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Thursday, September 24, 2015 : Dallas, JFK's last day

 

It is our very last day of this trip. Tonight, we'll sleep in the plane. That's why there is no "Hotel" icon on top of this article. Well, you sure had noticed that.

 

Speaking of flying back, Marie begins her day by repacking our two big bags. We have indeed purchased a few souvenirs, including my western boots. Everything has to fit inside, which is far from granted, especially with a 50-pound per bag limit. With a few twists and pushes, Marie manages to put everything inside anyway.

 

Our program for the day is straightforward :

 

 

To take off at 3:20pm, considering security, rental car park remoteness, refilling the car and possible traffic between downtown Dallas and the airport, about 20 mi., that leaves us the whole morning. That's good.

 

Oh, and I was forgetting ... Weather is bright and warm, but late September in Texas, that's pretty usual.

 

Texas-shaped waffle, Best Western, Dallas, TX

Texas-shaped waffle

 

Pretending that Texans are proud of their identity is a pretty mild understatement. At breakfast, waffles have the easily recognizable shape of the State of Texas. We have seen that in no other state, not even in Wyoming or Colorado, whose shapes would have been much easier to reproduce, since they are basic rectangles.

 

We then leave the hotel. We have but a few miles to drive to reach downtown Dallas. As in any major city, I kind of fear parking issues. I am wrong. We immediately find an underground parking garage right where we wanted. Even by Texan standards, it is huge, with no shortage of free spaces.

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John F. Kennedy Memorial, Dallas, TX

John F. Kennedy Memorial

 

We exit the parking garage out on Main Street which, as shown by its name, is downtown Dallas main thoroughfare.

 

Our first stop is at John F. Kennedy Memorial, on the plaza of the same name, less than 1000 ft. from the place of the assassination. The monument is composed of two symmetrical sets of vertical concrete pillars, resting on the ground on eight separate feet. My humble opinion is that the slain President deserved better than such a dull tribute.

 

In the middle of the Cenotaph, a plaque reminds in a few paragraphs what the 35th President legacy is.

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Main Street, downtown Dallas, TX

Main Street, downtown Dallas

 

Still on Main Street, I notice a small group of people behind a rollaway desk. They organize guided tours. After double-checking that their schedule is compatible with our flight, we book tickets. We still have some time before the tour starts, so we set out to look for the exact place where the President was assassinated.

 

Main Street is a relatively wide avenue, with traffic flowing both ways. That famous Friday, November 22, 1963, after landing at Love Field Airport and entering the city center thru N. Harwood Street, the Presidential motorcade could well have proceeded onto Main Street, passed under the railroad triple overpass at its end, before entering N. Stemmons Fwy (a.k.a. Interstate 35E) to go to Market Center, where the President was scheduled to attend a luncheon with local elected officials and businesspeople. For some hard to explain reason, the planned route was altered, making the motorcade pass right at the foot of Texas Schoolbook Depository, where Lee Harvey Oswald was stationed.

 

The first gunshot has not yet been fired, and conspiracy theories are already running wild. Why this change of route ? Who was informed of it ? When ? By whom ?

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Texas Schoolbook Depository, where Oswald was posted, Dallas, TX

Texas Schoolbook Depository, where Oswald was posted

 

Texas Schoolbook Depository used to occupy this building, at the corner of Houston and Elm Streets. The turn is very tight, meaning the motorcade had to slow almost to a halt, before picking up some speed again down Elm Street. It is an ideal place for an ambush.

 

His rifle by his side, Lee Harvey Oswald is standing at the rightmost window of the next to last, sixth floor of the building. The motorcade drives very slowly down Houston Street. Ideally placed, facing the President, Oswald has more than ample time to shoot. But he does nothing. He waits for the motorcade to turn onto Elm Street. He is now placed behind the President, whose open-top limousine picks up some speed. He is now much less ideally placed. The question anyone can ask becomes self-evident : is he, knowingly or not, part of a team ?

 

District Attorney Garrison's thesis, which supports a triangulated crossfire, with one shooter in the Schoolbook Depository, Oswald, a second one on the right of Dealey Plaza and a third one on the railroad triple overpass, deserves to be considered. It provides for a much better shooting precision, leaving absolutely no chance to the President.

 

Indeed, 52 years later, we are far from done with conspiracy theories.

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Elm Street, where President Kennedy was killed, Dallas, TX

Elm Street, where President Kennedy was killed

 

We walk down Elm Street from the corner of Houston Street to the railroad triple overpass, which is about 500 ft. On the tarmac, three large white crosses have been painted, showing the place where the President was at each of the three gunshots. The first bullet misses the President. The second one crosses his torso and throat, and seriously wounds Texas Governor John Connally, seated right in front of him. It is the famous "magic bullet" whose path, as of the present day, remains the subject of deep controversies. The third one blows the President's head in pieces.

 

At the speed the motorcade left the corner of Houston and Elm Streets, a well-placed sharpshooter had ample time to adjust his shooting. But at this point, Oswald was no longer so well-placed, and his shooting abilities are themselves the subject of controversies. He actually served in the Marine corps, but his main duty was as a radar operator, not as a sharpshooter. His scores at shooting tests made him a marksman, a lower-level ranking.

 

Lee Harvey Oswald is himself the subject of numerous interrogations.

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Pergola right of Dealey Plaza, Dallas, TX

Pergola right of Dealey Plaza

 

The north side of Dealey Plaza is covered with a moderately steep grassy knoll. Behind it is the parking lot of what at the time was Texas Schoolbook Depository. The lawn was covered with onlookers. Abraham Zapruder, who made the famous 8-mm film showing the President's assassination live, was standing on a slightly higher position, almost on the edge of Elm Street. The fatal shot hit the President almost in front of him. Considering this, the legal, political and historical interest of this 26 second segment of film becomes self-evident.

 

The pergola on the picture already existed in 1963, as did the thick trees, though they must have been slightly lower. It is relatively easy for a shooter to hide behind the pergola, or on the left behind the small fence, then escape thru the parking lot, and later on along the railroad tracks close by, once the assassination has been carried out. This theory, which has never been proved, has the attractive advantage of a higher, well-placed, well-concealed position, with a relatively easy exit. It is District Attorney Garrison's thesis, on which Oliver Stone's film JFK is largely based.

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Elm Street, where the fatal gunshot hit the President, Dallas, TX

Elm Street, where the fatal gunshot hit the President

 

I take advantage of a lull in the traffic on Elm Street to show you the place where the third bullet hit the President right in the head. I turn my back toward the railroad triple overpass. it is possible, though unproved, that a third shooter, if there ever was one, may have stood on this overpass. Once again, the position is ideally placed, facing the coming motorcade, and has an easy exit, since those railroad tracks cut right thru Dallas.

 

When the Warren Commission auditioned the many witnesses of the assassination, the number of gunshots was extremely variable, three, four, five, a full burst ... The number of three that was made official in the report therefore represents a likely consensus more than an absolute certainty.

 

After this walk, it is now time to join our minivan guided tour, on the traces of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's last trip.

 

The tour is made of two parts. The first one mostly covers the path of the Presidential motorcade in downtown Dallas on Main, Houston and Elm Streets. The latter one follows Oswald's traces from the place of the assassination until he was arrested.

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Lee Harvey Oswald's bedroom, Dallas, TX

Lee Harvey Oswald's bedroom

 

We pass close by the Greyhound bus station, where Oswald had boarded a bus to leave downtown Dallas. Changing his mind because of traffic, he had left the bus and taken a cab to get back to the family house outside downtown Dallas, where he rented a room. There, he has rapidly collected a few things and left the house on foot.

 

A few blocks further, we pass close by what in 1963 was Dallas County Jail, where Oswald would have been locked up, hadn't he been shot by Jack Ruby at Dallas Police Headquarters at the time he was to be transferred.

 

The picture above was taken in the tiny room occupied by Oswald. After he had split with Marina, his Russian wife (they were being divorced, at the time), he had to rent this room. The lady with me is his landlady's granddaughter, who was 11 at the time. She remembers leaving school early that day, and later seeing Oswald waiting for the bus near the house.

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The movie theater where Oswald was arrested, Dallas, TX

The movie theater where Oswald was arrested

 

A little further, we pass at the place where Oswald shot police officer J. D. Tippit, who had called him to his car to ask questions. At the time, the President's assassination was continuously broadcast on the radio, and a raw sketch of the suspect had been handed to police. Quite understandably, Oswald was now kind of nervous, which made him commit mistakes and leave traces.

 

Further on, we pass in front of Texas Theatre, the movie house where Oswald had the idea, by the way not that stupid, to go into hiding. But entering thru the exit without paying, he got noticed and was recognized. Police encircled the theater and interrupted the show. After a brief resistance, Oswald was arrested and taken to Dallas police headquarters to be questioned. At first, he was charged with Police Officer Tippit's murder and, soon afterward, with the President's.

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The famous picture of Oswald with his rifle, Dallas, TX

The famous picture of Oswald with his rifle

 

Our last stop is at Oswald's old house, where he used to live before splitting with Marina. We do not enter the house itself, we walk directly to the backyard.

 

The poster I hold in my hands is a print of the very famous picture showing Oswald with his rifle. Can you see the fence behind me and the wooden stairs above ? No mistake, we are right at the place where the picture was taken.

 

The weapon used by Oswald is a Carcano 91/38 rifle, a one-shot precision shooting weapon. It is not an automatic that can fire in bursts. Sharpshooters love that kind of rifles because, fitted with an additional telescopic sight, as was the case with Oswald's, it really gives high-precision shooting. Single-shot, high-precision ... An ideal weapon to assassinate a President.

 

The house is closed and looks abandoned. Despite its obvious historic role, it does not seem its preservation stirs any significant interest. Perhaps it will no longer be here next time we come to Dallas.

 

We climb back in the tour minivan, which takesus back to downtown Dallas. Along the way, our guide shows us a video which, quite strikingly, reminds of the coincidences (but are those mere coincidences, after all ?) between Lincoln's assassination in 1865 and Kennedy's almost a century later. I had not previously connected the dots, but both men were succeeded by a man named Johnson (Andrew Johnson succeeded Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded Kennedy), and the least that can be said is that both successors did not leave outright memorable traces in history.

 

Troubling, isn't it ?

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Ready to take off, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, TX

Ready to take off, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

 

We walk back to the parking garage, take the Camaro and hit the road to the airport. By chance, our path takes us thru, or close by, a few historically significant places :

 

  • The left bend from Houston street onto Elm Street : it is really tight as a hairpin, and can only be taken at very slow speed.
  • N Stemmons Freeway (Interstate 35E) ramp : on the right-hand side, it is actually way easier to take coming from Elm Street, itself the rightmost of the three roads under the railroad Triple Overpass, than from Main Street, which is at the center. Perhaps conspiracy theories kind of overdid this point.
  • Market Center : pretty close to the hotel where we spent last night (a pure coincidence ...), the President was expected there by an audience of local prominent people, elected officials and businesspeople, to attend a luncheon and deliver a stump speech. Those were actually the early stages of the coming 1964 Presidential campaign, which saw Lyndon B. Johnson's election.
  • Parkland Memorial Hospital, where the President was taken and declared dead at 1:00pm local time, 30 minutes after the shooting. Anyway, considering his extensive wounds, there was nothing medicine could possibly do for him.

 

I refill the Camaro for the very last time at the entrance of the airport, and we part ways with this car. It was not the Mustang I had hoped for, but that's no big deal, I really enjoyed this car, much as we enjoyed crossing the West with a convertible.

 

We then go thru the usual check-in and security check. Much to our surprise, our two big bags, though at the extreme limit of baggage allowance, are accepted without a problem.

 

Our direct flight to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle is supposed to be on time. While we are waiting in the boarding lounge, I have the immense pleasure of talking one last time to my friend in Sedona, with whom I got reunited two weeks ago after a quarter-century hiatus.

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In flight above Texas

In flight above Texas

 

Indeed, our flight takes off on time. Above Texas, weather is bright. We take one big, last glimpse of those landscapes where we have spent almost a full month. Already, memories are flooding our minds.

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