There are not many places I’ve visited that affected me like the stop on the vacation I recently took with my wife, oldest son and daughter-in-law.
It was not one where we stood in awe at nature’s wonder; a waterfall, canyon, mountain, the stars. Though it’s hard to disagree that Mother Nature has it down pretty good.
Nor was it the enjoyment of science or the arts. However, as I’ve grown older, I have found my inner nerd craves a big helping of the Discovery channel and the like, more often than I ever expected.
This trip, though, had a day devoted to history.
In between Texas barbeque, a jaunt to the Stockyards in Fort Worth and a few Lone Star beers, was time needed to be spent in a city park in downtown Dallas called Dealey Plaza.
It was a truly memorable experience. It brought out feelings of sadness and anger. Confusion and disbelief.
It is the place where America lost its leader. And maybe its soul.
My parents had a bust of John F. Kennedy in our home. It was painted gold and was very heavy. I took particular interest in this as a little kid because it seemed really weird to have a man’s head on one of our shelves.
I was only a few months old when he was killed, obviously too young to remember what happened. However, my Mom was a big supporter. She would explain his importance and while I don’t remember the words, her sentiment was clear.
Like other kids my age, we learned about his assassination in school. But it wasn’t until I was an adult that I became very interested in the stories, the conspiracy theories and the effects it had on our country.
So, making time to go to that unfortunate place in history became a must.
As we approached Dealey Plaza on foot, my mood became somber. The area became eerily familiar, as if I had been there before, yet really only seeing it through photos and news clips.
The school book depository, the window, the grassy knoll, the triple overpass. It got surreal real fast.
The Zapruder film. Once you’ve seen it, you don’t un-see it. I replayed it in my head over and over.
We walked across Elm Street. I tried to approximate where the motorcade was when the shots were fired.
Then, the “X.”
One simple mark where the world changed forever.
This level of understatement doesn’t really seem fitting.
Among navigating the thoughts of multiple gunshots, potential shooter/s, single bullets and mass hysteria, I despondently contemplated this “X.”
To make it worse, though somewhat expected, were those trying to profit from one of the worst moments in our nation’s history. Hawkers selling various related items, cheap maps, motorcade routes, etc.
People laughing and taking selfies. Nothing wrong with this, but it felt misplaced.
I have to admit staring at this “X” for quite a while. Looked up and back at the sixth-floor window countless times, considering the time and distance involved while shooting three times. Tried to picture another person from the grassy knoll and where they may, or may not, have been.
I wasn’t alone. Many others were gazing and pointing, all seemingly trying to wrap their heads around how this happened.
You can almost feel the panic onlookers must have felt as they watched this terror take place right in front of them. I could see Jackie Kennedy climbing out of the back of the car and the Secret Service agent stopping her as it began to speed away.
It would have been horrific then. Frankly, the thought of it still is.
And it is commemorated with an “X” that mini-vans, taxis and motorcycles run over every day.
We later took the Sixth Floor Museum tour in the old book depository building. It was done really well, detailing the family history and Kennedy’s rise into politics. It is not overdone or unreasonably biased, acknowledging not everyone was a JFK fan.
The tour included a timeline of what happened that day and remake of the scene where Lee Harvey Oswald set up boxes to position his rifle. Visitors can stand just about where the shots were fired and I suppose most people ask themselves if he could have done this alone.
A short but powerful film reviews the effect President Kennedy’s assassination had on our country. It was painful to watch. Many people cried. Even younger generations, who likely aren’t affected like older ones, were captivated.
I had to wonder, if this happened today, how would our country react? Would we experience the same level of despair, or would “Saturday Night Live” be waiting in the wings for its next skit? The same question for our previous president? Grief or factions of people expressing joy?
I’d like to think most people would be able to put aside their differences and realize that when tragedies like this happen, we have to pull together or we all lose.
If not, that “X” in the road in Dealey Plaza is nothing more than strips of tape.
MIKE BERTOK is general manager of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or 815-431-4014.