"Pretty much every news camera in the world is going to be focused on Dealey Square on November 22," said our tour guide, as he led us into the lobby of the most visited tourist attraction in Dallas. The Sixth Floor Museum, located on the corner of Elm and Houston streets, the former Texas School Book Depository is infamous because of one window. The window on the sixth floor where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, in 1963.
The audio tour is narrated by a reporter who was at the scene, and guides visitors through photos, videos, and displays of unique items. Some of the items include Jim Leavelle's suit and the handcuffs the Dallas police officer was wearing, joined to Oswald when nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot him, making this, in our guide's words, "The most famous murder mystery in the world." All narration is carefully scripted, by real and audio guides to never condemn Oswald (who never went to trial), hoping that "visitors will draw their own conclusions."
Some 350,000 visitors pass through the museum each year, although due to the 50th anniversary, 400,000 are expected in 2013. Visitors come from all over the world, but mostly from other parts of the United States, as well as Mexico, Japan, and Canada (mostly from Quebec).
At 12:30 p.m., on November 22, only 5,000 people, chosen by lottery, will be allowed into Dealey Square to take part in the ceremony. (There were 25,000 Texans on hand to watch the presidential motorcade.) Each person will have a background check completed prior to receiving full clearance to attend. (Due to the Boston Marathon bombings taking place at the start of this lottery process, security has been heightened.)
Photographs are not allowed inside the museum, and the tour takes you through understanding what the world was like in the early '60s, the Kennedy family history, as well as the policies which Kennedy implemented to fight segregation, his decisions during the Bay Of Pigs, as well as his commitment to the fledgling space program. The window Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy from is contained within a glass walled room, with cardboard boxes from the schoolbook depository in place. A glance out from adjacent windows gives a remarkably still clear view of the famous "grassy knoll," and the exact spot on the street (marked with red Xs) where Kennedy was shot. The model reconstruction of the scene at Dealey Square used by the FBI (1/4" to 1 foot) is a reminder of the lack of computer simulations available at the time.
Videos of the reporting of the assassination are fascinating, as is Walter Cronkite's assertion that "television came of age" as a result of it, when most Americans knew within hours that Kennedy had been killed. This legacy of Dallas represents their history, but downtown Dallas has recently added many new tourist attractions that look to their future, as citizens accept that their city will forever be associated with this historic and tragic moment.
New, but with its roots in history, is the brand new downtown Dallas Homewood Suites. This converted Bank of America building is perfect for families, and within walking distance of most of the city's main attractions, including The Sixth Floor Museum.
This article was originally run in The Metro News. Kathy Buckworth is a feature travel contributor.