By Jay Jones, Special to Tribune Newspapers
November 13, 2013
Ronald Fuller was bleeding after a fall. Carl Tanner was complaining of chest pain. In all, 23 people were being treated in the emergency room of Parkland Memorial Hospital at lunchtime on Nov. 22, 1963.
None of the doctors or nurses caring for everyday ailments knew they were about to be thrust onto the world stage. At 12:38 p.m. CST, the patient recorded as "No. 24740, Kennedy, John F." was rushed into Trauma Room 1. An assassin's bullets had struck the president of the United States.
Fifty years later, many of those awaiting scans in the hospital's radiology department overlook a small, simple plaque mounted on a wall just inside the entrance:
November 22, 1963
Here, for several frantic minutes, a medical team struggled to save the leader of the free world. But at 1 p.m., Kennedy was pronounced dead.
There are more obvious sites to see in this 50th anniversary month of President John Kennedy's assassination in a city that would much prefer to be known for urban revitalization, yet few Dallas visitors think of going to the place where the president died. They are, however, welcome to step into the radiology waiting room and explore a handful of artifacts, including a bust of JFK, in a nearby corridor.
Though hundreds of thousands of people each year visit the downtown assassination site, Parkland (5201 Harry Hines Road) is one of several mostly overlooked locations where people can trace the history of that fateful Friday.
At about the time the resuscitation efforts ceased, assassin Lee Harvey Oswald returned briefly to the home on North Beckley Avenue where he rented a room for $8 a week. Shortly afterward, police say, Oswald shot officer J.D. Tippit near the corner of 10th Street and Patton Avenue, a few blocks from Oswald's home, as Tippit approached. Tippit's death was overshadowed by Kennedy's, so it took 49 years for a historical marker to be erected at the spot. His widow helped unveil it last November.
After that shooting, police officers swarmed the neighborhood. They arrested Oswald as he sat inside the Texas Theatre (231 W. Jefferson Blvd., 214-948-1546, thetexastheatre.com) watching "War Is Hell." Part of the movie will be screened Nov. 22, and those visiting will find the cinema's exterior little changed from 1963. Two days after Kennedy's death, Oswald himself would be shot to death by local nightclub owner Jack Ruby during a transfer to another jail. He also died at Parkland.
These lesser sites, though still there and worth a visit for those who want to see where events unfolded, all pale in historical notice compared with Dealey Plaza, at the western edge of downtown Dallas and simply an entry point on the city traffic grid until that nightmarish day.
It's a few miles from the theater, along Elm Street. There tourists dodge vehicles to pose for photos beside a large X painted in the street, marking where Kennedy was hit while riding in an open-top limousine.
Investigators concluded that the shots were fired from the sixth floor of the nearby Texas School Book Depository. The red-brick building now houses the intriguing Sixth Floor Museum (411 Elm St., 214-747-6660, jfk.org).
Guests move from exhibit to exhibit as the scene — America in 1963 — is set. Fears of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union were very real. Violence marred the civil rights movement. "To Kill a Mockingbird" was a hit movie, and Andy Williams' "Moon River" album was a top seller.
Visitors linger outside the glass-walled room from which Oswald, hidden behind boxes of textbooks, purportedly took aim as the motorcade passed. Through headphones, they listen to oral histories from eyewitnesses, including Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who jumped onto the presidential limousine to shield the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy from gunfire.
Paper on an old teletype machine and black-and-white clips from TV bulletins share news of the shooting.
Museum curator Gary Mack narrates a cellphone walking tour of Dealey Plaza that can be bought from the museum for $2.50. Mack acknowledged that, over the decades, opinion polls show that most Americans do not believe Oswald acted alone.
"The assassination itself and the details surrounding it are now folklore," Mack noted with some frustration. "People don't know what to believe anymore."
Outside along Elm Street, author Robert Groden peddles books and DVDs full of various sinister suppositions. He's been a fixture on this spot for nearly 20 years.
"The least we can do is try to find the truth," Groden concluded.
Such suspicions aren't discussed during Dallas native Scott Aston's JFK Trolley Tour (214-400-9020, bigdfuntours.com), which visits many of the historic sites.
"It's a one-hour tour," Aston pointed out. "If we talked about conspiracy theories, we'd be there all week."
Since 1963 people have gathered every year at Dealey Plaza to commemorate the loss of John F. Kennedy. On Friday's 50th anniversary, there will be even more.
Ceremonies, already ticketed for 5,000 people through the President John F. Kennedy Commemorative Foundation, begin at 11:45 a.m. CST with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra playing until 12:30 p.m., when Kennedy was shot.
Speakers are to include author David McCullough, a Kennedy biographer who will read from JFK's speeches; and Dallas Mayor Michael Rawlings, who helped orchestrate the observance for a city that bore the brunt of the nation's anger over the killing 50 years ago.
For information, go to the Sixth Floor Museum site at jfk50thevents.org.
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