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Sixth Floor Museum Offers Dallas-Eye View of JFK's Assassination

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
In the Sixth Floor Museum, a reflection of where Kennedy died is seen in protective glass surrounding the window where Oswald allegedly made his fatal shot.

In Dallas, the memories of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have an anchor in Dealey Plaza, and, in particular, at The Sixth Floor Museum.

The 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s slaying this Friday has led to an outpouring of tributes, books and films. Very few events in American history have provided such a traumatic touchstone, and very few cities carry the sort of baggage as Dallas, where Kennedy fell and was pronounced dead at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time on Nov. 22, 1963.

The Sixth Floor Museum, which opened on Presidents Day in 1989, was fashioned out of the old Texas School Book Depository. Originally conceived as a temporary exhibit, it has evolved into a permanent museum dedicated to the events surrounding Kennedy’s death and is operated by the Dallas County Historical Foundation. It is also an anchor to the surrounding Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District.

“We’re fortunate to have the historic site and this space,” said Nicola Longford, the museum’s executive director. “Our job really is to encourage visitors who walk into Dealey Plaza  . . .  [to] come inside the museum to experience an unbiased and genuine look into the life and death and legacy of this president.”

An Institutional Mission

The institution is careful about how it phrases its mission, particularly when it comes to the sixth-floor sniper’s nest that formed the basis of the exhibit that became a museum.

“Following the Kennedy assassination, the building became the focus of shock, grief and outrage. Evidence was found showing that shots were fired from the sixth floor, and Depository employee Lee Harvey Oswald was charged with the president’s murder,” the museum’s website states.

From the museum’s perspective, it’s not there to referee the fights about whether there was a conspiracy involved with Kennedy’s death or Oswald acted alone, a controversy that has spurred 50 years of debate. A cottage industry has developed in and around Dealey Plaza that leaves no stone unturned or unimagined when it comes to offering explanations for what happened that day. In general, the museum takes an archival stance.

“We’re now a collecting institution, and we have over 45,000 artifacts, from photographs, records, from the assassination. We own the rights to a lot of film and photographs and this has been an incredible resource for filmmakers and documentarians and all sorts of researchers and students and teachers, you name it,” Longford said. She added that the museum is also collecting oral histories that help frame the context for the assassination and its aftermath from a variety of perspectives.

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