— The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, put the Texas School Book Depository building on the map of history. Despite several efforts to tear down the notorious structure over the decades, the old warehouse is now both a museum about the tragedy, and a memorial to the slain president.
The shots that rang out over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, lasted just under six seconds. It brought an end to Kennedy’s life, but marked the beginning of a decades-long struggle for a city to come to terms with its role in one of the most infamous moments in American history.
“That really cast a shadow on it," said Dallas deputy sheriff Gene Boone, who was one of the first law enforcement officers to react to the shooting. The city lost more than just a president that day, Boone said.
“We were almost afraid to go outside the community and let anybody know we were from Dallas.”
City leaders have long struggled to balance the reality of the assassination with the way it negatively - and unfairly - reflected on the city, said Southern Methodist University History Professor Jeffrey Engel.
“The event was really a source of great shame for Dallas, which I think Dallas is still dealing with 50 years later. For most Dallas residents of this time, they’ve essentially been trying to get out from under that shadow and tell the rest of the world, 'this is not who we are, this is not how we want to be remembered, and this is frankly not the image we want to present to the world,'” Engel said.
Helping to put the stigma on Dallas in perspective is the Sixth Floor Museum
, located on the 6th floor of the former Texas School Book Depository. According to police, this is where Lee Harvey Oswald fired at the president’s motorcade.
Now it is a museum filled with exhibits which executive director Nicola Longford said is meant to objectively explain what happened.
“Part of the role of the Sixth Floor Museum is to create a neutral territory in the original space to help people understand what went on in 1963 and why this still has lasting impact today," Longford said.
The Sixth Floor Museum opened in 1989 and is now a top tourist destination in North Texas, attracting over 350,000 people a year.
“All generations, people from all over the world," she said. "And so we feel that we’re still trying to stay relevant and helping to put into context why this subject is so fascinating to so many people.”
Jim Tague was the only bystander in Dealey Plaza who was wounded in the shooting. He still believes there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
“It’s a good history of Kennedy, but it doesn’t go into the assassination," Tague said.
"I find fault with that.”
Despite Tague's belief that Oswald did not act alone, Longford said the museum is a place where all aspects of the assassination are explored.
“Many of the conspiracies can be debunked very easily, but there are a lot of unanswered questions that will always make this fascinating for generations to come.”
Fifty years later, Gene Boone now proudly tells people he was born and raised in Dallas, thanks in part to the efforts of the Sixth Floor Museum.
“If you come here and see it and hear the story, you can really fully come to realize that it could happen anywhere, at anytime," Boone said.
But fortunately a presidential assassination is not an event that has happened since, making a visit to the 6th Floor Museum a truly unique experience.