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Connecting the Dots at the Sixth Floor Museum

Something magical happens when traveling to a new place and different travel dots begin to connect. It’s like independent neurons in my brain crash into each other in a brilliant fireworks display.  Or like that eureka moment when I realized that the names in Harry Potter novels had a deeper literary and contextual meaning.  The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, TX is where these ah-ha connections happened for me.

The Sixth Floor Museum chronicles photos, stories, artifacts, and newspaper clippings of JFK’s life and legacy, ironically, in the former Texas School Book Depository where his life (but not his legacy) was prematurely ended. For a hot summer day, passing time in the crisp air conditioning is a desirable alternative to baking in the sun (Insider tip: AAA members receive an admission discount!).

Admission tickets grant access to the museum and listen-along headphones provide an auditory timeline to accompany the exhibit’s path.  I have a love-hate relationship with museum headphones. They’re a great way to leisurely pace through an exhibit while learning in an easily digestible format. But when touring with a group, I feel rushed in my listening  when my travel companions carry on 4 paces ahead. And then there’s the lack of conversation. We’re so tuned in to our headphones that human dialogue is tuned out. The germaphobe in me always questions, do they clean these things?

Oh –  photography is prohibited.

Photos are allowed on the 7th floor of the museum, were floor-to-ceiling photos of JFK & Jackie are on display.

Photos are allowed on the 7th floor of the museum, were floor-to-ceiling photos of JFK & Jackie are on display.

At a closer look, you'll see that JFK's giant portrait is comprised of smaller versions of Jackie's portrait. And likewise, Jackie's large image is made of JFK's portrait.

At a closer look, you’ll see that JFK’s giant portrait is comprised of smaller versions of Jackie’s portrait. And likewise, Jackie’s large image is made of JFK’s portrait.

Then came the 1963 assassination – the only reason this building in which we toured had any significance. Peering from the window on that sixth floor, the white X’s on the pavement that marked the shots’ impact served as a sad reminder of those tragic moments in American history. It was hard to remove myself from imagining the chaos and horror of that event.

Texas School Book Depository Sign

The original Texas School Book Depository signage on display.

Introducing the first connected dot: As I sat on a bench in the Sixth Floor Museum and watched the footage of the JFK assassination unfold, I recalled my elementary school field trip at the Henry Ford Museum – the final resting place of the presidential limo. At the time I viewed the car as another ornament in the Ford Motor Company’s collection. Sure, I knew that a president was shot on the car, but the true historic significance of the event evaded my adolescent self. Now, at the Sixth Floor Museum, that presidential limo connected childhood me in a history lesson to where I stood, only meter away from where the actual horror unfolded.

Dot number two: The plot of the video turned to the funeral scene. I watched Jackie shrouded a black veil carrying the folded American flag to his gravesite.  In middle school on a family trip to Washington, D.C. the vastness and tranquility of the Arlington National Cemetery conveyed peace in my heart. But what I found truly mesmerizing was the eternal flame at JFK’s final burial site. A flame that I knew was important, but didn’t understand it’s weight until I visited the Sixth Floor Museum.

Which leads me to the third dot: Darting beneath the traffic circle and emerging from below the concrete, squinting toward the towering Arc du Triomphe in Paris, France. This iconic Parisian structure endures as a memorial to honor fallen French soldiers. Beneath the Arc is the tomb of the unknown soldier with an eternal flame burning as steadily as the flame I had seen in Arlington at the JFK grave. Standing there in Paris, I had wondered if there were a correlation between the two. It was later when I learned that the 1963 burial, where JFK’s eternal flame was lit, was inspired by a 1961 visit to Paris when the Kennedy’s traveled to pay their respects. Connection.

And the final dot leads me to Galway, Ireland, where I found myself on a walking tour only weeks after my French eternal flame encounter. My tour guide pointed toward the ocean and exclaimed to us Americans that if we waved to the horizon we would be waving home. And after 5 weeks of travel, I felt weary and homesick and wished my loved ones across the water could see my wave. Later in the day as I wandered around Eyre Square, I discovered a bust of JFK erected on the grass. I assumed it were placed because of his Irish ancestry. Later, I discovered that JFK gave a speech in that very statue’s spot. In that speech, I heard something similar that a particular tour guide said:

“If the day was clear enough and if you went down to the bay and you looked west and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts!”

Connection. Connection. Connection.

So yes, while the Sixth Floor Museum chronicled JFK’s life, death, impact, accomplishments, controversies, conspiracies, etc., I left with more than a history lesson: I left with a history connection.

All these small details of travel had manifested into a larger significance within the walls of the former Texas School Book Depository, which sheltered Lee Harvey Oswald’s actions that ended the life of one of America’s youngest and most charismatic presidents. When I reemerged in the Dallas heat and observed the X on the pavement with focused eyes, I considered the different markings we pass in life that don’t achieve a greater meaning until later – those little dots that suddenly associate with each other in the future.

And with clarity, I appreciated the connectivity of people and places, space and time.

This white X on the pavement outside the Texas School Book Depository marks the point of impact of one of the shots fired.

This white X on the pavement outside the Texas School Book Depository marks the point of impact of one of the shots fired.

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