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.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

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.

Communist Relics in Bucharest

Most travel agencies selling trips to Romania agree on the fact that Bucharest is surely not the best this big Country in the easternmost part of Europe has to offer in terms of archaeological or historical significance, nature or art.

Actually the town, originally founded in the 15th century, is today mostly made of modern buildings – meaning it was extensively redesigned and rebuilt in the 1980s. This happened as a result of a huge earthquake in 1977, killing thousands in Bucharest and destroying or damaging many buildings. The earthquake, and the will of the most famous Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, triggered the realization of an incredible architectural master plan, centered on the huge House of the Republic – the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon – which in turn called for the demolition of a good 30% of the existing buildings in Bucharest, including churches and many historical highlights.

This conspicuous palace stands out as one of the world’s most imposing examples of communist architecture, thus making for an interesting destination for those interested in the ‘heritage of Communism’ in Europe. Well, the Palace of the Parliament – as it is called today – is so imposing that everybody coming to Bucharest will probably spot it and pay a visit.

But Bucharest has more to offer for those interested in the traces of the luckily bygone era of communist leadership.

Opened to the public in 2016, the private residence of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Helena, both executed on Christmas day in 1989 during the quick but very violent revolution which led to the end of communism in Romania, can be fully visited today as a museum. Built soon after Ceausescu took control of the already established communist regime in 1965, it is an interesting example of eclectic architecture from the 1960s, designed by the Israeli architect Aron Grimberg-Solari. All the original furniture is on display, and many items belonging to the most hated couple in Romanian history can be admired as well.

As usual in communist Countries in Europe, before 1989 the National Military Museum received much attention, growing up to host a collection of weapons, tanks and aircraft of considerable size. The place, located close to central Bucharest, is surely worth a visit especially for those looking for unusual Soviet weaponry!

Another easy-to-find communist-themed site is the Palace of the Free Press, the only imposing building in Stalinist style in Bucharest, built in the early 1950s for the propaganda-press. A big statue of Lenin used to seat prominently ahead of the façade. It was removed in 1990, to celebrate the end of the dictatorship. Many emblems of communism – hammers, sickles and stars – decorate the walls of this now mostly unused relic.

Finally, the very central palace of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which since the 1950s until 1989 was occupied by the Romanian Communist Party, is a distinctive example of rationalist architecture from the late 1930s, with much to tell about Cold War history. It was from a balcony of this palace that Nicolae Ceausescu gave his famous last speech, just days before he was arrested and shot.

This post is about all these sights. Photographs were taken in June 2017.

Sights

House of the Republic – now Palace of the Parliament

No words can describe the size and bulkiness of this building. Together with the Bulevardul Unirii – the boulevard leading to the front façade – with its residential and ancillary office buildings clustered around the palace, each the size of a big shopping mall,  the ensemble is really unique even for the usual pomp of communist Countries. Everything here was built in the 1980s on the design of the young Anca Petrescu, who at that time was in her thirties.

From the boulevard to the square ahead of the façade you can easily spend some time trying to find a good way to photograph this building.

The façade is not flat, and this makes it not excessively imposing inspite of the real width and height. Furthermore, a terraced garden, gently ascending from the street level to that of the front entrance above, somewhat reduces the perceived height of the building.

Access for the public is from the northern side. From there the palace is possibly more imposing, for the façade comes down abruptly to the street level, differently from the front.

The inside is by far the least convincing part of the design. Here you clearly perceive the ‘megalomaniac’ attitude of the Ceausescu, who asked for a building with more than 600 rooms, for which no realistic function could be imagined at that time – nor can be guessed today. You can see a succession of halls in diverse styles, some of which may find a place in an old railway station, some in a congress center, others in a luxury hotel, some in Buckingham Palace, a few in a church, and so on… A collection of stately rooms, some of them really immense, all lacking any focal point – a throne, a dinner table, a work of art. As a matter of fact, this severely oversized building is used today only for a minimal part as a governmental building. Most of the rooms are used for congresses, marriages, company meetings and international summits. But you clearly feel the place is basically uninhabited, and except for the crowds of tourists, mostly unused.

As a part of the tour you can get access to the balcony on the front façade, from which you can enjoy a nice view of the city, and in particular of the perspective created by the boulevard ahead of the palace.

All in all, in my view this palace is much more interesting from the outside, where you can appreciate the size and good proportion of the master plan, and the interesting particulars of the late-classicist communist style. The inside is where you perceive most the unsuitability of the palace for any practical function. You may be stricken by the number and proportion of the rooms and the plenty of high quality materials used for construction and decoration, but you may also get bored soon by the endless sequence of unused – and unusable – halls, corridors and flights of stairs.

Getting there and moving around

For a western tourist taxi is the most efficient and cost-effective way for moving around in Bucharest. Depending on where you are taken first – the north entrance or the front façade – you may choose to take a walk around the building, or a part of it, before or after your tour of the inside. Visiting inside is only possible through a guided tour. Reservation is totally recommended, for this is probably the most visited attraction in town. Furthermore, if you are put in a waiting list you may be forced to stay close to the ticket office in the basement for more than you might want, with nothing to see and do. You can make a reservation through their website or ask your hotel to do it for you. A day in advance may be enough, for entries are at high frequency. Security with metal detector is part of the treatment. For taking pictures inside you need to buy a permit at a small fee. The visit inside takes really long – more than an hour – and it may turn out very boring especially for children, for there are no ‘highlights’ inside.

Palatul Primaverii – The Private Residence of the Ceausescu in Bucharest

The name of the residence translates into ‘Spring Palace’. It was built in the mid-1960s when Nicolae Ceausescu came to power. It was intended from the beginning as a private residence for the dictator, his wife and their three children. Differently from the Palace of the Republic, it is not absurdly sized especially for todays standard, about the size of an average Hollywood villa.

From a historical standpoint this place is very interesting, for as an official residence of the president of Romania, it hosted meetings with leaders and politicians of many foreign Countries, most notably Richard Nixon, the first American president to pay a state visit to Romania. Furthermore, this house has a lot of typical ‘Cold War style’ features. It was not publicized at all inside Romania, where only a restricted group knew of its existence before the revolution in 1989-90. Coming close was made impossible by a guarded perimeter with a few checkpoints all around a large area of the town, where embassies and notable members of the Communist Party had their residences. Inside there are an underground bunker for protection and an access to a network of tunnels leading to the palace of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and other decision centers in Bucharest. The villa was taken during the revolution, but anything was left basically as it was – the intruders, who in 1989 were suffering from a famine plus from heat, electricity and water starvation, took away all the food.

The eclectic style of the building, integrally designed by the same architect, is also an interesting specimen of luxury architecture from the 1960s.

On the ground floor, the first rooms are the studio of the dictator, where most important meetings were held, with the walls covered with wooden panels. Then an ancillary room with a chess table, a central lobby with a fountain and stairs leading to the upper floor and to the basement, a large drawing room and a dining room can be visited close by. On the same floor are also the private rooms of one of the two sons of the Ceausescu couple. From the main drawing room it is possible to reach an inner garden with peacocks – not the original exemplars, but Nicolae loved these birds, which used to live here also before 1990.

In the basement it is possible to find a winery and a nice middle-ages-themed, count-Dracula-style canteen with a fireplace. A private movie theater seating about 30 is part of this area. The projectors in the back – Philips, not from the Eastern Bloc… – together with an archive of rare movies have been carefully cataloged, and are now part of the inventory, similarly to every item in the house.

Nicolae Ceausescu was born to a family of workers, and was a shoemaker in his youth. After he came to power he progressively adopted a more and more luxurious lifestyle, but he could never relinquish his very humble origins. The room he reportedly favored most in his fancy villa, and where he liked to spend most of the time, was a passage in the basement, with some simple chairs, a small table, and a very small light close to the roof. Some speculate this was the setting which mostly resembled the house he had lived in as a kid. Another explanation may be a secret armored door in this room, giving direct access to the bunker…

The bunker with a crisis room is where Ceausescu operated in the tumultuous days of December 1989. He finally decided to try to reestablish power with a speech which turned out to be his famous last public appearance, a few days before he was arrested and executed. Here was the entrance to the network of tunnels leading to other palaces in Bucharest – today it has been bricked up. A walk along a service corridor in the underground allows to have a glance to the many service rooms in this area – including a laundry, a room for an independent power supply system and much more.

Another strange ‘private passage’ is where a gallery of many portraits of the Ceausescu can be found, together with hunt trophies and hunt-related gifts from some African leaders and close friends of the Romanian dictator. Nicolae was reportedly not good as a hunter, but he liked to nourish the idea of being so, and he was often photographed with trophies he rarely caught himself. Paintings portraying the couple were already there when the Ceausescu used to live in the house.

In a wing on the top floor are the private rooms of the two other children of the Ceausescu.

In another wing are the apartments of Helena and Nicolae, with a bedroom, study, bathroom and dressing room for each of them.

The separate bedrooms were not used much, for they used to sleep in a common bedroom with a nice balcony and a view of the front garden.

There was also another common bathroom, lavishly decorated, which was reportedly used more often by the couple. The same is true for a smaller dressing room with wardrobes for both, which was typically used by the couple. Here and in the main wardrobe close by it is possible to find the many dresses belonging to the Ceausescu. The smell of old fabric here is really horrible, but the sight of their clothes adds much to the perception of this place as the ‘lion’s lair’.

In a third wing of the top floor it is possible to find possibly the most beautiful room of the house, which is basically a ‘garden-room’, with plants and a nice peacock-themed mosaic wall and fountain – a nice example of decoration from the 1960s.

Descending again to the ground floor you can continue your visit with the huge wellness area, with a sauna, Turkish bath, infra-red lamp, equipment for various wellness and beauty treatments – some of them were probably fancy in those years, but now they seem exotic and more like old-style medical stuff… There is also a barber shop.

Finally, the indoor swimming pool. This is very big and deep even for todays standard, and the zodiac-themed mosaic decoration of the walls is luminous and really gorgeous. There is direct access to the garden through a porch.

You can access the inner garden and reach the front entrance of the property walking along a nice covered passage.

All in all, this is possibly the site I liked most during my stay in Bucharest. I would surely recommend a visit for the great historical and architectural significance of the place. The place is very authentic, and you can perceive it distinctly from the many personal items scattered around the house and from the appearance of the rooms, which have come almost unaltered from the end of the 1980s.

Getting there and moving around

The Spring Palace is in the northeastern quarter of central Bucharest, in what is probably one of the nicest parts of the town, with high-level residential buildings, most of them built very recently, foreign embassies, well-kept parks and schools. If you are visiting the area of Parcul Herastrau or Parcul Bordei you may choose to come to the mansion with a nice walk. Otherwise the best way to come here is with the usual taxi. Visiting is possible only with a guide. You can opt for a regular group tour or a personal tour. The latter was my choice. You can book it in advance (one day in advance in my case) through their website. The guide was very kind and knowledgeable, and the 1.5 hour visit really interesting and full of details.

National Military Museum

This museum is composed of two main parts. The permanent exhibition in the main building covers the military history of Romania from the first settlements to the present day. For those with an interest for the complicated history of this Country, the relationship with the Ottoman and Russian Empires, the foundation of the Kingdom of Romania in the 19th century, its role in both World Wars and the advent of communism, this museum offers much valuable information. Little is said of what happened during and after the 1989 revolution. There are just scant signs in English, and the Soviet-style of the exhibition is a bit outdated. Anyway there is much stuff of interest to be checked up.

Outside to the back of this building it is possible to visit a rich collection of weapons, ranging in time, type and size. A conspicuous part is composed by cannons and howitzers, some of them mounted on railway trolleys.