~Close-up of the JFK Memorial in Fort Worth~
The motorcade. The sixth floor window. The grassy knoll. The conspiracy. On November 22, 1963, the eyes, the heart, and then the horror of the nation was pinned on downtown Dallas as President John F. Kennedy Jr. lived his last day. Simultaneously, the country mourned the loss of a leader and way of life. The final road traveled by the smiling, and seemingly impregnable President ended at the corner below the Texas Book Depository, but his last final full day began 35 miles west in the companion city of Fort Worth, TX.
As the 50th anniversary of that date draws closer, conspiracy theories will be revived as history lovers once again take a look at Kennedy’s last days. The places visited and touched by his presence in the final moments can be retraced as a path through history that serves both as a lesson and a commemorative pilgrimage.
Walking in the Last Steps of JFK Itinerary
Stop One: Amon Carter Museum of American Art
To really do justice to this step back in history, you have to start with art. President and Mrs. Kennedy spent their last night together in Suite 850 of Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth, and the prominent residents of Fort Worth wanted to ensure that their experience was as presidential as possible. On that night, world-class sculptures and paintings, from renowned artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh were displayed in the suite. Hours after enjoying these painting, JFK was dead.
The famed exhibit viewed by the President and First Lady will reunite for the first time to commemorate that final art display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art from October 12, 2013-January 12, 2014. The exhibit will not only present the diverse and thoughtful art pieces chosen, but also highlight for the first time the preparation of the Presidential suite in 1963. This first stop reveals the careful and joyful preparation for the President that was later tragically overshadowed by his death.
~The Inscription on the JFK Memorial outside the former Hotel Texas~
Stop Two: Hilton Fort Worth and the JFK Tribute
As a registered historic landmark, the Hilton Fort Worth (formerly the Hotel Texas) has welcomed many important guests, but none more significant than the JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy. On the bitterly cold morning of November 22, 1963, thousands had gathered outside the Hotel Texas in hopes of catching a glimpse of the America’s Camelot couple. Kennedy had not planned to speak to the crowd, but seeing the masses huddled in the cold, he was moved to speak. “There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth,” he mused, and he offered an impromptu speech with the hotel as his backdrop.
~Kennedy meeting the throng of people outside the Hotel Texas*~
Minutes later he gave his final speech to the Chamber of Commerce and 2,000 guests over breakfast in the Crystal Ballroom of the hotel. At that point, he exited the hotel and joined his motorcade. Today, guests at the Hilton can explore the displays and photographs throughout the hotel that chronicle the President’s visit to Fort Worth and his time at the hotel. The poignant snapshot of a moment in time that is marred by certain tragedy is the perfect preparation for a visit to the recently installed JFK Memorial, located just outside the hotel.
Stop Three: JFK Memorial
Just outside the lobby of the Hilton, stands an 8 foot bronze sculpture commemorating the final day and speech of President John F. Kennedy. The sculpture, created by Lawrence Ludke, is surrounded by a marble semi-circle that includes photographs from the President’s time in Fort Worth, as well as quotes and a reflective waterfall. Rather than focusing on the tragedy to come, this memorial strives to focus on the life of JFK while telling the story of his last day in Fort Worth.
Stop Four: Dealy Plaza in Downtown Dallas
The commuter railway Trinity Railroad Express (TRE) connecting downtown Fort Worth and Dallas may not be the quickest way between the two cities, but the one hour train trip allows a moment of reflection as the story switches from the jubilant send-off in Fort Worth to the jarring moment of death in Dallas. Once in Dealy Plaza, there are many opportunities to explore the places that leapt into history 50 years ago.
~The President’s motorcade turned the corner on this street when shots were fired from the window in the upper right of the Book Depository.~
The first logical stop is the Sixth Floor Museum. The exhibit is a series of photographs and video presentations housed inside the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository building, where Lee Harvey Oswald fatally fired at President Kennedy. The opening photographs and accompanying music do a terrific job of setting the 1960s scene and culminate with a stirring tribute to his legacy. Outside the infamous grassy knoll and even the site where the motorcade turned the corner are chillingly present.
~JFK Memorial in downtown Dallas~
A final memorial sits one block east of Dealy Plaza and serves as the best place to end the tour. The a square roofless room sits in the middle of the block with narrow openings that face north and south, an open design that symbolizes the freedom of JFK’s spirit. The 30 foot high memorial seems to float above the earth with no visible support except the columns at the corners of the building. At night the columns are illuminated, creating the illusion that the light itself supports the building. According to the artist, this illusion creates a feeling of “magnetic force” indicative of the charisma of JFK. The name of former president is the only marking on the memorial, making this a place of reflection and remembrance.
*Photos Courtesy of the JFK Library