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.

Minsk – A Soviet Capital of the New Millennium

Belarus is exceptional in the panorama of post-soviet countries. Maybe thanks to its geographical location, next to the heart of Europe yet in the closest vicinity of todays Russian Federation, this large piece of almost flat and fertile land is the contact point of two civilizations and ways of life – Russia and core Europe – which merge here in an inexplicable harmony. And this is perfectly reflected in the appearance of its unique capital town – Minsk.

If you have never been there but you are not new to former-communist countries in Europe, what you might expect from the capital of very little-mentioned Belarus, a republic once in the realm of the USSR, is a chaotic town, full of rotting, stripped buildings built with the huge volumes typical to the peripheral areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg, old and smoky Ladas and Chaikas rumbling along rough roads full of puddles, like ten years ago in Sofia or Bucharest (see for instance this chapter). Once there, you will soon understand the picture is really different.

The impression is that of a rich country, with infrastructures right at the level or even above those of western Europe, large and paved roads, modern cars, gas stations everywhere, freshly painted buildings, leveled walkways, colored lights and nightlife.

Of course, the soviet grand architecture is all there. Actually, since Minsk was totally destroyed in 1944, in a fierce battle between the Red Army and the slowly retreating German Wehrmacht – an episode which gained the town the high honor of ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, still eagerly displayed today – after the war was over, a master-plan for the reconstruction in a perfect Stalinist style was put in place. As a result, Minsk is a rare – perhaps unique – example of a Soviet model-capital from the early Cold War era, when the USSR ruled by Stalin had just triumphed on the stage of a world conflict, and it was setting about to keep up its hold on all eastern Europe. In this sense, at least for a westerner Minsk looks today a town more soviet than others in Russia.

Another element you perceive clearly, not so typical to bigger and way more populated metropolitan areas in the nations of eastern Europe and even in Russia, is a strong sense of order. Nightlife is quiet and not bombastic, cars move around at moderate speed and without creating jams, everything is very clean and calm. Minsk is both busy and quiet, thriving and disciplined – maybe this is just how a soviet capital should have looked like? Belarus suggests how the Soviet Union might have evolved in our days, had it survived its own social and economic failure.

Still today the strong ties with the Russian Federation help feeding the economy on the one hand, but on the other make entering this country a complicated business, like the case is for Russia – anticipated invitations, visas, stringent time frame limitations, … All these rules are gradually being lifted, but the country remains oriented mainly towards its huge eastern neighbor – something you see confirmed looking at the airport timetable in Minsk, from where you can fly to anywhere in Russia, but almost nowhere in Europe. While possibly difficult to deal with, all these controls and bureaucracy help preserving some ‘soviet aura’, which may add to an uncommon travel experience.

This post presents some photographs from central Belarus, taken during a visit to Minsk and some neighbor sites – conveniently reached with a car in less than two hours – in spring 2018.

Map and Visiting

The majority of the sites listed on this chapter can be reached with a relatively short walk from whatever hotel in the city center. Nonetheless, the city is not small and some perspectives are really broad and long. For a more relaxed visit as well as for reaching Khatyn and the Stalin’s Line a car is highly recommended.

Entering the country with a car can be a nightmare, but flying into Minsk and renting a car is indeed possible – I landed in Minsk from Kiev in the Ukraine, and got my car from Avis. Differently from most former countries of the Eastern Bloc, roads are well in line with the highest European standard. Gas stations are abundant, and they accept credit cards. Plus traffic is really well-disciplined, totally different from the Balkan states or even Russia. Parking is generally not a problem, so hop-on/hop-off from your car allows for a time-saving, very effective way of moving in downtown Minsk.

Of course, if you are not planning to go beyond the city limits, you may choose to move around with the public transport system, with a fairly extensive network. Generally speaking, everything is like in the western world from the viewpoint of services, most top-tier western hotels are represented, there are shopping malls with international brands, and so on.

Minsk and its surroundings are unrealistically ordered, you feel perfectly safe both day and night – totally to the other end of the spectrum, compared to other post-soviet cities in eastern Europe.

I spent three full days visiting Minsk and its surroundings, including some historical sites not covered in this chapter, located farther west in the country. I would say this is a good compromise for getting a decent insight of this city.

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Sights in Minsk

Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi – World’s longest boulevard

The backbone of the Stalinist architectural master-plan put in place in Minsk is a multi-miles boulevard called Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi, the longest boulevard in the world at least in Minsk’s tradition, cutting through the most monumental districts and connecting the executive airport to the southwest of downtown to the eastern peripheral belt of the city. The end of the boulevard to the east is not evident, for at some point it changes into a highway, leaving Minsk behind, heading for Smolensk and Moscow.

If you are coming in town from the main airport, located well out of the urban area to the southeast, you are likely to be driven along the full length of this boulevard – with its unpronounceable name.

Along this boulevard, or very close to it, you will meet the majority of the sights described in this chapter.

You may get a really striking impression from this boulevard visiting at night, for every building along it is lighted. The pictures below give some examples.

Independence Square

Locating the actual focal point in the center of Minsk is not easy, but a choice may be Independence Square, once Lenin’s Square – as the name of the underground station recalls. This may be also a trail-head for your tour of the town.

This long and narrow square hides an underground shopping mall. The crystal cupolas on the ground are a distinctive feature of the square. The central monument is centered on the stork as a subject. This bird is not uncommon in this part of Europe, and is the national bird of Belarus.

Around the square you can find some notable buildings. On the northern side is the Roman Catholic church of Saint Simon and Saint Helena, dating from the beginning of the 20th century, and closed for the long decades of the communist dictatorship.

In the northwest corner it is impossible to miss the huge Palace of the Government, with a prominent statue of Lenin. Similar to Russia, the father of pragmatic communism and of the Soviet Union is still kept in high respect.

Continuing around the square, the tallest building to the west and the adjoining facades on the southern side are all part of the Belorussian State University. To the southeastern corner you can spot an office of the Department of Justice.

Central Post Office

Leaving the square along Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi to the east, a first distinctive building is the central post office. The hammer and sickle emblem is still proudly standing on top of the eclectic, soviet-classicism façade. You can find also an interesting clock, looking like a gigantic copy of a vintage radio alarm from the 1960s.

Inside, the small cupola covers a fully functional post office, where also many items of philatelic interest from the Eastern Bloc can be found (they accept credit cards).

Stately apartment and office buildings can be found on both sides of the boulevard as you walk east.

KGB Headquarters

Yes, the name is correct. It is not an exaggeration. Differently from the Russian Federation, the Belorussian government did not change the name of the world-famous State’s security service since the time of the USSR. The huge building of the headquarters is clearly the same. The façade looks impenetrable and grim.

The shield and sword emblem is still prominently standing on the wooden front door.

The ‘soviet aura’ around here couldn’t be more intense. This building is really magnetic, a living witness of a bygone era.

Cross the street, where a nice boulevard – with the very Soviet name of Komsomolskaya Ulitsa – takes to the south going slightly downhill, you can even spot a bust of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Bolshevik, Lenin’s friend, revolutionary, and founder of the Cheka – the revolutionary executive repression service, years later to evolve in the KGB.

Dzerzhinsky was the armed hand of Lenin, and due to its clear and heavy responsibility in the killing of many of the early victims of the October Revolution, he was put aside even in Russia, his statue being reportedly removed from ahead the Lubjanka, the KGB headquarter in Moscow. The same did not happen in Minsk, possibly because the man was from a noble family from around here.

Crossing with Ulitsa Lenina

Moving on, you will find more buildings with nice soviet-themed friezes and decorations, including the building of the Central Bank of Belarus.

The crossing with Ulitsa Lenina – not unexpectedly – is another focal point of the architectural master-plan. Clearly, here is McDonald’s – probably the neatest in the world!

One block to the south from this crossing along Ulitsa Lenina, you can find a house with tons of marble commemorative tablets on the front, where many notable people have lived. They include Felix Dzerzhinsky.

Kastrycnickaya Square

Taking again Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi and going west, you soon find to the north of the road a huge square – Kastrycnickaya Square – with the modern-soviet building of the Palace of the Republic right in the middle. This building was designed in the 1980s and partly built under soviet leadership. Following the collapse of the USSR, construction was halted for years, and the building was completed only in the late Nineties. It is basically an auditorium for artistic performances, conventions and public governmental meetings as well.

To the eastern side of the square the Labor Union Palace of Culture is a great example of soviet classicism, with sculptures adorning the façade and corners of the greek-temple-like building.

Presidential Palace

Cross the road there is a garden going gently uphill. There is no car access to the eastern side of the garden, and you can spot the stately, grim front of a building of the Armed Forces – once the Soviet Red Army. Today this is mainly a representative building, featuring also a theater. On the southern side of the park you can find the Presidential Palace, a pure soviet-style monster occupying the majority of the block. You will see policemen discreetly keeping a watch on the area.

There are other smaller government-connected buildings around, some with soviet insignia. On a corner of the park there is the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre, which for the location and style may be one of the few remains of pre-soviet Minsk in the area.

Television Center and Lee Harvey Oswald’s Home

Again on Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi, the road goes downhill and crosses a small waterway. The area is really nice, and looking northeast from the bridge you can spot the Television Center, with a distinctive tower made of iron beams and likely dating from soviet times.

Getting close to the center, you see the building right ahead of the tower, still today hosting a TV channel, is just another Soviet neoclassical building, still part of the Stalinist master-plan.

The nice apartment building to the the southern side of the TV channel headquarters has some historical significance, since it was there that Lee Harvey Oswald used to live when he spent some years in the Soviet Union in the Fifties.

Much has been said about the intricate plot leading to the shooting of President Kennedy, and the actual part of Oswald will probably remain largely unknown (see this post). Especially his relationships with the USSR are shrouded in mystery, but looking at the building – stately and very nice even for todays standard – the idea that Oswald could live there while being a poor, anonymous worker in a soviet factory does not seem very credible.

House of the First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party

This small and modest house belonging to the pre-soviet era was until the end of the USSR a pilgrimage destination from all over the Union. It was here that the embryo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, namely the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, held its first congress. This happened back in 1898, and the reportedly largely unsuccessful meeting was held in secrecy among only a few notable political figures, known as troublemakers to the government of the Tzar.

Besides the political-historical interest, the small museum offers interesting memorabilia and furniture from the late Tzar’s era. This house was visited also by communist dictators and dignitaries from around the world, including Nikita Khruschev, Walter Ulbricht and Fidel Castro, whose visits are witnessed by signed documents and photographs.

Victory Monument

Going back to Praspyekt Nyezalyezhnastsi and proceeding slightly farther east, you immediately find an oval square, with an eternal flame and a tall obelisk in the middle. This is the Soviet Victory Monument, celebrating the triumphal march of the Red Army against the invading forces of Nazi Germany. Passing under German control soon after the invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Minsk was hit with extreme violence by the maneuvers of both contending armies three years later, in a crucial battle which opened the Red Army the gate to the last rush through Poland to Berlin. The town was besieged by the Red Army, and as a result of the heavy fighting it was almost leveled when the front line moved west.

The monument celebrates without excesses the sacrifice of many soldiers and civilians in the struggle. Minsk and a handful of other Soviet towns – Stalingrad, Kursk and Murmansk, to name a few – were later decorated with the title of City Hero of the Soviet Union. These towns, which were the stage of as many fierce battles, are remembered here with stones bearing their names.

The monument is particularly striking at night, thanks to the eternal flame ahead of it and the accurate lighting of the buildings nearby making for a nice scenery.