exterior staircase in the background.

- AP

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