JFK’s Last Trip to Fort Worth and Dallas

The murder of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 is possibly one of the most well-known news stories from the 20th century. Since then, most theories put forward by both the official prosecutors and wannabe investigators after the crime never appeared completely acceptable.

The main defendant, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot dead by likely-mafia-affiliated Jack Ruby, two days after Kennedy had been shot. This happened before any court hearing of Oswald, who always protested his complete innocence.

But Oswald was spotted on the crime scene, and his life before that fatal day had not been normal in any respect. Grown up a very poor man from the New Orleans, he enlisted in the USMC, spent years in Japan, changed home at a high pace in the continental US, between New York and Louisiana, learned Russian, applied for Soviet citizenship, established himself in an fantastic flat in Minsk, Belarus (see this account about Minsk), at the height of the Cold War, married a lady from the USSR, moved back to the US with his wife and their baby, collaborated with  communist movements in America while living of nothing in the south of the Nation, appeared in Cuba and Mexico in the years of the Kennedy administration, and finally decided it was time to kill President Kennedy, accused by a part of the military and political establishment of being excessively left-leaning during his years at the White House.

Maybe this man materially acted alone on the day of the shooting – something strongly adversed by many eyewitnesses and even scientists and analysts, based on ballistics – but with a curriculum so pointed of oddities, especially for the geopolitical situation of the 1950s and early 1960s, it is hard to imagine he was not part of something bigger.

An excessive number of pretended coincidences in the reconstruction by the investigators have largely discredited the official theories, in turn creating a mystery around the actual crime.

As time is passing and people involved are disappearing, chance to find the truth about the intricate plot behind the assassination are waning. Yet this unsolved crime has fueled decades of controversy, with tens if not hundreds of books written, as well as TV series and blockbuster movies produced – and it is still an intriguing topic for many, who come to see the famous Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where the shooting took place, making the local museum in the Texas School Book Repository one of Texas’ five all-time most visited attractions.

Being in the exact place where the famous Zapruder movie was recorded produces of course a strong impression. Yet there are more places in Dallas and Fort Worth related to the famous last visit of JFK to this major industrial focus of the nation, which albeit less impressive than the actual crime scene, may be interesting to find and visit for the most committed visitors.

This post portrays some of the most famous and of the least known places connected with Kennedy fateful 1963 trip to Texas. Photographs were taken in summer 2018.

Map

This map reports the focal points of President Kennedy’s visit to Texas on November 21st-22nd, 1963.

Kennedy flew in and out Fort Worth from Carswell AFB (now NAS Fort Worth reserve base), arriving on November 21st, and departing in the morning of November 22nd to Dallas Love Field – a very short hop for Air Force One.

You can see places in Fort Worth and Dallas connected with both the actual and scheduled route of Kennedy’s visit (blue placeholders), plus the route of the motorcade from Love Field to Dealey Plaza and back (blue line), with a stop at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where JFK was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm, November 22nd.

Orange placeholders are locations connected with the shooting – where JFK was (surely) hit, famous spots on the crime scene, etc.

The movements of L.H. Oswald have been partly reconstructed by the prosecutors, where some have been ascertained based on sightings by witnesses. These are shown in yellow and red respectively on the map. Red placeholders show the location of Oswald sightings or places connected with his story.

Green placeholders show the positions of notable monuments connected with the assassination of President Kennedy.

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Sights

Sights are listed going along the time-line of the days of JFK’s visit.

Hotel Texas (now Hilton) & JFK Tribute, Fort Worth

President Kennedy spent the night between November 21st and 22nd in the Texas Hotel, located on Main Street in central Fort Worth. Today this nice, early 1920s building is still there, listed among historic landmarks. It has changed hands more times in the last decades, and is now run by Hilton, with the name Hilton Fort Worth. Built on the opposite side of the square where the convention center is located, it is still today a primary business hotel in town.

In the square ahead of the hotel is a monument dedicated to JFK, with a statue and citations. This was the location of the last public speech the President gave, before breakfast on November 22nd.

Later on that day, he held a scheduled speech in a hall of Hotel Texas, before going to Carswell AFB (now NAS Fort Worth), west of downtown, to board Air Force One to Dallas Love Field. Air Force Two soon followed.

Dealey Plaza, Dallas

Monuments in Dealey Plaza

The curious composition of white colonnades and pergola-shaped monuments in Dealey Plaza is the result of an architectural master plan for the area, completed in 1940.

Despite the weird aura that will enshroud the square for many years to come, the composition is actually very nice, with two opposing fountains ahead of the colonnades welcoming you when entering the square from Main Street. This is exactly what the motorcade did, turning right on Houston Street and first left on Elm street, where JFK was hit (see map).

The pergola on the ‘grassy knoll’

The northernmost part of the composition in Dealey Plaza is a curved white pergola, placed on top of a knoll, at an elevation of roughly 10 ft above the road. This is a vantage point for watching Elm street, which starts descending gently from Houston Street towards the railway triple underpass. It was here that Zapruder was standing, together with many eyewitnesses, shooting his now super-famous video (see map).

You can get a 360° view from close where Zapruder was standing from this video.

Here you see an example photo sequence of a car passing by along Elm Street, following the same route of the presidential motorcade.

A crowd was standing also on the southern side of Elm Street, at the level of the road, from where the pergola and the wooden fence on top of the grassy knoll can be seen very clearly. Looking uphill towards Houston Street, you can see the Texas School Book Repository, and the half-open window from were somebody fired at the motorcade.

‘X-marks’ on Elm Street

Two white X-marks have been painted on the ground where, based on official investigation and findings, President Kennedy was hit, while his motorcade was driving along Elm Street.

The first is located immediately after the crossing with Houston Street, where the motorcade turned left. The pictures below shows the window on the sixth floor of the book repository from the spot of the hit (actually behind a tree), and the wooden fence under the trees on top of the grassy knoll. The wooden fence has been indicated by many as the position of a second shooter, and some have sustained they saw shots coming from there.

Taking into account the elevation from the ground of the window on the sixth floor of the book repository, the total distance to this first X-mark is similar to that from the fence. Yet the trajectory of a shot from the fence would have come dangerously close to Zapruder and all folks between the knoll and the sidewalk.

The second X-mark, that of the fatal shot to the President’s head, is located further west. Looking from here again to the window on the sixth floor and to the fence, it is apparent that the latter spot would be a far easier point for shooting – very close -, while on the other hand recording a hit from the former would be a real challenge.

Close by the X-mark corresponding to the fatal shot, the National Historic Landmark placard of Dealey Plaza has been placed on the sidewalk.

You can get a clear impression of how fast everything must have happened watching this video of my car running along the route of the motorcade, from Main Street down to under the triple underpass.

The wooden fence on top of the ‘grassy knoll’

The fence on top of the grassy knoll divides the grass on the northern end of Dealey Plaza from a parking area on the side of the book repository. The elevation over Elm Street and the little distance from it, makes this place a good spot for targeting a car passing on the position of the second X-mark – that corresponding to the fatal shot.

To the back of the fence, the old railway switching tower from the 1910s played a part in the mystery. On the morning of the assassination, Lee Bowers was on service in the tower. He reported to the prosecutors that about 15 minutes before the shooting he had noticed a car slowly circling in the parking. At the time of the shooting two figures were standing by the fence, and he saw fire and smoke coming from their position. He provided details about the cars and an these men.

Lee Bowers died in a car crash without witnesses in summer 1966, when he gently launched his car out of the road while driving alone in the countryside somewhere near Midlothian, south of Dallas.

The triple underpass

This Art Deco railway bridge, dating from older times than the monuments in Dealey Plaza, is another good vantage point for a comprehensive sight of the stage of the assassination.

It has been supported that a witness standing on the grass south of Elm Street and close to the underpass was wounded by a fragment of the curb, produced by a bullet hit. This might have been a missed shot.

Texas School Book Repository & Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas

The building of the book repository, located on the northern side of the crossing between Houston and Elm, has been taken over by the city government for administrative functions. A museum has been opened on the sixth floor, from where shots were allegedly fired against the motorcade.

The museum is very modern. After paying by the entrance, you are given an audio-guide and you are directed to an elevator going up to the sixth floor.

You can walk along a nice exhibition mostly based on tons of photographs and reproductions of original documents, papers, agencies, documents, dossiers, and so on. Before showing the chronicle of events during the last trip of JFK and the events of the assassination, you are told about the general political and social situation in the years of Kennedy administration, so as to reconstruct the big picture and the meaning of this trip. There was much criticism about it, and you can see some unwelcoming headlines from newspapers, telling about a tense political situation in Texas. There are several videos playing loop.

Of course, an accurate reconstruction of the shooting is the main topic of the exhibition. Frames from the many videos recorded by the witnesses allow to have an almost second-by-second account of the last minute in the life of JFK.

Far less known than others are some pictures of the motorcade taken seconds after the shooting, when the cars accelerated under the triple underpass, with men of the secret service bent over the wounded President. Witnesses on the opposite side of the underpass had not noticed the shooting, and they were probably stunned watching the motorcade rushing away.

There is a dinner set from the scheduled luncheon Kennedy was heading to, prepared in the Dallas Trade Mart. A picture of the announcement of the assassination to the attendees of the luncheon waiting for the President is particularly striking. Detailed maps are displayed of the motorcade route, of the movements of L.H. Oswald, and of the emergency rooms of the Parkland Memorial Hospital where JFK, Vice President Johnson and Governor Connelly were given medical assistance.

A highlight of the museum is the area around the corner window from where shots were fired. An accurate reconstruction of the exact position of the boxes around the shooter’s position has been set up, based on photographs from the time.

Access to the window is interdicted, but you can get an idea of the view enjoyed from there from the third window from the corner.

Further items of interest include cameras and video recorders used by the witnesses, and a detailed map of the standpoints of most witnesses who made a video recording, or did take pictures.

An area of the exhibition is dedicated to Oswald, his arrest and his murder in the Police headquarters, which took place on November 24th, 2 days after JFK was killed. You can see copies of official documents, a ring belonging to L.H.Oswald, and the suit worn by Detective Jim Leavelle – the man portrayed in the video of the assassination of L.H. Oswald by Jack Ruby, leading Oswald out. At the time of writing, Texas-borne Jim Leavelle, borne 1920, is one of the few living primary witnesses of that dramatic episode.

Finally, the place where the old rifle used to fire at the motorcade from the window was found soon after the shooting, with Oswald fingerprints, has been reconstructed with the same accuracy of the firing position.

Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas

After the shooting, the motorcade accelerated keeping on the scheduled route (see map). It is noteworthy that the Trade Mart, where JFK should have had lunch, is not far from the Parkland Memorial Hospital, which is between the Trade Mart building and Love Field (see map).

President Kennedy and Governor Connelly were quickly drawn into emergency rooms, whereas soon-to-be-president Lyndon B. Johnson received medical attention in another area.

Officer Tippit’s Murder Scene, Dallas

Soon after he was spotted in the Texas School Book Repository minutes after the shooting, L.H. Oswald left for home. Initially caught in the traffic after taking a bus, he moved around pointlessly not far from Dealey Plaza, finally taking a cab to go home. He got off some blocks past his house, where he returned by foot (see map). He soon left, and at about 1:15 pm, 45 minutes after the assassination of JFK, he reportedly killed police officer Tippit in a quiet residential area. The place is marked by a placard (see map).

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested less than an hour later, on account of Tippit’s murder. Only hours after his arrest, during the night of November 22nd, he was accused of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Texas Theater, Dallas

After shooting officer Tippit, Oswald left along Jefferson Boulevard, presumably walking to the Texas Theater. This movie theater, with a flamboyant front facade, used to be owned by Howard Hughes, and it was the first in Texas with air conditioning.

L.H. Oswald was arrested at about 1:50 pm, about ten minutes after he had entered the theater, 1 hour and 20 minutes after the murder of JFK.

JFK Memorial Plaza, Dallas

A monument to President Kennedy, designed by Philip Johnson, was erected in 1970 one block east of Dealey Plaza (see map). The monument, made of concrete, resembles an empty tomb.

Getting There and Moving Around

The JFK monument in Fort Worth is in a public park, as well as the JFK memorial in Dallas. They can be neared at all times.

Dealey Plaza is regularly open to car traffic, as you can see from the videos above. Parking is possible in the many public parkings around the area. Once there, you can move around freely at all times.

I drove along all the route of Kennedy’s motorcade, which except for a few closed roads can be done still today. Very nice indeed, as you will cross beautiful downtown Dallas. Of course, you can follow the route of Kennedy’s car in Dealey Plaza, as shown in the videos above.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is a world-class, up-to-date museum, and one of the most visited attractions in Texas. Website here.

Warbirds in Texas

The immense state of Texas is in the foreground of the panorama of historical aviation, thanks especially to the CAF – the Commemorative Air Force (website here) – which maintains and operates some of the Nation’s finest airworthy warbirds. This privately financed, non-profit organization feeds the programs of many airshows everywhere in the US, and carries out an invaluable function in preserving the legacy of many aircraft designers, manufacturers and military servicemen especially from WWII and early Cold War years.

The birth of the CAF in Texas is not just by chance. The Lone Star State bolsters an extremely long and rich tradition in aviation. Training airfields were established in Texas earlier and in a number greater than any other State during WWI. Fort Worth was the birthplace of one of todays few surviving major airlines in the US – American Airlines – back in the early 1930s.

Aircraft manufacturers associated with Texas include Consolidated – most of the iconic WWII B-24 Liberator bombers  were manufactured in Fort Worth – and North American. Consolidated later merged into Convair, owned by General Dynamics since the Fifties. Many aircraft of the Cold War era were actually manufactured in Fort Worth, including the record-breaking B-36 Peacemaker and B-58 Hustler, or the highly successful F-16 Fighting Falcon, still in service today in many air forces of the world, as well as a good deal of other types. As of today, Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopters are both headquartered in Fort Worth.

Needless to recall, Houston has been one of the major focal points of world astronautics since the beginning of the space age.

In such a cultural setting, and considering the general financial wealth and the abundance of oil typical of Texas, it is not surprising that warbirds, even though fuel-thirsty and expensive to maintain, are present here in an exceptional concentration. Where possible, they are maintained in airworthy conditions, otherwise they are kept in great consideration in world-class air museums.

This post covers only four rich collections out of the many you can find in Texas. Two of them are ‘airworthy collections’, whereas in the other two warbirds are preserved for static display. Considered together, these four sites are probably already a good reason for an aviation-themed trip to Texas!

Photographs are from an extremely hot August 2018.

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Cavanaugh Flight Museum, Addison, TX

This renowned collection just west of downtown Dallas is split between a big group of exceptionally well-kept and airworthy prop-driven aircraft, and a number of warbirds on static display, some of them jet-powered. Website here.

The museum occupies a few hangars on a very busy general aviation airport (Addison Airport), where executive jets, helicopters and smaller propeller-driven aircraft operate all around the clock. 

The collection is hosted in four hangars and on an external apron where you can walk around freely. Not all aircraft are around here at any time, some having been flown out to some airshow, or for maintenance. In the first hangar you can find a handful of perfect airworthy replicas of WWI fighters from both sides of the front line.

Just besides are a North American B-25J-NC Mitchell, a ground strafing version of the famous medium-range bomber, and a veteran of WWII.

There are also a Vultee SNV-2 Valiant, a De Havilland Tiger Moth, a Ryan PT-22, all training planes from the Forties. In a corner you can see also a Piper L-4J, the military version of the J-3 Cub, and a Stinson L-5E, similar to the former in shape and mission type.

A Pitts Special aerobatic biplane is hanging from the ceiling in an inverted attitude.

The second hangar hosts a Fairchild PT-19 Cornell, an ubiquitous US military trainer from the Forties, in a distinctive light blue colorway with a yellow fin. Together with a yellow Stearman N2S-4 Kaydet biplane and a North American T-6 Texan, both good old trainers, they share the scene with a handful of stunningly preserved icons from WWII.

These include a Grumman F-4 Wildcat and a massive Grumman TBF Avenger – both in the dark blue colorway of the US Navy. 

Just besides are a licensed version of the Messerschmitt Bf-109G of Nazi Germany built by Hispano Aircraft in Spain, and a nice replica of a Soviet Yakovlev Yak-3M.

Cross the apron, you can find some more great classics from the Forties. There are an immaculate Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and two North American T-28 Trojan trainers in the colors of the Navy. In the background you can spot a sizable Heinkel He-111 twin, a licensed version manufactured by CASA in Spain.

The last hangar shelters an aggressive Douglas A-1H Skyraider in the colors of the USAF. This version of the massive single-prop features a single seat and is especially reinforced for increased bomb load to carry on ground attack missions.

This is surrounded by a series of pretty famous jet attack aircraft, including a McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II, a North American F-86 Sabre and a Grumman F-9F-2B Panther with foldable wings and the distinctive blue and red colors of the Navy. 

There are also two classic fighters from WWII, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.VIII and a North American P-51D Mustang. The latter is so polished that you can clearly see your image reflected in its skin panels!

On the outside apron you can see parked three Soviet-made jets from WWII – a MiG-15 UTI and a MiG-17 in the colors of the Red Army, and a more recent MiG-21 in the colors of the North Vietnamese Air Force. Close by, a PZL Iskra trainer, once ubiquitous in the former Soviet bloc.

There are also a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, a Grumman S-2F-1 Tracker patrol aircraft of the Navy with folded wings, a Republic F-105 Thunderchief awaiting restoration, and a Vought A-7 Corsair II.

Scattered around the museum are also a few helicopters, and even a Sherman tank.

During my visit I could see two movements of aircraft taxiing out for take-off. The first was a Cessna O-2 Skymaster, a model extensively used in Vietnam for FAC missions. This has been refurbished with fake underwing rockets. You can see it in the vid below.

The second was a Douglas EA-1E Skyraider in gray Navy colors. This is the early warning version, designed for a crew of three and originally mounting a dedicated radar platform. You can watch (and hear!) the difficult startup of the huge Wright radial engine – it was around 100°F outside! –  and the aircraft taxiing with folded wings. Unfolding starts only seconds before the aircraft gets out of sight.

Forth Worth Aviation Museum, Fort Worth, TX

This museum hosts a little but highly valuable collection of US aircraft on static display. The museum is totally volunteer-run. These folks are doing an exceptional job preserving their aircraft. As you can see from the pictures, there are many exemplars being actively refurbished in a hangar to the back. The museum is located on the southeast corner of Fort Worth Meacham general aviation airport. Website here.

All aircraft are preserved outside, but you get access to the museum grounds through a lounge, stacked with wonderful memorabilia, technical specimens, paintings and rare pictures.

A showcase is devoted to the Convair B-58 Hustler, a record-setting Mach 2 bomber from the Fifties, produced in slightly more than 100 exemplars, which were all manufactured in Fort Worth. This iconic delta wing, four-engined jet was exceptional for the number of ‘firsts’. Among them, it was the first aircraft with a computerized flight control system and an integrated navigation platform. You can spot part of this analog computer, a bulky stack of black metal parts.

There are scale models of the Cessna O-2 Skymaster, and based on the themes of the merchandise in the museum shop there is actually a predilection for that aircraft and the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, which had a similar mission, i.e. observation, reconnaissance and forward air controller (FAC).

Actually, among the first aircraft you meet outside there is a Cessna Skymaster. I was so lucky to visit on August 19th, the National Aviation Day, when the museum recruited many veterans to stay besides their respective aircraft and tell their story. I spent a little time with Doc Lambert, Nail 66, one of the pilots of FAC missions over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, who allowed me to have a long look inside his Skymaster. Among the testimonies of his war operations, he told me some anecdotes. Most FAC missions were performed with only the pilot on board, which caused a pretty high workload. Furthermore, the aircraft was not equipped to counteract any weapon shooting up from the ground. This meant that a typical flight was an uninterrupted sequence of strong turns to avoid being hit from ground fire, something that also helped in searching for grounded crews, or enemies hiding in the jungle. As a result, you had to be accustomed to such way of flying, or a strong sense of nausea would come to disturb you pretty soon. This regularly happened with visiting high-ranking USAF staff on demonstration flights…

The museum owns another Skymaster, which was undergoing refurbishment in a black livery at the time of my visit, similarly to an operational USMC version of the OV-10 Bronco.

Best preserved aircraft on the front row, which are clearly visible from the public road ahead of the museum, include a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star training aircraft, and a Northrop F-5 Tiger II in a fake Soviet camouflage once used by aggressors in flight academies.

On the same row you can spot a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, a type in service since the early Sixties, and shown here painted in the colors of the Navy. The beautifully restored Vought A-7B Corsair II nearby was deployed to Vietnam three times with VA-25 on board USS Ticonderoga and USS Ranger.

Next is a massive Republic F-105D Thunderchief, a very nice example of this Mach 2 fighter-bomber from the early Sixties. This very aircraft was stationed in Europe, tasked with carrying tactical nuclear ordnance. The roomy bomb bay designed for the scope can be observed from inside. After more than ten years in the USAF, this aircraft went on to serve with the Air National Guard in the Seventies, and was finally disposed of in 1983.

Right besides the F-105 you find a McDonnell-Douglas F-4C Phantom II in the colors of the USMC Aviation. This very aircraft is a Vietnam veteran, and it was later converted into a target drone, but luckily never used in this role. The collection features another F-4, again a Vietnam veteran.

Cutting edge technology from the late Seventies is represented by a Grumman F-14D Tomcat. This plane is a war veteran, it flew missions during Desert Storm and over Afghanistan, and it was often used on FAC missions and for training at home. It was retired in 2007.

The Tomcat is sitting next to an imposing Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter. This too is a Vietnam veteran, and suffered also some damage on combat duty. The avionics of this big helicopter are totally analog. Next to it you can find a Convair TF-102 Delta Dagger interceptor built for combat and training. This very aircraft was flown by President George W. Bush.

Other training aircraft on display from different ages include a Vultee BT-13 Valiant single-prop, a Cessna T-37B Tweet and a Douglas TA-4 Skyhawk. The latter was used extensively for training purposes on board USS Lexington.

Two totally authentic Navy veterans are a Vought F-8 Crusader and a McDonnell-Douglas F/A 18 Hornet. The first spent its early career on board USS Lexington and USS Ranger in multiple cruises in the Western Pacific during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, being later assigned to several Naval Air Stations along its more than 20 years long career. The Hornet was deployed operationally from the late Eighties on board USS Midway and later on USS Independence, and spent its final years in the Blue Angels – of which you see the vivid livery today – being finally retired in 2009.

A special feature of this museum is the only existing mock-up of the McDonnell-Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II. Development of this attack aircraft was carried on in the Eighties and finally canceled by the Government. The flying wing configuration and the widespread adoption of composite materials made this platform unique, but also ahead of its times. This design was penalized by subsequent mass increases which caused its cancellation, but it represented a first chance to investigate concepts and technologies later adopted for operational aircraft flying today. The mock-up used to reside in the Fort Worth plant of General Dynamics, from where it made its way to the museum.

Other Cold War planes include a General Dynamics F-111E Aardvark, built in Fort Worth and assigned to Japan and Europe along its long operational career spanning the years 1969-90, and a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco formerly in service with the USAF.