Friday, April 30, 2004

Kennedy Museum in Dallas

Last night’s gala dinner at the Mertias conference was held at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. I stood on the street the motorcade drove past, then a few minutes later, looked out the same windows Lee Harvey Oswald looked out before he assassinated President Kennedy.

It was overwhelming — standing on historical ground always is. It’s similar to the feeling I had the first time I stepped foot in the White House, the feeling I had when I walked through the U.N., the feeling I had touring the Chartres Cathedral in France.

This was something else: a profound sadness at what could have been. I’m too young to have lived through the Kennedy assassination — but walking through the museum and watching the videos, reading the newsprint made the loss so much more apparent.

Most affecting, interestingly enough, were the photographs on display on the seventh floor (the museum is on the sixth floor, where Oswald’s shots originated). A semi-permanent display of Jacques Lowe’s photographs of JFK — from his day’s running for reelection as a Massachusetts Senator to his days in office — was profound. Many of these photographs (and more) are available in a hardcover book that came out last fall called Remembering Jack: Intimate and Unseen Photographs of the Kennedys. The style of the exhibit was interesting: contact sheets and film strips — so that you saw not just the famous photos (many of which are instantly recognizable, a part of the American DNA) but the moments before and after the shots, when expressions are subtly different, the angle ever so slightly varied.

These pictures made JFK’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment real for me in a way that they hadn’t been before. I just put a copy of Lowe’s book on my wish list, and hopefully will pick it up one of these days — I’d like to spend more time looking through the photos, and reading more about this photographer’s unique view into the Kennedy legacy.

An interesting historical footnote: Lowe’s 40,000 negatives of his years with Kennedy were lost in a vault in the World Trade Center on September 11.

1 comment:

  1. I visited the museum about eight years ago. In addition to your sense of the place, I was amazed that Dallas was, in essence, a small southern town at the time. I knew that jim crow was still around, but pictures of the colored / white washrooms and drinking fountains really freaked me out. This was 1963, but even well dressed, wealthy African Americans could get a room in major hotels, or sit in the White-Only areas of restaurants. Only 40 years ago.

    Further, I hadn't realized how hated Kennedy was in Dallas, as reflected in the newspapers on display that were dated immediately prior to the visit.

    It was obviously a tragedy for the country as well as personally for the Kennedys, but I do wonder whether JFK could have pushed throught the Civil Rights Act of 1964.